Spurious Science peddling GM Crops: Wither Food Security?
K P Prabhakaran Nair, 1 January 2012
As the stakes rise for MNCs desperately peddling their money-raking GM crops all over the world, Indian agricultural scientists are becoming increasingly amenable to MNC persuasions (sic) regarding the safety and desirability of genetically modified crops. Indian Farmers, with their native wisdom, wary of the entire food chain becoming bonded to a handful of powerful Seed companies, have through their respective organisations, impleaded with the Supreme Court to ban GM food crops until proper bio-safety studies are completed.
The writer was the first in India, way back in 2002, to raise the banner of protest against Bt technology when the Monsanto-Mahyco combine introduced Bt cotton country and Mahyco (Indian subsidiary of Monsanto) began selling seeds at Rs 1950/500 grams). My article “Bt cotton - Bane or Boon?” warned many of the dangers of this dubious technology. Later, while presenting a paper at an international seminar in China in 2004, the writer was shocked to learn on touring the countryside that Monsanto was selling the same Bt cotton seeds in China for just US$2/500 gms., when one dollar was about Rs 45/-. This suggests that Monsanto/Mahyco made a neat profit of around Rs 160/- crores in just one season!
Sadly, a conniving and well-connected ‘expert’ convinced the Government of India to let it continue in India. It came as no surprise to discover that the MD of Mahyco was a trustee in a Foundation run by the ‘expert’, such is the prevailing standard among Indian professionals.
In 2006, came the controversy of Bt brinjal, when field trials (clandestine testing) of the produce by Mahyco was dumped in Andhra Pradesh markets (Warangal). The writer raised hell and matter landed up in the Supreme Court, then headed by Mr Justice Sabarval. The CJI observed that the entire question of GM crops should be examined by an independent expert committee, chaired by a competent and respectable scientist with a patriotic attitude. The Government of India was represented on this committee by the same ‘expert’ who promoted Bt cotton!
When a new Chief Justice took charge at the Supreme Court, the anti-GM seed activists began to get a cold shoulder. But the activists from Andhra Pradesh fought to make the writer Chairman of the independent expert committee suggested by former CJI Sabarval, and gathered very competent persons to man the committee.
Fortunately, despite the myriad games played by the Bt lobby, the Kerala minister of agriculture decided that the State should be declared “Bt free”. Later, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh also agreed, in February 2009, to put an embargo on Bt brinjal.
And now, some renowned ‘professors’ have again given scientific integrity the boot and jumped into the fray, forcing us midst multiple burdens, to reinvent the wheel once again. It is truly shocking to find a NASI-Platinum Jubilee Chair/ Honorary Professor at a prestigious scientific institution openly promoting GM technology in a major national daily.
Having, as stated above, chaired the Supreme Court-mandated Independent Expert Committee looking into the field experimental data provided by Mahyco on Bt brinjal, the writer would like to report upon the observations made by the committee:
1] The allerginicity of the protein extract from the Bt brinjal was apparently carried out on brown Norway rats and not on male rabbits as prescribed by the Department of Biotechnology, (DBT), Government of India
2] DBT guidelines prescribe in vivo immunological assays for the detection of reactogenic antibodies in the test sera. These in vivo assays were not carried out
3] Though Cry 1Ac gene was earlier considered innocuous, recent published scientific evidence indicates that Cry 1 Ac protein from Bacillus thurengiensis (Bt) - the cell induced bacterium in Bt brinjal - is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant, which enhances mostly serum and intestinal lg G antibody responses. This is the most serious biochemical threat in Bt technology. Yet the scientist while writing about Bt gene and Bt brinjal was so very casual in his observations, which makes one doubt if he knows anything about recombinant technology
4] There is apparently conclusive evidence to show that root exudates of GM crops alter the soil microflora profile, negatively impacting soil productivity
5] The field data was not statistically analyzed for precise scientific interpretations, and as such, the conclusions drawn are invalid. No cost-benefit ratio for the farmer was calculated to examine whether or not the new technology is economically viable. Exaggerated data dished out by MNCs is no answer to the real benefit to the farmer. Those writing on the subject should go to Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha district in Maharashtra - most farmer suicides are of cotton farmers.
The “Tread Mill Technology” is no answer to India’s food production problems. Mere sweeping statements that Bt cotton will change the face of India are untenable. It may be true that the American bollworm has been somewhat controlled (not exclusively due to insecticidal spray elimination, but reduced number of sprays - this is the same experience in USA also, the land of origin of Bt cotton), but now aphids have come in as a new devastating insect. Personal visits to China show that the Chinese Government is now turning away from Bt cotton.
In my state, the Kerala Roller Flour Millers Association and All Kerala Bread Manufacturers Association has demanded an immediate ban on open air releases of Genetically Modified (GM) food crops amidst reports that the controversial Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill could be tabled in the winter session of the Parliament [now unlikely].
Both food associations have informed the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and the Confederation of Indian Industry that their members have decided to reject GM food crops. They pointed out that according to a survey by market research agency Gfk Mode, nearly 80 percent of consumers in the country found food containing genetically modified organisms unpalatable. In this backdrop, they demanded a ban on any open release of GM crops.
Insisting upon GM free zones, the associations said they did not want even experimental trials of GM rice in the entire Basmati belt of the country “to safeguard the rice exports from GM contamination which could have led to loss of trade”. The associations said it is essential for them to avoid any chances of contamination from GM crops into their chain of supplies, especially in regions from where they source their raw materials, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar.
Greenpeace India feels the Union Government must consider the massive opposition GM crops are facing from all stakeholders and redraft the BRAI Bill from its current form to one that underscores bio-safety. The current form the BRAI Bill is more a promoter than a regulator of GM crops. There is a fear that the BRAI Bill will bring back Bt brinjal and rice against the wishes of the people. http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/kerala/article2624218.ece?homepage=true
It cannot be over-emphasized enough that there is today an over-staffed ‘industry’ at work at the behest of Seed Multinationals striving to bring the entire world food chain under their monopoly control, to introduce GM crops into India, through the back door.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has been sitting on the independent expert committee report since mid-October 2006, thanks to deliberate foot dragging by a corrupt former Chief Justice of India and the wily manipulations of scientists-without-conscience working to stall the entire process.
 This article is a rebuttal of the article, ‘'Is India becoming anti-science?’ published in The Hindu on 25 Dec. 2011, by G. Padmanaban (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-openpage/article2746078.ece)
The author is a Kerala-based international agricultural scientist and formerly Professor, National Science Foundation, The Royal Society, Belgium, and Senior Fellow Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, The Federal Republic of Germany; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org