In a landmark decision, the Karnataka government decided to pull the plug on all field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops across the state, securing the environment, farmers and health of people in the state from irreversible and inevitable damage.
This was a result of massive public opposition from farmers and civil society groups against GM field trials in the state. A few weeks before this decision, Greenpeace had exposed a Monsanto GM corn field trial, in Banihatti PA (village), Sindagi taluka, Bijapur district in Karnataka. The company was found to be blatantly violating all of the regulations laid down by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). On the other hand, the local authorities – State Bio-safety Coordination Committee (SBCC) and District Level Committee (DLC) were unaware of GEAC's mandate.
Following the letter that Greenpeace sent to the GEAC and Karnataka Chief Minister Mr. Yeddyurappa, the GEAC held a meeting on July 6, 2011 and is believed to have discussed the matter merely asking Monsanto for an explanation and ensuring the state government has a say in the approval of field trials. But what was more crucial was public opinion such as yours.
Genetically modified food crops have been shrouded in controversy since they were introduced in the United States in the nineties. Open field trials are the first step to contamination. By definition, 'open' field trials are open to the environment. Even the best governments, regulators or regulations cannot prevent contamination through cross-pollination or human error. It is difficult to keep track of all the contamination that has taken place across the world. These have resulted in companies, countries, traders and farmers losing millions of dollars. Clearly, it is not worth it.
Allowing contamination from crops that are undergoing trials to establish their safety is like cutting off the arm to see if it hurts. It has been close to two decades since the technology was introduced and independent scientists are still grappling with the safety of these foods. Governments are pouring hundreds of crores of tax payers money into research of such dubious crops, which have not proven to increase yield (by way of reduced loss to pest attack) over a substantially long period of time or proven to be safe over years or successive generations, let alone the environment. Simultaneously, GM proponents such as the Monsantos of the world lure governments and farmers by making romantic statements of 'feeding the world' when in fact they seek to make farmers, consumers and ultimately entire countries dependent on them.
Given this, governments should refocus their energies on what is cultivated (cash crops vs. crops necessary to feed the populace), multi-cropping (to maintain the health of the soil without compromising on scarce resources such as water), protecting biodiversity (GM monocultures will not save us in a climate-stressed world, only biodiversity will) tree-alleys (for biomass), having cattle off the field, inland ponds, working on minimising external inputs (read agro-chemicals) and ultimately ensuring distribution of all that has been produced ensuring nothing is wasted or thrown away.
While Karnataka has banned field trials, there are several other states in the country yet to take a stand on this issue. A dangerous Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India bill is also being proposed at the center. The bill will create a body which will act as a single window clearance system for all GM crops in our country. What public opposition achieved in the case of Bt brinjal last year, and Karnataka recently might become impossible with this body in place.
Our food is not safe if the bill gets cleared in its current form. Support from millions of people like you will help the entire country steer clear of genetically engineered foods and demand food that is safe for all of us and the environment in which we live.
Image: © Greenpeace / Vivek M