This has reference to the report, "After Bt Brinjal row, it's rice variety in storm", that has appeared in today's edition of Indian Express news paper. Prima facie it appears that the genetically modified (GM) variety "Swarna Sub-1" has been developed using the marker assisted selection process (MAS). This process is a biotechnologically superior version of traditional breeding.. This process has not been discussed properly in the public domain. The "experts" say it is safe as this usually involves gene transfer within the same species and does not use any marker of external origin. The knowledge whether this can lead to any problems to health or the environment is also limited to the "experts".
As an organisation that works on a scientific basis we do not oppose science. We believe that science is a very objective, unbiased, transparent and rational method of looking at things and is aimed at benefiting all sections of society. However industry sponsored science blatantly violates all the basic principles of science and threatens to turn to a Frakensteinian monster driven by money, power and greed, three elements that are anathema to science.
In this case too we see that there is absolutely no transparency. The public has not been informed that food is now being changed at a genetic level that is markedly different than traditional breeding. The farmer of course is never consulted in the entire policy making process. We also do not know whether this variety when adopted by private seed manufacturers will lead to Intellectual Property Right (IPR) issues.
There is no rational either as traditional draught resistant varieties are still there with farmers which are known by the agricultural scientists themselves. Thus this appears to be yet another attempt to boost business and benefit the industry. Thus the question of bias too looms large. What kind of a science is this? We also know that all traditional varieties are being taken away from the farmers under the garb of "seed replacement". Whose benefit is this new science aiming at?
Our Director Agriculture is an efficient and progressive person. He is himself a student of genetic engineering and thus ought to understand both sides of the coin as far as this new technology is concerned. However he too shows the same disregard to public concern as "experts" on agriculture. Was it beyond him to consult civil society members before opting for a change in technology? Or does he feel that such a move would hinder "progress and development" as perceived by the industry?
Despite two years of visible public protests and questioning by the media and delivery of more than enough scientific peer reviewed evidence that GM food and crops have serious health and environmental implications, we are yet to know what exactly is the stance of the state with regard to GM food and crops beyond the regular, "we discourage Bt cotton" stance . Thus very skilfully all options have been kept open.
Bt Cotton however has been illegally cultivated in 75% of the land under cotton, as per the Agriculture Production Commissioner himself. The farmers are facing ruin as against a promised yield of 9 to 10 quintals per acre the average yield has been 2..5 quintals per acre, if at all the farmer has been lucky to get some yield. The farmers complain of lands turned barren by the Bt toxin that has been rendered much more powerful by the genetic modification process. There have been sporadic reports of animal deaths in Orissa and the Veterinary Surgeons are crying hoarse on the subject. And yet we do not have any idea what the government plans to do in this regard.
The farmers and consumers of Orissa are today an worried lot. They feel that industry rules the roost and food and livelihood safety will be severely compromised rather than being guaranteed. Just as MAS technology and its implementation has been kept a well guarded secret till the very end, who can say that the various experiments on other more heinous GM technology will not be suddenly unleashed on the people? If we consider the fact that food imported from GM food growing countries are being sold in all upmarket food bazars then we can surely say that "the poison is already on the platter".
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