Friday, February 05, 2010

Have a Bt Brinjal a Day - Part II

Contd. from Part I here

Concluding Part II





Fair & Lovely?





Regulations, Monitoring, Control ….Labeling Lollipops

It has been suggested that after the products are approved they should be subject to rigorous regulations, monitoring and control. Does such a regime seem feasible? It can only be talked about not practiced. Taking the specific situation of our country with millions of farmers, a long supply chain and logistics issues, regulations will be on paper and any effort to seriously implement, monitor and control would only lead to creating a costly maze of machinery which will keep chasing the goose. Once the genie is let loose, he will break the lamp from where he came and do what it wants, freed from his master. This is all the more so because the master does not know enough about the genie in the first place and the harm that can be caused is unpredictable and will be unexpected.

Even independent verification of data submitted by the applicant entities would serve little purpose because that again would be based on existing protocols which do not take into consideration the very real apprehensions about unforeseen events once the products enter the food chain. The real danger is that of one or more unexpected, uncontrollable events, which cannot be ignored.

It is also suggested that no GM foods should be introduced till there is a labeling regulation in place so that people can make informed choices. If the government is determined to proceed with the introduction, it may well propose to evolve strict labeling laws to silence such objectors. Will that do? Emphatically not. Labeling of GM foods is good only for intellectual discussions. It is an impossible and meaningless idea and once a GM product enters the food chain at the farm level, there is no way to label the food to achieve the so-called choice. Talking of labeling even imported packed processed foods for example, is a sheer absurdity and has no relevance in our country. It will simply provide a ruse to the Government to allow GM foods. Apart from not being capable of meaningful control, such labels would not make any sense for the average consumer except the intellectuals making the suggestion.


No, the issue needs to be stopped only at the threshold. That is the only time and place to make an “informed choice”. Once it has crossed the threshold, it would be impossible to stop it. It would not make sense to first invite a wild beast to enter, roam free and then try to lasso the beast and its progeny – an impossible task.

Case by Case Consideration

To offer a palliative, it has been highlighted that the approval would be on a case by case basis and so if the specific Bt Brinjal is approved now, it does not mean that new products can automatically enter the environment. What is wrong with this logic? A lot. As anyone used to the way in which a government works, precedent is what is important. Once a precedent is established, regardless of case by case consideration, essentially the same principles as well as procedures would have to be followed unless there are completely new situations. Once Bt Brinjal comes in, it will be quickly followed by corn, Jowar(Sorghum), rice, Okra and others. There are 25 kinds of rice, 23 kinds of tomatoes, groundnut, pigeon peas, potato, mustard, sugarcane, soya etc. awaiting GEAC approval. Before long, millions of farmers would become dependent on GM seeds forever.

The only Option?

An impression is being carefully and systematically created that GM foods is the only way to feed the people. The idea at once sounds attractive to Governments and the people because everyone is worried about food. The agriculture mismanagement places a tremendous extra psychological pressure on the Government to clutch at straws that are easier and convenient to catch.

Going by what the experts say, GM foods are not the only option at all to alleviate our food needs. In fact, the world can well do without them. If the Government was really serious about providing food why have they still not taken any major steps to aggressively push totally non-controversial logical actions like creation of storage and logistics infrastructure which would substantially reduce the massive losses across the board not just in one specific product like Brinjal? It is known that there are effective ways of pest management available. Even taking the case of Brinjal, see here and here.
Why have the agriculture extension scientists failed to train farmers in such pest management, optimal use of pesticides and other productivity improving methods? What innovations have been done in our research laboratories that waste billions of rupees, other than reproducing experiments done in other countries and developing countless hybrids that do not have the taste and flavour of the foods any more? After over 50 years of five year plans, is the country so totally crippled in agriculture that it has to now learn to run with untested crutches? And, does it mean that without GM foods, hunger and death are an inevitability for our people?

The only sensible question worth trillions of dollars and our food sovereignty which needs to be asked and answered is:

IF GM technology did not exist or if it was already proved to be harmful, what would the Government have done? Worse, if later on it is conclusively found that the GM foods are not desirable, what would we do?

If there is an intelligent answer, well then, that is what the country should be doing now.









Wider Implication of approval

If the GM food is approved at this stage by a weak-willed Goverment under pressure, there is a much wider implication way beyond the country. If a country of 1.2 billion people allows GM foods, it would be the best endorsement for those involved in the business of promoting GM foods and would be effectively used to break down the resistance of other countries much as is being done now by telling India about the "worldwide" acceptance.

Larger issues of Public Policy

Apart from the specifics, there are much larger issues which have profound and serious implications for Public Policy and even the future of our Independence which would be beyond the capacity of those who are pushing for the GM foods to decide.

First, whether the Government has the right to force-feed the people with products whose effects on their health it does not know for sure? More seriously is the Government competent to bind future generations to live with any ill-effects of allowing foods produced by interfering with fundamental rules of nature? As already discussed above, regardless of any labeling, in effect and in practice the people will simply not be able to exercise their freedom of choice once the product enters the food chain. It would amount to force feeding them.

Secondly, the long term strategic and wider implications of allowing this genie must be considered. In the theory of Globalization that our Prime Minister has been practicing goaded by the developed economies for their own gains, we are inexorably moving towards a situation where right from the first link in the supply chain (agriculture) to the final link (retail), the country is opening its doors to potential domination by the likes of Monsanto and Walmart (
see articles on FDI in Retail). The implications of this proposition, even if it may sound far-fetched or alarmist, can be ignored only at our peril. Particularly in the case of GM foods, allowing a producer to release a product is to ensure for him a virtual monopoly because unlike any other consumer product, every new intending producer of a similar GM food will have to undergo the same testing and approval regime, apart from intellectual property issues. At this stage, it is not known whether a farmer using “A” GM seed could at will switch to “B” GM seed. There is also need to be certain that the GM seeds would not have inbuilt mechanisms (like the Terminator gene) which would make it imperative for the farmers to keep buying new seeds each time.

Knowing how this Government has been implementing policies by a ham-handed approach and manipulation of public opinion rather than by transparency, it is hard to trust that its actions will always be solely guided by public interest. Two examples of its devious ways of working are the introduction of iodized salt (
see here) and FDI in Retail. Anything that the Government is determined to do becomes an action in public interest and supreme national interest and no one can raise a question.

It is really a question whether the Government itself has the competence to decide on this vital issue that impinges upon the freedom of the people and the very sovereignty of the country. It is submitted that it cannot be done without a specific mandate from the people. If it is really convinced about the justification, let it go before the people and seek such mandate.

What should be done?

The Government by now has the benefit of all views and should know the high level of concern that exists in India as well as "worldwide". Unless it simply chooses to erase all objections from its mind, the only course open to it is the sensible suggestion for once made by the previous Health Minister Ramadoss and simply defer a decision for five or more years. That will also provide clarity to all concerned. Any other view could spell unpredictable consequences for health, environment and impinge on the food sovereignty of the country. That, would be unacceptable.

Successors to Jehangir and the East India Company

Jehangir may be forgiven for allowing benign looking foreign traders with a shipful of gifts to set foot in the country and start equally benign sounding trading activity (factory), because he did not have history to guide him.(
see here) But the present Government and the people know enough of History, our own and that of others, and if we fail to learn, we have ourselves to blame for being an Independent nation only by label.

Select references:
Bt Brinjal Primer
Expert Committee II Report
GEAC Decision 14.10.2009
Statements by Scientists
Highway to genetic holocaust
Pawar view
Jairam Ramesh view
Report from Orissa
BBC Report 1999
Finding the Tipping Point
Bt Brinjal a step towards disaster
Prof. Seralini’s comments
Dept. of Biotechnology Brief on Brinjal
Patent application on Bt Brinjal
Prof. Kershen Letter
Do we need Bt Brinjal
Letter by Prof. Schubert, Salk Institute
Statements by GEAC member
How BT Brinjal was cleared
All Mahyco’s Men
Brinjal Pest Management
Brinjal Pest Management II
Prof. Seralini Talk
CSA Briefing
Who Benefits from GM Crops 2006 Report

Who Benefits from GM Crops 2009 Report
Does the world need GM foods
GM Food – Myth and Reality
Force feeding of Iodized salt
FDI in Retail – contrived justifications
FDI in Retail - Charade
Successors to Jehangir











It is time for the People to speak up

14 Comments:

At February 06, 2010, Anonymous Siddhan said...

You have a given a very good perspective on the matter apart from the specific arugments which are generally known to the people by now.

now people have to reach their views to the govt.

 
At February 06, 2010, Blogger Basudeb Sen said...

You deserve compliments for the painstaking efforts to collect and compile information relevant to the subject. However, to my mind, both the pro-GM food lobby and the anti-GM food lobby appear to be far from from convincing in their arguments and behaviour. While I agree that there are ethical, environmental, health and public policy aspects involved, but arguments like hurried decision, vested interests of foreighn firms, etc are no real arguments against GM foods, just as higher production and lower wastage are not the real arguments for GM foods. We know for certain that India is among the backward nations in terms of science & technology and Indians care less of scientific analysis. All controversies arise as both sides to an issue act in the most unscientific manner,with lot of emotions and blind beliefs. The acid test is whether the richer and technologically most advanced nations nations eat GM foods themselves in any significant scale? If they have not done so, there is no reason for us to believe that we are clever enough to start eating GM foods. Similarly, if the GM foods has been able to enter the kitchens of the richest and educated familiies and five/ seven start hotels and the top grade restaurants, there does not seem to be a case for the Indians to think that they are clever enough to ban the choice of GM foods to Indians. Whether ethics, health sciences, environmental sciences or public policy, Indians in general have very little claim to have competence to making decisions going by the kast 60 years experience. Controversies often seem to be mere pastime for many Indians. I have not seen a single precesely written analysis of the case for or case agains Bt brinjal. By arguing against the Government action or possible benefits that some foreign firms may derive one does not come to the conclusion that GM foods should not be allowed. Indians do not get adequate potable water - Indians cannot solve this problem. Indians hospitals in rural areas seldom provide heath services of unadulterated quality. How do I belive that Indians have the ability to decide on whether or not to adopt Bt Brinjals. If Indians can acquire the capability to make and implement decisions on such ethical, health, environmental and public policy issues in 10 or 30 years time, it does not matter whether India intriduces Bt brinjal today or not. If India cannot aquire that competence, the controversey is besides the point just as a two year child deciding whether he would or would not follow the police or the terrorits.

 
At February 06, 2010, Anonymous Dr. Satyavrat Sinha said...

@basudeb sen
while you have done a good analysis, i must say that your ultimate argument that"If Indians can acquire the capability to make and implement decisions on such ethical, health, environmental and public policy issues in 10 or 30 years time, it does not matter whether India intriduces Bt brinjal today or not. If India cannot aquire that competence, the controversey is besides the point just as a two year child deciding whether he would or would not follow the police or the terrorists."
It is hard to agree that if India does not have any competence, it should simply introduce bt brinjal.

further, MNCs cannot be blamed becuz they are only trying to sell the product. it is definitely not an argument but point is that they are able to sway the govt. opinion by their high pressure marketing.

it is for india to decide.
at this stage, i would say we cannot decide to introduce GM foo becuz as you imply we do not know what to do in various situations. if we do not know enough all the more not to take the lead in walking into the unknown.

i admit that i may have missed what is your real message.

 
At February 06, 2010, Blogger keepcool said...

It is a brilliant article giving a much broader perspective of the matter.

There is not much point arguing whether the opposers have proved their case.

As GM foods is a proposition made, the onus is squarely on the proponents to overwhelmingly prove their case and meet the objections.

I would say they have failed to do so and have not been able to answer the reaonsable apprehensions. On the contrary they are openly putting you on notice that what they are saying is based on their present limited knowledge.

Sorry friends I dont agree for GM foods.

It will be irresponsible to get carried away with the false rosy picture and leave the people to face the consequences.

 
At February 06, 2010, Anonymous Kamala Acharya said...

as an ordinary housewife, i want to ask may be a stupid question

govt. has no other way to provide food to our people?

 
At February 07, 2010, Anonymous S. Dastur said...

after reading this i understand how risky it is to introduce GM food for now. why shud we be the guinea pigs for the world.

i say a firm NO

 
At February 07, 2010, Anonymous Carmen Pereira said...

very good perspective even if little lengthy.

i hope govt. does not go ahead with this idea just to hide its own failures to increase agri production.

 
At February 07, 2010, Blogger Balaji said...

i see your interest in the subject is political rather than health or environment. your rant against the likes of walmart while discussing bt. brinjal, exposes your prejudices. not a good start.

do you have any objections to bt. brinjal on health grounds? i see you mentioned none.

ethical reasons are not health reasons. the govts job is foremost to ensure that bt. brinjal doesn't harm people's health. labeling is not a health requirement. if the govt is not convinced of the safety of bt. brinjal, no labeling wud do. if its not safe on health grounds, it cannot be approved.

labeling is merely to offer a choice to people who oppose GM crops for political, ethical or environmental reasons. its like labels saying vegetarian or halal cut.

****

>> Once Bt Brinjal comes in, it will be quickly followed by corn, Jowar (Sorghum), rice, Okra and others.

so you have no case against brinjal? and are merely creating controversies to feed future political agendas?

>> Going by what the experts say, GM foods are not the only option at all to alleviate our food needs. In fact, the world can well do without them.

forgot the world. european farmers aren't committing suicide by drinking pesticides. is your ideology more important than the lives of farmers? in anycase, major agricultural countries like US, Brazil, China are allowing GM crops as required.

If the Government was really serious about providing food why have they still not taken any major steps to aggressively push totally non-controversial

this is typical socialist rant. govt cannot solve all our problems. private sector, in this case Mahyco Seed has come up with a solution. that solution shud be analyzed on its merit, not based on some wacko political ideology.

And, does it mean that without GM foods, hunger and death are an inevitability for our people?

oh, blime. show me the great alternative scientific solution that you have hidden beneath your pillow. i assure you of all help to take that technology to the farm fields [after it passes health tests].

IF GM technology did not exist or if it was already proved to be harmful, what would the Government have done? Worse, if later on it is conclusively found that the GM foods are not desirable, what would we do?

1. GM technology exists.
2. it has not already been proven harmful.
3. if its not desirable (desirable from which perspective?) on health grounds, we'll ban it. your inability to prove something shud not stand in the way of offering a meaningful solution to the farmers.

i don't know how old your are. but I'm certain, ppl wud have protested against Norman Borlaug, Swaminathan et al when the golden wheat and IR rice varieties were introduced in the 60s. your ilk was was proved wrong then.

and I hope more farmers (who escaped suicide) and better nutritioned children wud live to tell the current tale.

 
At February 11, 2010, Blogger keepcool said...

i find comments of balaji above quite superficial rather than mature and informed.
as i said earlier, the article gives a wider perspective than actual objections about health etc. which can already be gathered from various newsreports ad articles.
i dont also find anythig in the article to suggest that it is political.

Such studied articles are needed to get a broader picture because many ppl seem to form hasty opinions and think that whatever scientists suggest must be good.btw i wonder what is balaji's age?

 
At February 11, 2010, Anonymous roshni, delhi said...

i am glad that jairam ramesh has taken a good stand for now at least

 
At February 11, 2010, Blogger Balaji said...

keepcool,

>> the article gives a wider perspective than actual objections about health etc

but the article doesn't make a single point on why Bt Brinjal is harmful on health grounds. infact this blogger and the anti-GM crowd have not offered a single health reason anywhere but merely rant against western countries and corporations.

as recently as yesterday China approved GM rice. rice is the staple food of chinese. it'll potentially be consumed by 1.5 billion people. imagine that.

Brazil, Argentina etc have mass cultivations of GM soybean which again is their staple food.

and in India, we are asked to deny farmers a scientific and well tested solution against pesticides without giving any valid reason.

and btw i'm 27 years old.

 
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At March 04, 2010, Anonymous Balaji said...

EU clears 5 GM Maize and Potato http://bit.ly/9r3ZN6 now start wailing ...

 
At March 05, 2010, Anonymous carmen said...

@balaji

http://bit.ly/c7v6TF

 

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