Genetically engineered (GE) food is a hot button topic in India. What happens here often sends ripples throughout the GE debate worldwide, but what happened last week is surely a major milestone.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, made up of members of parliament (MPs) from across party lines, tabled its latest report on GE food and GE crops following intense consultation with farmers, environmental groups, scientists and consumer groups.
The committee undertook extensive consultation – perhaps the most comprehensive taken anywhere in the world. The committee took two and half years holding hearings across India and going through some 493 memoranda running to some 15,000 pages.
GE crops are not the best option for a country like India, either in terms of farmers’ livelihoods or food security. In fact, the committee concluded that GE crops could pose a serious threat to people’s health and to biodiversity. The committee also found that Bt cotton, the only commercially cultivated GE crop in India, has failed to benefit farmers, especially small and marginal farmers in rainfed regions who form the majority of cotton cultivators in the country.
The existing and proposed regulatory systems in India were also called into question. It has recommended an all encompassing Biosafety Protection Authority for India which will safeguard the health of citizens, the environment, food, feed and farming from any risky technologies such as GE crops. The standing committee has also asked for a halt to all open field trials “under any garb” with immediate effect.
These are ambitious recommendations and send a clear signal to the GE industry. But the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report is recommendatory in nature and the government will have to present an action plan within the next three months. The report’s findings vindicate Greenpeace and all others who have been warning of the threats posed by GE crops in India. Indeed, it will push us to ensure these recommendations are fully adopted.
These developments come six months after a draft Chinese grain/staple food law restricting the genetic modification of staple crops in China. The report is a clear sign that the largest agrarian countries in the world, China and India, are taking a precautionary approach to GE crops and do not see them as a sustainable solution.
The biotech industry and their cronies in the government will try to discredit this report and sideline its recommendations. But they forget that the parliamentary standing committee reflects the will of the people. Greenpeace will continue to remind our Government of this and continue our fight against any open releases of GE crops including those for experimental trials. This will only be possible if people come together and demand governments to act now.
Rajesh Krishnan is a Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner for Greenpeace India