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Sustainable agriculture and food security

Genetically Modified Organisms

Genetically Modified crops or organisms (GM crops, GMCs or GMOs) are plants whose genetic architecture or DNA has been modified through intentional implants of genes for specific purposes (for specific fruit or flower quality etc).

In India, GM Technology is sold only through Mahyco, a subsidiary of Monsanto International. The first GM plant to be introduced in India was BT Cotton, in 2002. BT Cotton was immediately controversial, with far-reaching negative impacts on agriculture, biodiversity, economics and society (farmer suicides in Andhra). Despite this, 95% of the cotton produced in India today is now BT Cotton, largely through government promotion of the seeds.

In 2009, the government proposed to introduce BT Brinjal. Large-scale protests from the public ensued, and a nation-wide consultation was conducted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, the first such consultation by a Government Department. The overarching opposition led to the declaring a moratorium on BT Brinjal.

In 2008/2009, the Government proposed a strategy to introduce GM crops in the country, given the public opposition, and an authority (NBRA – National Biodiversity Regulatory Authority) was proposed via the NBRA bill. Over the years, in reactions to public protest, the government is now proposing a new body – the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI).

The BRAI Bill 2013 can be downloaded here, and its previous versions can be found here.

SAF, along with many other organisations, like Coalition for a GM-Free India and others have actively participated in educating the public on the dangers of GMOs via a series of lectures, debates and interactive sessions.

SAF Scientists reviewed and sent comments on the BRAI Bill 2010 and 2013 and sent submissions to the DBT (Department of BioTechnology), MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests, PAC (Public Accounts Committee), Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forests and the Expert Committee of the Supreme Court which was evaluating the BRAI Bill.

The salient findings of the review were:
1. The adverse effects of GM crops have been well-documented worldwide, and they are known to negatively affect local biodiveristy, health of consumers, economic and social circumstances of farmers and the food sovereignity of nations. Given these, the government should not introduce such this technology for agricultural purposes.
2. Open field tests would be disastrous to local biodiversity and ecology, unless tests are conducted in the glasshouse conditions, a circumstance which is impossible.
3. Given that Genetic Modification is not done to increase productivity; but only to control attack of a specific pest, other feasible options to control pests can be pursued that wont compromise on productivity.
4. While there is a need for a national authority, the proposed BRAI has many structural and functional problems that need to be resolved as priority.

More details can be found here. LINK