The massive opposition to genetically engineered (GE) crops in India has almost entirely stopped the entry of this risky and unwanted technology into our farms and plates. But the proponents of this technology and their cronies are determined to shove GM crops down our throats despite the growing scientific evidence questioning the safety of this technology to our health, the environment and farmers' livelihoods.
Three days ago, India's Environment Minister, Veerappa Moily, approved over 200 GE field trial applications that were put on hold by former Environment Ministers in the past. He did this in a very unaccountable manner; assuring the country that it would cause no harm to the environment even though crops like rice and wheat approved for GE field trials are a staple in the country. Contamination of these crops with GE, and the hazardous chemicals they bring with them, is a huge threat to our food system. There are several cases already of experimental GE crops escaping from field trials and ending up in our food.
The former Environment Ministers of India, Jairam Ramesh, followed by Jayanthi Natrajan have taken a precautionary approach to the environmental release of GE crops. In fact, Natrajan has also gone so far as to pause GE field trials which were approved by the infamous regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in 2013. This was done for good reason, as there is a pending Supreme Court case on the safety of GE field trials and also mounting evidence on the inefficiency and inadequacy of the Indian regulator to control these risky GE crops.
However, the current government has turned a blind eye to the dangers of contamination from GE crop field trials as well as the instances of failure of the GEAC. They have taken a drastic step, right before the national elections, of bringing in Veerappa Moily as Environment Minister. Judging from Moily's track record, which had always favoured corporate interests, one could only imagine the fate of the environment under his short stint in the Environment Ministry.
In his new post Moily has clearly not caught up with the history of debate around GE crops in the country. The moratorium on Bt Brinjal after it was approved by the regulator is evidence that citizens of India , farmers and consumers alike, have rejected GE crops. Furthermore the science is clearly divided on this issue as we have seen in the case of the final report of the scientific panel appointed by the Hon. Supreme Court, Technical Expert Committee (TEC). The TEC has strongly recommended a precautionary approach to GE crops and a moratorium on field trials till we don't have a regulator in place that can ensure biosafety.
Civil society protested outside the Environment Ministry yesterday and accused Moily of selling our nation to biotech multinationals by giving them a free reign over our food security. Moily cannot get away with approving 200 GE field Trials without an explanation of his irresponsible action.
The Minister must have felt the heat with elections around the corner and people demanding their right to safe food from the larger political parties. But Moily betrayed the country by choosing corporate interests over people's interest and thereby putting at risk one of the most important national treasures, our seed sovereignty. It is clear that the Indian voter has no confidence in GE crops and its high time the political fraternity show their commitment to safe food and farms. Alternatives exist – its high time the government starts putting significant support behind ecological farming solutions which support smallholder farmers and provide healthy food without relying on GE crops, chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
Neha Saigal is a Senior Campaigner, Food & Agriculture at Greenpeace India