Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Response to the PM’s pitch for GM crops at the Science Congress, Jammu

Suman Sahai

It is extremely disappointing that our PM has chosen to make such a strong pitch in favour of GM foods and trashed those who hold different views on the acceptability of such foods as “unscientific prejudices”. The current Prime Minister is a specialist in agriculture and among the most highly educated political leaders of today. He knows more than most about the large and diverse set of problems that beset Indian agriculture. Does the Prime Minister seriously believe that GM crops are necessary to solve all the problems of Indian agriculture and ensure food security? And are GM crops the silver bullets to solve the problems of hunger and malnutrition? 

This is not the first time that the Prime Minister has used the Science Congress to throw his weight behind the promotion of GM crops. His Agriculture Minister does it regularly too. Mr Pawar’s first response after the passage of the Food Security Act (FSA) was to state that India could not meet the targets set by the FSA unless it adopted GM crops. It would be helpful if the Prime Minister and his office would also engage with the concerns expressed by several scientists, members of civil society, farmer organizations and concerned citizens about the safety and desirability of these crops. These are not unscientific prejudices, they are most often, genuine concerns arising from a high level of familiarity with the scientific evidence of harm resulting from the consumption of GM foods. The results from feeding studies done on animals, in many parts of the world are available in the public domain and they show the risks that can be associated with eating GM foods.

Informed scientific opinion has expressed itself repeatedly that research on farming systems and supporting better farm practices, together with reviving the extension support to farmers and strengthening market linkages are the key to making farming profitable and banishing hunger.

It is deeply disappointing that a Prime Minister as erudite as ours has willfully chosen to indulge in biased rhetoric and espouse the controversial, as yet unproven contribution that GM crops can make to hunger and malnutrition.

Gene Campaign believes that any technology including GM technology can at best provide a solution to a particular problem when it is implemented with extreme caution and stringent biosafety testing. It can in no way provide answers to a complex situation like hunger.