Science and scientists have always played a huge role in shaping the course of civilizations over thousands of years.  India in the last 60 years too has been the beneficiary of great strides made in science. But there has also been a growing realization in hindsight that the checks and balances put on scientific innovation cannot be merely from a single prism.

The first green revolution in India in the 60s helped by Norman Borlaug’s advances in hybridization, modern cropping and irrigation techniques and the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides had a rapid effect in bolstering India’s food production in the early years. Now more than 40 years later, it is evident that the spread of chemical intensive agriculture has destroyed soil fertility with the rampant use of chemicals. It has also thrown up huge issues for our country in terms of stagnating and/ or declining food production and also the biggest threat of them all- the issue of food safety. Or the lack of it.

This clearly implies that it is essential for any major scientific technology to undergo a stringent evaluation process, also encompassing the complete spectrum of their implications for the environment, biodiversity and human life.

This is best defined by the Precautionary Principle which was expounded at the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 which states,” In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

It is also an integral aspect of the Cartagena Protocol on Bio Safety, the international treaty that deals with the handling, transfer and the use of genetically modified organisms, of which India is a signatory. So then the next urgent, immediate question that pops up in my head is, “Why are sections of the government encouraging the commercialization of GM Mustard in our country?”

09 August 2013

© Karan Vaid

 

GM Mustard (DMH 11), funded by the National Dairy Development Board and developed by a team led by Dr Deepak Pental at Delhi University, faces imminent commercialization by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the Ministry of Environment & Forests. And this is in spite of no biosafety data on the GMO being made public (repeated RTI queries by activists have been turned down) and in the light of the issue being sub judice in the Supreme Court and when a SC appointed technical committee has recommended a moratorium on all field trials of GMOs.

 

Although there are a huge number of concerns over the entry of GMOS and this has also been highlighted by the plight bt cotton has put farmers in in India, I want to address one primary aspect- the question of choice. Deepak Pental, the key scientist behind the DMH 11 GM Mustard openly admitted in 2012 that transgenes would move to non-transgenic materials. This would imply loss of all traditional varieties of the mustard variety. [1]

And that would mean that you will lose the one thing that you still have a right to- the right to choose!

 

09 August 2013

File photo of BRAI protest from 2013 © Karan Vaid

 

I am not a scientist. But I sure do know that I do not want something on my plate that is potentially unsafe. And what takes the cake is that, with time, I won’t even be able to say no to it, unless I say no to sambhar, which I’ve grown up on, and sarson ka saag, which I’ve come to love, and tadka in my curries. One thing I know- I definitely can’t do without my sambhar! Can you?

Let’s also not forget that unlike some of the effects of the Green Revolution which are reversible, there’s no turning back with GMOs! Join me in telling the government to put a stop to GM Mustard. Take action now – we only have a few weeks to say #NoGMMustard



[1] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/interviews/stopping-gm-trials-is-antifarmer-38066

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