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MARCH 2010

BT democratised? Nopes.it has been ‘mobocratised
Bangalore, Mar 12 (PTI)
The fate of the first genetically engineered food crop in the country, Bt brinjal, has come down a cropper. Minister Jairam Ramesh played into the hands of the shouting brigades of the anti-GM lobby who created ruckus wherever he went to consult.

Although the minister says that this decision pertains only to Bt brinjal, little does he realise the firmament of the anti-GM lobby. No matter how many more tests or how long it is tested, the anti-GM lobby will never accept any of them. The only thing they will accept is total ban on GM crops.

“Democratising Biotechnology” is the term that the University of Sussex’s Institute of Developmental Studies introduced into the vocabulary of anti-GM activists. In reality, what is happening is “mobocratisation of biotechnology”.

Admittedly, the minister assumes full responsibility for the final decision. He seems to have not consulted anybody within his staff nor did he consult anybody within government or other branches of the government that has jurisdiction over the subject. The deal decisive factor must have been the words of Drs. MS Swaminathan and Pushpa Bhargava, in whom the minister found all wisdom. As to why Drs. G. Padmanabhan and Deepak Pental, and the opinions of the majority of scientists and scientific bodies of the world did not prevail denies logic and reasoning in this sordid drama.

The proper thing to do was to go back to his statutory committee, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), to seek their responses on what he had gathered from all his consultations. By not consulting the GEAC, he has undermined its credibility in one stroke. For this reason alone, members of GEAC should resign forthwith in protest fort this high handedness.

The often-repeated concern is that no long-term study has been done to determine effect of Bt brinjal on human health. It begs the question, how long is long enough? If you ask the antis’, they will say test for next 50 or longer. There are no rules or code of conduct for conducting human feeding trials in India, and any long-term tests with volunteers will be confounded by unmitigated extraneous factors rendering the entire test meaningless.

The international standards set by CODEX alimentarius has clearly recommended the principles of “substantial equivalence” and “Generally Regarded As Safe (GGRAS)” to decide on the human safety of any foods, and those have been satisfied with Bt brinjal. There can be post-market monitoring for recall in case of any unforeseen problems. The antis’ do not buy this, as their trick is very simple. Tie up the technology product in testing into the oblivion, and force the developer to quit in frustration.

Regarding the question of Bt brinjal obliterating native species and land races of brinjal, no one has explained how this might happen because it is a scientific nonsense. The only reason why native species and land races go out of cultivation is because farmers, when they discover something better, improved and more beneficial, stop growing inferior varieties.

The history of modern agriculture is replete with hundreds and thousands of such examples. That is progress. Nobody will abandon a useful and beneficial variety. That does not mean such varieties vanish from the planet. There is a concerted, multi-million dollar germplasm collection effort to gather and preserve all old varieties and land races for posterity and research. It is criminal to force poor farmers to cling on to useless varieties to satisfy the whims and fancies of some urban NGOs.

It is strange for Jairam Ramesh to suggest that there is no hurry for Bt brinjal. Little does he realise that Indian agriculture needs a boost in hurry. Repeatedly, everyone including the Prime Minister, bemoans the low contribution of agriculture to India’s GDP, and wants everything done to boost its productivity. It is a bogey of the anti-GM lobby to keep harping that Indian farmers will become slaves to MNCs for seeds and inputs, if they adopt biotech crops.

This is a paternalistic attitude of die-hard leftists and socialists of the country. Our farmers are now slaves to a corrupt and inefficient seed system. Our farmers have been going back willingly to buy hybrid seeds year after year from the seed companies for the past 40 years because of its good quality and better yields.

Without a doubt, Jairam Ramesh has set the country’s science and agriculture backwards by decades. He lone must be held accountable for the consequences.