Jan 3, 2010

Call for a moratorium on GM Foods

In the dense fog blanket that covers up entire north India, the only bright spot was a four column news report on the back page of The Hindu today.  Titled: "Call for moratorium on GM Foods" the news report from the ongoing Mararikulam Brinjal Festival being held in Kerala did cheer me up.

Mararikulam is a small panchayat in Kerala.

My colleague Sridhar R who has been part of the organising team informs that every day some 15,000 to 20,000 people are visiting the brinjal mela. This is not surprising considering that awareness about biodiversity has never been on the public agenda. People are keen to know but sadly the educational institutes as well as the government are not interested.

I wish the Ministry for Environment & Forests (MoEF), which has the responsibility of preserving and conserving India's rich biodiversity, takes this brinjal mela to different parts of the country. If a panchayat can do it, why can't the MoEF be made to replicate the initiative throughout the country? Also, let us not forget that 2010 is also the UN International Year of Biodiversity.

It will be a sensible effort on the part of MoEF to sensitise the people about the diversity of plants that lie in our own backyards, and which is being discarded simply because the scientific community is keen to help the private seed and biotech companies to plunder the available genetic wealth for the sake of corporate profits. MoEF job is not only to endorse the fraudulent conclusions of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).

It can also direct the National Biodiversity Authority to create wider awareness about the brinjal biodiversity that exists in the country. The NBA has so far confined itself to merely accessing biodiversity for commercial purposes. It is high time the Minister for Environment Jairam Ramesh directs NBA to take on its fundamental role of spreading more awareness about India's mega-diveristy.

Meanwhile, here is The Hindu news report: 

Call for moratorium on GM Foods

Scientist P.M. Bhargava speaks at the national seminar held as part of the Mararikulam Brinjal Festival in Alappuzha on Saturday. Kerala Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac, Karnataka State Women’s University Vice-Chancellor Geetha Bali, environmental activists Dinesh Abrol and Suman Sahai and others are present -- The Hindu pix

ALAPPUZHA: Noted scientist and founder of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, P.M. Bhargava, has called for a moratorium of at least eight years on genetically modified (GM) food products in India.

Inaugurating a national seminar on Bt. Brinjal and Alternatives in Agriculture at the Mararikulam Brinjal Festival here on Saturday, Dr. Bhargava said the moratorium period should be used to set up an independent laboratory in the public sector exclusively for risk assessment of GM products. Only after extensive research at this lab should any GM product be considered for approval as a commercial product in the country, he said.

'Ludicrous document’

Lambasting the report based on which the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee’s Expert Committee II, headed by Arjula R. Reddy, recommended the approval of Bt. Brinjal, Dr. Bhargava said the report was “full of lies and absurdities,” a “ludicrous document that brought down Indian science in front of the whole world,” and one which looked like it had been written by the public relations officer of the Mahyco-Monsanto collaboration, the makers of Bt. Brinjal.

Further, Arjula R. Reddy confided in me that he was under tremendous pressure to clear it. Many tests that should have been done were not done. Those that were done were not done properly. Further, the report is based more on data supplied by Monsanto, a company with an abominable record,” he said.

“The widespread aversion to GM food products also cannot be ignored. A majority in the U.S., the European Union and Japan among others are against it. Even Zambia and Nigeria have stood up against GM food products. If India still approves Bt. Brinjal, that will be the single, greatest tragedy in the history of independent India,” Dr. Bhargava said.

These points would be conveyed to Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh during the public hearing on Bt. Brinjal in Hyderabad on January 22.

‘Decisive intervention’

Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac, who said the Mararikulam North Grama Panchayat was “acting locally but thinking globally” through the ongoing Brinjal Festival, added that the panchayat was also attempting a decisive intervention in national policy.

The State government had already decided to keep Kerala totally GM-free while the panchayat wanted sufficient precautions and research on Bt. Brinjal.

Noted environmental activists Suman Sahai (of the Gene Campaign), Karnataka State Women’s University Vice-Chancellor Geetha Bali, Dinesh Abrol of the All-India People’s Science Network and others also spoke.



Anonymous said...

It is so exciting to hear from the Finance Minister of Kerala that Mararikulam panchayath will start a programme for conserving all the 300 odd varieties of brinjal in the country. I hope NBA support this programme . Rather than sitting in the cold storages of NBPGR or under the sea in Norway it is better to conserve them in this manner. Hope more ministers and panchayaths take this up for conserving diverse crops in our country.

warm regards

Mihir jha said...

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Wishing you a very happy new year 2010 ahead.

uthamanarayanan said...

It is inspiring to know Mr.Nitish Kumar, as a Chief Minister announced , he would not support Bt.Brinjal.