Skip to main content

Unscientific, undemocratic, unacceptably, risky: Hurried moves for GM food crops

By Bharat Dogra 

Some recent statements that have appeared in media indicate that there is a lot of pressure for very hurried introduction of genetically modified mustard crop after its approval by a regulating agency GEAC. Even the fact that on such an important matter the final government decision should be awaited has not been considered by GM lobbyists and pressure groups. In the federal democratic structure of India, on such an important issue as the introduction of GM food crops, the approval by a regulating agency is only one step. The union government is supposed to examine it carefully and then consult the state governments as well, the precedence for which is available. What about the substantial evidence available against GM food crops collected from the recent extensive debates and consultations on GM crops in India, which is contained in several official reports including reports of Parliamentary Committees? Independent health and environmental groups and experts must to be consulted too, and a review of all world-level information must be made in an unbiased way.
Farmers’ organizations must definitely be consulted too. The last time when such consultation was ignored on a very important issue (the three controversial farm laws), this led to so much avoidable discontent and agitation. Certainly farmers’ interests are closely involved in introducing any GM crop because of the risk of genetic contamination and several related factors. As a group of eminent scientists from several countries organized under the Independent Science Panel (ISP) have stated, “GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture.” In other words, those farmers who do not opt for GM crops will also be exposed to their adverse impacts. So how can you go ahead with GM crops without involving farmers and their organizations in a well-informed debate and consultation, a debate in which farmers have a chance to read not just government and business reports on the subject, but also the opinion of several eminent scientists and experts who have been warning again GM crops.
The late Prof. Pushpa M. Bhargava has been widely acknowledged to be the top authority on this issue in India. He was founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and was chosen by the Supreme Court as its independent observer when a case relating to this was being heard in the Supreme Court of India. Just a little before his tragic death (this was the time when the country needed him the most) he prepared a review of all the scientific literature on this issue. In this review he stated that “there are over 500 research publications by scientists of indisputable integrity, who have no conflict of interest, that establish harmful effects of GM crops on human, animal and plant health and on environment and biodiversity.” What about the papers written in support of GM crops. The review by Prof. Bhargava informs us, “On the other hand, virtually every paper supporting GM crops is by scientists who have a declared conflict of interest or whose credibility and integrity can be doubted.”
Such a situation has arisen because of the billions of dollars spent by giant agro-business multinational companies of world, often helped by their governments too, on promotion of GM crops and technology, considered to be their favored tool for gaining control of world food and farming system. Prof. Bhargava had warned that the ultimate goal of this attempt in India is to obtain control over Indian agriculture and food production. As more direct efforts by giant multinational companies attract more suspicion, they use the services of their front-men to get GM crops introduced.
All over the world there is a big movement of people for keeping farming and food system GM free. If GM food crops are introduced, this means denying farmers the domestic markets and export markets that comprise of these health conscious consumers. The USA is in risk of losing this market because of the highest concentration of GM crops there so it would like to bring potential competitors like India to the same category. Such risks are more in the case of oilseed crops as edible oils obtained from them are used to prepare so many cooked and processed foods, and mustard oil is also used for several medicinal purposes in India.
While the discourse of GM promoters, as widely seen in media, concentrates on claimed yield gains for a specific mustard variety, the many serious hazards associated with most GM crops are ignored. This is unfortunate and unscientific. As the ISP report quoted above and titled ‘The Case for A GMO Free and Sustainable World says, “By far the most insidious dangers of genetic engineering are inherent to the process itself, which greatly enhances the scope and probability horizontal gene transfer and recombination, the main route to creating viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics.” Shouldn’t this worry us, particularly in these times?
Further this report says, “Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns that, if ignored, could result in irreversible damage to health and environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now.”
In his book ‘Genetic Roulette’, which was endorsed by several eminent experts working on food and farming issues at world level, author Jeffrey M. Smith has summarized the results of a lot of research on GM crops which indicated the following possibilities of various health risks, based on lab research on animals—stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, abnormal and potentially precancerous cell growth in the intestines, impaired blood cell development, misshapen cell structures in the liver, pancreas and testicles, altered gene expression and cell metabolism, liver and kidney lesions, inflamed kidneys, less developed brains and testicles, enlarged livers, pancreas and intestines, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, increased death rates and higher offspring mortality.
Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist at King’s College, London, has stated, “If the kind of detrimental effects seen in animals fed GM food were observed in a clinical setting, the use of the product would have been halted and further research initiated to determine the cause and find possible solutions. However what we find repeatedly in the context of GM food is that both government and industry plough on ahead with the development, endorsement and marketing of GM foods despite the warnings of potential ill health from animal feeding studies, as if nothing has happened. This is to the point where governments and industry even seem to ignore the results of their own research!”
The available significant evidence of serious health risks and irreversible serious environmental risks, which increase in times of climate change, has become available despite many cases of victimization of scientists, suppression of research results, pre-mature ending of important research and even outright fraud to suppress this evidence of adverse impacts. Giant multinational companies leading in GM crops at world level have been made to pay millions of dollars by law courts repeatedly for the health hazards caused by them and they even try to hide their identity by merging with other companies, like the company which caused the Bhopal gas leak.
However you will never hear all this from the promoters of GM crops, all they will say is that we have received some yield gain. Hence it is important to point out that, while safety issues are much more important, in the past most claims of higher yields for GM crops have later turned out to bogus. The Union of Concerned Scientists, USA, published a report ‘Failure to Yield’ confirming that “after 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, GM crops have failed to increase yields’ and that ‘traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.’ In a joint letter written to former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh 17 distinguished scientists from several countries had stated that claims of yield increase by GM crops are not correct. What is more they stated that this technology is “conceptually flawed, crude, imprecise and poorly controlled technology.”
To make such a technology the basis for increasing oilseed production in India is a high-risk, foolhardy proposition best discarded, keeping in view also the much wider and much more serious risks of GM crops and GM food crops. We should say a firm no to not just GM mustard but to all GM food crops and in fact to all GM crops.
The other path chosen recently of increasing edible oil supply by palm oil plantations is also environmentally a high risk path which will retard the progress of our traditional oilseed crops. Our efforts to increase oilseeds production and edible oil supply should be based on using the rich biodiversity, rotations ad mixed cropping systems of many traditional oilseed/edible crops including groundnut, mustard, sesame, coconut as well as a host of minor but valuable oilseeds with their own distinct nutrition, health and other value. If the authorities ignore this safe path and instead opt for high-risk GM Mustard and in addition palm oil plantations, they will be committing a very serious mistake.
The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food', ‘14 Questions about GM Crops' and ‘A Day in 2071’



Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Repeated failure to appoint Chief, other commissioners undermining RTI Act

By Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri* The post of the Chief Information Commissioner of the Central Information Commission (CIC) has fallen vacant with the retirement of Bimal Julka with effect from August 27, 2020. This is the fifth time in the last six years that the Commission has been rendered headless. Four posts of information commissioners are also vacant in the CIC. Currently more than 35,000 appeals and complaints are pending in the commission resulting in citizens having to wait for months, even years for their cases to be disposed, thereby frustrating peoples’ right to know. Since May 2014, not a single commissioner of the CIC has been appointed without citizens having to approach courts. The failure of the government to make timely appointments of commissioners is a flagrant violation of the directions of the Supreme Court. In its February 2019 judgment, the apex court had categorically stated that if the CIC does not have a Chief Information Commissioner or required strength

Panchayat funds defrauded: Roads without potholes a fundamental right but not here

Kirity Roy, Secretary Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and National Convenor (PACTI) Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, writes to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** Through this complaint, I want to draw your attention to the plight of the villagers of Nawdapara in the District of North 24 Parganas. The village is situated under the Bagdah Police Station, Bagdah Block and Mama Bhagina Post Office respectively. Nawdapara is a Muslim minority populated village. Indo Bangladesh Border Road (IBBR) passes through the middle of the village. There is a naka checking post of the BSF inside the village and BSF associated with Mama Bhagina Border Out Post, 68 Battalion, ‘B’ Company guard 24 hours in that check post. People have lived in this village since the independence of India. The market is about three to four kilometres away from Nawdapara village. One primary school is situated within the village but the high school is about five to six kilo

Ultimate champion in crisis, arguably best ever skipper: Created history in Aussie cricket

By Harsh Thakor  In the history of cricket few cricketers knit and propelled a cricket team or had such profound influence on the game as Ian Chappell. Ian Chappell was responsible for converting a bunch of talented individuals into a world beating side, giving a dramatic turn to Australian cricket. Few cricketers ever led such a renaissance.

BSF's unconstitutional, whimsical order violates life, livelihood of Dalits, minorities

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** I want to attract your attention towards the illegitimate restrictions on the life and livelihood of the villagers of Paschim Sahebganj village under Dinhata - II Block and Sahebganj police station in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal by the Border Security Force personnel attached with Dharala Border Out Post under 138 Battalion BSF. The population of Paschim Sahebganj village is around 1480, where almost 75 percent of the villagers belong from Hindu Scheduled Caste (Dalit) and 25 percent from minority Muslim backgrounds.The main occupation of the villagers is agriculture. About 260 acres of cultivable land in the village that belongs to the villagers is located outside the border fencing, which is heavily guarded by the Border Security Force (BSF). The BSF regulates the ingress and egress of the villagers to their fields through the fencing gates that a

Largest democracy in world has become weakest at hands of fascist Hindutva forces

Note on “The Nazification of India”, a report released By Justice For All: *** This report, the Nazification of India, compares how Hindutva ideology not only is inspired by Nazis and Fascists of Europe, but their treatment of the Muslim minority closely follows developments that resulted in pushing Jews to the gas chambers. Situation is indeed quite alarming. The report says that the largest democracy in the world has become the weakest at the hands of the fascist Hindutva ideology. India today is ruled not just by a political party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but its mother organization the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Because the BJP’s government policies are linked to extra-legal enforcement by RSS paramilitary street power, this report has coined the term “The BJP-RSS regime” to reflect their intrinsic links and collaborative relationship. The Nazification of India report marks the anniversary of the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 against Muslims which propelled the BJP-RSS

Varanasi social worker who has devoted her life for the ultra-poor and the marginalized

Passion Vista and its partners profile Founder and Managing Trustee Shruti Nagvanshi as  someone whom women leaders look up to: *** Shruti Nagvanshi, a social worker and human rights activist based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, has devoted her life to reaching out to the ultra-poor and marginalized communities in India. Born in Dashashwmedh, Varanasi on 2 January 1974, she married Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi on 22 February 1992 and has a son, Kabeer Karunik, a Business management Graduate who is also a national level snooker player.

An approach to lake/pond restoration by Ramveer Tanvar, Pond Man of India

By Monami Bhattacharya*, Mansee Bal Bhargava**  Lakes/ ponds are often referred to as an elixir of life, a living ecosystem that adds incremental value to the larger biota. Across the tropical landscape of the country lakes/ ponds are a common sight. Lakes/ponds have always shaped the life and livelihood of those dwelling in and around it. The dependence of the local population on these natural resources of water is noticeable since time immemorial. However, they are fading fast in both rural and urbanscapes from the popular parlance with the advance of humanity. It has been a popular notion to value land more than the waterscape and hence these nurturers of life are under stress in several areas. In many instances, these once beautiful waterscapes referred as the ‘Eye of the Earth’ are mostly now only dilapidated garbage dump yards emitting foul smell with no sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Urban crisis: Impact of erosion of democratic framework on Indian cities

By IMPRI Team  On 13th February, 2023, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi in collaboration with ActionAid Association India arranged a book launch followed by lecture series under the title “India’s G20 Presidency & the Urban Agenda for the Developing Countries”. The event was held in Indian International Centre (IIC) Annex, New Delhi. The event began with the book inauguration session, under the honorary presence of Mr Sitaram Yechury, former Rajya Sabha member and General Secretary, CPI (M), accompanied by Mr Sandeep Chachra, executive director, ActionAid Association India. Session 1 | Book Launch: ‘Cities in Transition’ by Mr Tikender Singh Panwar The book launched was “Cities in Transition”, written by Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, former Deputy Mayor, Shimla and a Senior Fellow at IMPRI. Beginning with brief remarks on his book, Mr Panwar outlined the basic subject matter and the purpose behind writing the book, which he considers as a by-product of his experien

Why rapid transition to green energy should be people-centric and community-led

Synthesis Report of IPCC AR6 is a warning call: Grounded action needed to ensure social and ecological justice: ActionAid Association note: *** The Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report is a warning call for action on the quickly closing opportunity of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees centigrade. Unless fossil fuels are rapidly retired, the impacts of climate change already faced by vulnerable communities will become difficult to handle. The IPCC report also highlights that we have the renewable energy technology, policy tools, and financial capital required for a just transition; however, “both adaptation and mitigation financing would need to increase many-fold”. The loss and damage caused by heat waves, crop failures, and rising sea levels suffered by majorities of India’s working peoples are already significant and uncompensated. News reports tell us that due to heat, India already loses around 101 billion hours yearly. E