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Mainstream, VOL LV No 24 New Delhi June 3, 2017

Approval of GM Crops ignores Growing Scientific Evidence against Them

Even Union Government’s Own Minister Raises Serious Questions About the Government’s Farm Policy

Thursday 8 June 2017, by Bharat Dogra

Are multinational companies pressurising the government to adopt undesirable agricultural policies, particularly those policies which are ecologically harmful? Are they exerting undue pressure to sell their seed varieties which are not suitable for our farmers and the environment? In the process has a lot of harm been caused already? Is the government ignoring such warnings even if these are voiced by its own Minister having special expertise in this field?

These and related questions have arisen in the context of a statement made in a recent widely appreciated article written by the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi. She has also been a prominent animal rights activist and is known to be well- informed about biodiversity. Her column on these issues in The Sunday Statesman is widely read. On April 30 she took up the issue of badly threatened bees in an article titled ‘On the brink of a crisis’ which was splashed prominently on the last page of the newspaper.

While explaining one of the reasons why bees are threatened, Maneka Gandhi has written: “The bees are disappearing for one major reason —the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. I have repeatedly asked the government to ban these, but they refuse because they need these terrible pesticides for the GM Cotton crops which Monsanto forced on India by promising that these cotton crops would not need any pesticides at all. This turned out to be a lie—in fact, GM Cotton needs many more vicious pesticides which are now killing off pollinators and people.”

This statement can be broken into a number of important assertions:

*Monsonto forced GM Cotton crops on India.

*To facilitate this the company claimed that its varieties will not require any pesticides.

*This claim was a lie, as is proved by the continuing use of vicious pesticides to grow them.

*These vicious pesticides are now killing pollinators and people.

*Maneka Gandhi repeatedly warned the government about this and she has also asked the government in particular to ban neoni-cotinoid pesticides.

*These warnings were ignored by the govern-ment as it was keen to continue with GM Cotton and hence accepted the accompanying serious health hazards.

Of course much of this has been said many times before not just by activists but by reputed scientists and even special panels and groups of scientists as well in the context of India’s experience as well as the general experience. Before coming to the special significance of what Maneka Gandhi has said, let’s take a quick look at what some senior scientists have said.

Several eminent scientists comprising the Independent Science Panel said in a statement on GM crops: “The consistent finding from independent research and on-farm surveys since 1999 is that genetically modified (GM) crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits of significantly increasing yields or reducing herbicide and pesticide use.”

In a letter written to the Prime Minister of India in 2009 at the peak of this debate 17 distinguished scientists pointed out that the claims made for GM crops regarding protection of environment and increase of yield are completely false. More specifically on pesticide use this letter said that GM crops have led to vast increases in pesticide use, not decreases. In a detailed review of GM crop data, with special emphasis on cotton, published in EPW, Dr Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has demolished the claim of yield rise associated with GM crops while at the same time asserting that GM varieties undermine sustainable agriculture.

These are just a few of the statements and studies of senior scientists which support what Maneka Gandhi has said in her statement. But the special significance of her statement is that she is a senior member of the Union Council of Ministers and is also known to be well-informed about bio-diversity and related issues. It can be easily said that she is one of the most well-informed Ministers on this issue.

So when a senior Minister with recognised expertise in the subject says that her warnings against the use of highly dangerous pesticides and spread of GM crops have been repeatedly ignored by the government and as a result people and pollinators have been dying, then surely this is important. When in addition she says that a powerful multinational company has forced these crops on India while also providing false information on them, then the issue raised becomes even more important.

Here we need to note that the most exagge-rated claims were made and full government support was given for GM cotton in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of that State.

More recently the Union Government under his leadership extended very high-level support for GM Mustard and it was only due to a huge mobilisation of activists, supported by several prominent MPs and some State governments, that this move could be checked for some time. On May 11 GM Mustard finally got the regulator’s approval and it is to be seen how the government goes ahead with this.

The author is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.

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