The campaign to promote and, in this case, force GM products into the Indian market is depressing. These companies have far too much power and they will only gain more as they continue to expand their hold on food production globally.
India’s environmental and food security activists who have so far succeeded in stalling attempts to introduce genetically modified (GM) food crops into this largely farming country now find themselves up against a bill in parliament that could criminalize such opposition. The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill, introduced into parliament in April, provides for “single window clearance” for projects by biotechnology and agribusiness companies including those to bring GM food crops into this country, 70% of whose 1.1 billion people are involved in agricultural activities. “Popular opposition to the introduction of GM crops is the result of a campaign launched by civil society groups to create awareness among consumers,” said Devinder Sharma, food security expert and leader of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. “Right now we are opposing a plan to introduce GM bananas from Australia.” Sharma told IPS that if the BRAI bill becomes law such awareness campaigns will attract stiff penalties. The bill provides for jail terms and fines for “whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products …” Suman Sahai, who leads “Gene Campaign”, an organization dedicated to the conservation of genetic resources and indigenous knowledge, told IPS that “this draconian bill has been introduced in parliament without taking into account evidence constantly streaming in from around the world about the safety risks posed by GM food crops”. She said Indian activists are now studying a new report published in the peer-reviewed Organic Systems Journal by Judy Carmen at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, showing evidence that pigs fed on GM corn and soy are likely to develop severe stomach inflammation. “The new bill is not about regulation, but the promotion of the interests of food giants trying to introduce risky technologies into India, ignoring the rights of farmers and consumers,” Sahai said. “It is alarming because it gives administrators the power to quell opposition to GM technology and criminalize those who speak up against it.” The past month has seen stiff opposition to plans to introduce GM bananas into India by a group of leading NGOs that includes the Initiative for Health & Equity in Society, Guild of Services, Azadi Bachao Andolan, Save Honey Bees Campaign, Navdanya and Gene Ethics in Australia. These groups are seeking cancellation of a deal between the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and India’s biotechnology department to grow GM bananas in India. Vandana Shiva, who leads the biodiversity conservation organization Navdanya, and is among India’s top campaigners against GM crops, told IPS that such food crop experiments pose a “direct threat to India’s biodiversity, seed sovereignty, indigenous knowledge and public health by gradually replacing diverse crop varieties with a few patented monocultures”. She fears that an attempt is being made to control the cultivation of bananas in India through patents by “powerful men in distant places, who are totally ignorant of the biodiversity in our fields”. India produces and consumes 30 million tonnes of bananas annually, followed by Uganda, which produces 12 million tonnes and consumes the fruit as a staple. India’s National Research Centre for Banana (NRCB), which has preserved more than 200 varieties of the fruit, is a partner in the GM banana project. Others include the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. By Ranjit Devraj NEW DELHI
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