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Delicious Udupi Gulla threatened by Bt brinjal

By Claude AlvaresDeccan Herald

Much of the present revolt against the government’s move to introduce genetically engineered brinjal would have been muted if a) the work had been carried out by our own agricultural scientists, and b) if Monsanto had not been in the background of the effort, like a sinister ghost.
The green revolution which was set in motion in 1966 was engineered outside the country. It was implemented by the then agricultural establishment without a thought to its environmental consequences. With genetically modified crops we have a repeat, with one crucial difference. This time the technology comes with private ownership as part of its baggage and naturally, a demand for royalty and fees.

The question on everyone’s lips is why is the Government of India so keen to allow powerful, undesirable and ruthless US corporations like Monsanto (represented within the country by companies like Mahyco) to privatise the basis of our food production system — the seed?

Monsanto has gone on record saying that it is working towards creating a world in which all farmers everywhere will only use Monsanto seed (and naturally pay it fees for doing so). Since when did Monsanto’s aims become those of the GoI as well?

Take the priorities facing us (and Jairam Ramesh) in the environmental arena today. Measures to deal with climate change — which is endangering the planet — deferred. Actions to tackle issues like sewage, garbage, polluted rivers, critically polluted areas, tiger loss — all deferred. But the introduction of GM brinjal has convulsed the government into action. But is brinjal production one of the government’s priorities? Since when? There is hardly a single person connected with agriculture in the country today who would venture to plead that there is any crisis in brinjal production. In fact, we have more than enough of brinjal we make it into pickles. So why the hyperdrive? Who decided the brinjal agenda? The answer? Monsanto and USAID.


Speed has always been a key element of Monsanto strategy. Before Americans could even know it (and protest), GM foods were upon them. Today, 85-91 per cent of corn, cotton and soybean are planted with Monsanto engineered seed. Now the company is gunning for America’s wheat as well. With less than one per cent of the US population left as farmers, it’s easy to get them all to purchase seeds dutifully every year from corporations. They have no alternative.

Could that happen in India? Well it appears that the GoI is trying very hard.
Already in some cotton growing areas in the country today, only GM seed is available for farmers — spurious or authentic nobody seems to care. Once every other variety of cotton seed is out of the market, we are at Mahyco’s mercy. For good reason the Andhra Pradesh government acted sternly against Mahyco for extortionate cotton seed prices and the Monopolies Commission had to move against the same company to prevent monopoly price fixing.

At a time when rising costs of inputs are making agriculture unviable and are one of the reasons for farmer suicides, it is absurd to promote a seed replacement system in which seeds can only be frightfully expensive. GM seeds are four to five times more expensive than normal certified seed because they carry extortionate royalty charges. This is because they carry proprietary patented genes.
How would that scenario emerge in India?

Begin with brinjal since it is eaten by almost everyone. Introduce it through popular varieties like the Udipi Gulla or the Agassaim variety from Goa. The Bt versions cannot be distinguished from the non-Bt farmers’ varieties. However, the Bt gene is bound to cross over into the non-Bt varieties where it can be easily identified by looking for its markers. After a period of 3-5 years, all brinjal growing in an area will be contaminated and will carry the proprietary gene (belonging to the corporate concerned). Besides contaminating common brinjal varieties, the gene will have also crossed over into tomato, potato and other solanaceous crops. Wherever it goes, the IPR would apply.
After Bt cotton, they are planning to tamper with bhendi, rice and 52 other crops with the same methods. These varieties will carry either proprietary genes that kill insects or proprietary genes that will make crops safe from Monsanto’s proprietary chemicals (like weedicides).

Imagine a situation in which more than 50 of India’s major food and commercial crops come under the ownership of one or two or three companies because they carry willy-nilly proprietary genetic material and every seed for these crops will carry a tax to be paid to Monsanto, Cargill or their agents. Can someone tell me how this predictable scenario is incorrect, false, distant, unrealistic?

So what’s the immediate plan to get this scenario in motion?
Introduce genetically modified brinjal before people have time to think. Take them by surprise. Disarm them with scientists saying that GM food is needed for increased production and that it is safe. Once its cultivation becomes widespread, there is no looking back because genes released into the environment cannot be recalled even by God. What is more important, they will cause so much of contamination of other crops that India’s agriculture and food will never be the same again.

End of organic  farming

For organic farmers as a class, GM crops spell a bleak and grim future. Organic farming certification standards do not permit the use of GMOs. Already certifying agencies are refusing to certify organic farms that are adjacent to farms using Bt cotton. States like Gujarat, where 97 per cent of cotton grown is of the Bt variety, will soon lose organic status completely.

The tragedy is that by killing organic farming in this manner we are killing ecological agriculture and turning our backs on ecology. Ecological agriculture has always been a win-win proposal. It builds the soil instead of depleting it; it takes the assistance of soil fauna including earthworms and beneficial microbes. It rejects synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and thereby grows safe and nutritious food. It preserves biodiversity and insect balance. It encourages best use of resources as it encourages farmers to generate all their inputs on the farm.

Genetically modified agriculture turns its back on all this. It replaces farmer-generated seeds with corporate owned seed. It promotes more intensive use of chemical fertilisers. It claims to reduce the use of pesticides. I use the word ‘claims’ because in actual fact the entire genetically modified plant (in this case, Bt Brinjal) has been made into a toxic.
Therefore, be there at the consultation tomorrow morning. Tell the environment minister unequivocally that 1.4 billion people will not allow Mahyco, Monsanto or any other corporation to tamper with their food, now or in future. That message has already been delivered with great gusto in six other consultations in other parts of the country. The Bangalore consultation should seal GM’s fate irrevocably.

(The writer is director of the Organic Farming Association of India)