Hamara Beej

Saturday, October 24, 2009

‘There is scientific evidence to prove that GM crops have harmful effects’


Renitha RaveendranTags : interview, IndiaPosted: Friday , Oct 23, 2009 at 0146 hrsPune:
Amid arguments for and against introducing genetically modified (GM) crops in India, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory committee for transgenic crops under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, on October 14 granted in-principle approval to Bt Brinjal, the country’s first edible GM item to be cleared for cultivation. Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, the Supreme Court-appointed special invitee to the 30-member GEAC, has on various platforms objected to introducing GM products in the country, citing health and bio-security issues.
Dr Bhargava is a well-known scientist and the founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. Excerpts of an interview with Dr Bhargava: GEAC has described the Bt Brinjal developed by Mahyco, partnered with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, University of Agricultural Sciences and the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, as bio-safe material. It claims that before the approval, it was put through large-scale field trials at various locations across the country. Then what is your objection?
Biosafety cannot be guaranteed in a short span of time. It’s a long process. There are a whole lot of protocols to be carried out, which were not done in the case of Bt Brinjal. As far as a GM crop is concerned, there are nearly 30 tests to be done before giving it clearance. But only six-seven tests were done for Bt Brinjal so far, which is unacceptable. Brinjal is not our staple food. An increase in production will bring down the price, adding to farmers’ woes. No socio-economic studies have been done in this regard. No proper toxicity and allergenic tests have been done.
Those who argue for the introduction of it say that GM variety improves the pest resistance of crops leading to a 50 per cent reduction in yield losses.
Some time back, The Indian Council of Agricultural Research had developed a bio-pesticide technology which had proved to be equally effective and prevented yield losses. There are scores of other eco-friendly and safe practices that are possible for sustainable pest management in crops like brinjal. My problem is when you have options why go for something that has been rejected by many countries.
It is learnt that only very few in the 30-member GEAC are opposing the introduction of GM crops. If it is really a serious threat, why is the majority for it? It has been reported that one of the dissenters in the panel opined the vector used in making Bt Brinjal was wrong and this alone disqualified the crop. There are three people who are openly opposing the move on different grounds. All the others have vested interests. Some may have links with bio-tech companies or have affiliations to bodies that support the move. It’s absolutely true that the vector used was wrong. The sample for testing has been provided by the seed company itself. How do we know the sample is of normal brinjal or Bt Brinjal? I had sent a proposal to GEAC on the need to set up a centre to conduct such studies.
You had said GEAC did not give enough time to study the report before going public about the in-principle approval to Bt Brinjal. You had alleged in the past that GEAC wasn’t transparent.
The report was sent to us on the afternoon of October 9, which was a Friday. As my office is closed on Saturday and Sunday, I got the report in hand on Monday, October 12, and the very next day we had meeting in Delhi. Hurriedly after that they went public before we could properly go through it and raise any objection. I stand by my statement that GEAC wasn’t transparent, which is evident from the heedless haste with which it carried out the entire procedure in favour of the multi-national companies involved.
Some states like Orissa and Kerala have said no to GM crops. There are others who support it. But majority do not know what a GM crop is. Isn’t in a mess now?
The major issue is that the prime stakeholders — farmers — have not been taken into confidence. There have been no discussions held with them. In Kerala, where people are well-informed, there wouldn’t be much problem and that’s why they oppose it. But what about other states where majority of the farmers are illiterates? One can’t differentiate between a normal brinjal and a Bt Brinjal. So if you don’t want to go for GM food still you have no option as there is no labeling law in the country now. The major contention of those who oppose GM food is about the health hazards. But countries like the US and Canada have been consuming GM food for years now.
There is scientific evidence to prove that GM crops have harmful effects. The increasing number of GM food and increasing health problems in the US should be seen as a serious issue. In India, after the introduction of Bt Cotton, cases of allergy were reported. In Warangal, several cows had died after eating Bt Cotton plants. After scientists found it causes health hazards, many countries said no to GM crops.

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