“Food security through GM crops fallacious”: Scientists

National Safe Food Day being celebrated throughout the country, on 3rd anniversary of Bt brinjal moratorium

(Please read this press release of the Coalition along with this letter : http://indiagminfo.org/?p=540)

New Delhi, February 9th 2013: On the 3rd anniversary of a moratorium on Bt brinjal in India, in a letter to the Minister for Environment & Forests (MoEF), more than 150 scientists from across the country pointed out that food security arguments around GM crops are baseless and fallacious, both from the scientific and global experience point of view. These scientists expressed disappointment that the MoEF, responsible for regulation of transgenics, allowed the Ministry of Agriculture to step into the Supreme Court PIL on GMOs on behalf of the Union of India. In their letter, they pointed out that Food Safety is an integral part of Food Security. Earlier in November 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture had argued in the SC that transgenic crops are essential for food security and that India’s transgenic regulatory regime was sound and robust.


The third anniversary of the moratorium on Bt brinjal, being marked as the National Safe Food Day, is witnessing dozens of events and activities around the country. Three years ago, Jairam Ramesh, the then MoEF placed an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal stating that as being “responsible to science and responsive to society”.


“We urge Ms Jayanti Natarajan, Minister for Environment & Forests, to show the scientificity and independence that her predecessor showed in placing a moratorium on what would have been India’s first GM food crop, Bt brinjal. In fact, the situation on the regulatory front is worse than it was thought to be during the time the nation-wide public consultations led to the moratorium in 2010. The Bt brinjal moratorium decision has set a good precedence in terms of a precautionary approach. The debate then raised questions around capabilities of biosafety review in an independent and scientific manner, apart from the need for long term independent testing.


It also highlighted the much-required element of needs assessment and assessment of alternatives, before going in for the GM option, which is absent in the current system. This has been pointed out time and again, starting with the Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology, headed by Dr M S Swaminathan in 2003, the report of which was formally accepted by Govt of India in 2004. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in its report tabled in August 2012, has captured the various nuances to the issue of transgenic food crops in great detail and had asked for a biosafety law to be brought in (instead of the BRAI Bill). The Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council (PM-SAC), listing the key characteristics of an effective regulatory system highlighted the need for sound scientific expertise within the (regulatory) organisation, through independent panels, as well as processes that ensure transparency and freedom from conflict. The Sopory Committee, commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, had pointed out serious and objectionable issues with regard to our transgenic research and regulation, where crores of rupees of taxpayers’ funds have been expended. It also confirmed GM contamination. The Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court (SC TEC) also made recommendations on similar lines. It is no coincidence that so many inquiry processes are saying similar things. However, it is surprising that the Ministry of Agriculture ignores all of the above and continues with its biased and unscientific stand on GM crops. The Ministry of Agriculture’s continued aggressive promotion of GM crops is unacceptable and we want the Minister for Environment & Forests to be responsive to society and responsible to science. Therefore, we expect the Environment Minister to accept the first set of recommendations by the TEC”, said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM-Free India.


Explaining that food security is not connected with faulty techno-fixes like transgenic crops, Kavitha Kuruganti, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India added: “The attached letter being sent by scientists from around the country to Ms Jayanti Natarajan clearly shows that non-transgenic solutions exist for increasing productivity in agriculture, if the belief is that it is a supply-side problem. However, it is important to realize that today, food security is not about food production, but poverty, livelihoods and development.


“Further, no transgenic crops have been created to increase intrinsic yield potential; as regards operational yields, it is a mixed and unimpressive picture. In the USA, it has been found that in corn, of the 28 percent increase in corn productivity between 1996 and 2008, about 24 or 25 percent was due to factors other than GE. This is about 86 percent of the total increase in yield in corn in those years. GE contributed to a mere 14% of the total yield increase between 1996 and 2008. In the case of soybean, it has been found that the herbicide tolerance gene provided no clear yield advantage, while based on USDA data, yields went up about 16 percent from 1996 – 2008, due to (conventional) breeding and agronomy.


“In India, yield growth of cotton was most impressive in the years prior to the expansion of area under Bt cotton. Yield increases are attributed to many other reasons (other than Bt technology of Bt cotton) by none other than the CICR Director (and state governments too).


“One of the most important things that the scientists’ letter highlights is that from 1995, when 12% of the US population was food insecure, America (the country with largest GM crop adoption) has moved to a situation in 2011 where 15% of the population is food insecure, the same period that they went from zero to the current level of adoption of GM crops. Brazil (the second largest grower of GM crops) continued to see a decline in its hunger profile. However, the pace of decrease has decelerated in the years when GM area expanded (Between 1999-2001 and 2004-06 (which is the pre-GM era), the percentage of undernourished in total population reduced from 12.1% to 8.7%; From then to 2010-12, it decelerated from 8.7% to 6.9%). Argentina, the third largest grower of GM crops, has seen no significant difference in its hunger situation, during the years of expansion of GM crops. Paraguay, which grows GM crops on 65% of its arable land, saw population experiencing hunger spiral up from 12.6% in 2004-06 to 25 % in 2010-12. Countries like Peru and Venezuela have on the other hand experienced tremendous improvement in their hunger situation even though they have not adopted GM crops. It is clear that GM crop adoption has not meant greater improvements in food security. GE, as several scientists have said, is a costly distraction for the solutions that we are seeking in farming. It is time that the Ministry of Agriculture became scientific in its outlook and analysis; it is also important that the MoEF does not allow itself to be misled”.


The Coalition pointed out that citizens are keen to have an informed debate on the subject and it does not help to have a unilateral view presented by the government that too using taxpayers’ funds. On National Safe Food Day, numerous events are being organized by dozens of groups across the country, ranging from public debates, to lectures, to colorful rallies, to poster exhibitions, to film screenings and safe food festivals. The coalition urges citizens to join the events nearest to them and engage with the issue of food safety. More information is available at: http://nationalsafefoodday2013.blogspot.in/


For more information, contact:

Sridhar Radhakrishnan: +91-99953-58205

Kavitha Kuruganti: +91-93930-01550

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