Genetic Games on Indian Plains

By Sagarika Ranjan
In Agriculture
July 23, 2015

Once upon a time
ME had walked across his field
satisfied with his yield.
The sand clock ticked
ME’s calculations were rigged
He didn’t realize!
That ‘Suit-clad gentlemen’ told fancy tales
You can feed millions, just try the new sale.
ME fed his fi elds the new feed
All were killed but the weed.
ME’s oxen collapsed, so did ME’s crops
Infected and one-legged now, ME hops.
ME belied nature, showed distrust
She punished ME with her barren crust.
One of ME’s sons had an external heart
another never had ears while
daughter was born blind.
Today Hundreds of ME walk up to the
morgue to collect their babies…

MSP-graphSo how many wish to be the ME? Me is the result of fiddling with nature and the natural process of agriculture. Green revolution promised to feed all and bring about prosperity but it turned out to be short-lived. Again this new child of science – genetically modified organism or the GMO has popped up with similar promises and sadly, with likely same results. This was introduced to make lives better across the world. More food, less investment, more food at better prices and so on were the expectations from this new venture but if experts are to be believed this has failed miserably.

The field trials have also gone horribly wrong at multiple occasions. As Jeffrey M smith, Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), says, “Due to cross pollination, seed movement and human error, GMOs from field trials have contaminated nearby non-GMO crops of related species or escaped into the food and agricultural chain. We have no way to clean up the self-propagating contamination of the gene pool, which means that the potentially damaging crops may be passed on to future generations.”

Experts at the Institute for Responsible Technology explain that the current generation of GMOs is based on a primitive technology and false assumptions. As per the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development or the IAASTD report, sponsored by the United Nations and World Bank, the GMOs have nothing to offer their goals of feeding the world, eradicating poverty, or promoting sustainable agriculture. The co-chairman of the report even declared that GMOs have yet to satisfactorily solve any problem.

In India the claims of the GMO are still under trial but in other countries these claims have failed miserably. The biotech industry claims that GMOs increase yields. In the US, reports by the US Department of Agriculture and the Union of Concerned Scientists both demonstrate that GMOs do not, in fact, increase yields, but often reduce yields. Other countries show  similar trends.

The biotech industry claims that GMOs reduce the need for pesticides. But data in the US and elsewhere show the opposite. In
the fi rst 16 years of GMOs, herbicide use increased by 527 million pounds. And although there was a much more modest decrease in insecticide applications on Bt crops, the statistics were distorted.

GMO-farewell1In fact, these crops produce an insecticide within every cell, and that actually increased the insecticide load on the land and consumers. Furthermore, most of the GMO seeds are coated with yet another insecticide. When taken together, even the Bt crops increase overall pesticide use as well. This is not all, GMOs also damage soil biology, reduce biodiversity, harm benefi cial insects, concentrate power into the hands of a few multinationals, reduce farmer independence, and are consistently rejected by a growing number of markets, say experts at the IRT. unfortunately, the government has been taken in by the coordinated public relations campaign, which makes claims about GMOs that ignore the science as well as the potentially devastating impacts on  the economy.

For example, the government has allowed fi eld trials to take place on crops that have never been properly tested for their impacts on human and animal health. Based on the now overwhelming evidence of problems with other GMOs, there is a high chance that these foods can cause health issues.

The threats are grave. If contamination occurs, it can lead to massive economic problems— whether or not the GMO is safe. If the crop is not approved, contamination can lead to closed markets, recalls, and crop The evaluation of  the genetic engineering
assessment committee by the Indian Supreme Court appointee Dr PM Bhargava made it clear that the government’s process for assessing GMOs is a faulty. Dr Bhargava pointed out that there are about 30 categories of health and environmental impacts that need to be evaluated. But only about 10 per cent of these have been looked into. And these only comprised of superficial studies by the industry themselves, hence worthless. So in effect, no GMO has been properly tested anywhere in the world. This is precisely what hundreds of scientists have been saying all along, but have been drowned out by the considerable economic and monetary influence of the GMO companies.

The ITR experts say that destruction. Three incidences of GMO contamination in the US cost approximately $1 billion each. Based on the reports of India’s field trial protocols and implementation, contamination is highly likely.

Can India afford economic cost of a failed or botched test? The ITR is of the opinion that the well meaning Indian government has been presented the baseless public relations talking points of the biotech industry and their supporters in the US government, and as a result has moved forward on GMO policies that are not backed by accurate scientific facts and the wisdom of experience gained in other countries. From an economic standpoint, the introduction of GMOs is often  accompanied by closed export markets and reduced prices. When the US introduced GM corn, forexample, Europe ceased its $300 million corn imports. Canada also lost its canola and honey market in Europe. When GMO companies convinced politicians in Australia to lift their moratorium on GMOs in certain states, it was a disaster. Japan shut its doors to the GMO variety, contamination hurt non-  MO farmers, and the GMO canola variety sells for about $50 per ton less than the normal one.

GMO cotton has been hyped by industry around the world, but closer examination reveals that it is inconsistent and often a disaster as well. It was rejected in Indonesia due to poor performance.The biotech industry was claiming for years that South African GMO cotton was a success, whereas the data came out later demonstrating it was an abject failure.

GMO cotton in China originally required less insecticide, but due to shifting insect pressure,a report from Cornell University showed an increase in sprays by 15 to 20 fold. In Burkina Faso,cotton yields from GMO varieties have incurred losses since 2008, prompting Inter-professional Cotton to phase it out over the next three years. They will also ask Monsanto to pay for repeated losses.

The reports out of India on cotton are varied and often conflicting. It’s clear that the GMO varieties are not reliable and typically require irrigation and conditions not often found throughout the country. The widespread failure of Bt cotton n many regions is tied to a huge number of suicides.

Based on considerable scientific evidence, we now know that the current generation of genetically modified organisms is not safe and therefore GMOs should not be used in the food supply. Thousands of US physicians now prescribe non-GMO diets to all their patients. When their patients remove GMOs, many describe significant, even dramatic improvements in health and alleviation of symptoms, such as gastrointestinal, immune, and reproductive issues.

The same types of problems also clear up in livestock that are taken off GMO feed. And these same issues afflict lab animals fed GMOs. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that these disorders are also on the rise in the US population since GMOs were introduced in 1996. Furthermore, the two primary toxins found in GMO foods—Roundup and Bttoxin— have characteristics that would predispose individuals to these types of conditions.

Brooding on the stand of the Indian government on the GMO, the ITR says that the biotech industry has a history of hijacking certain governments and ministries, convincing them that GMOs are needed to feed the world and save the economy. They give the false impression that a country will fall behind and be scientifically backward if it delays the introduction of GMO technology.

“It appears that the national government of India has succumbed to these myths and is moving forward as a result.They have ignored independent scientific research and are recklessly gambling with the health and environment,” said Smith.

He further adds, “I can certainly understand why the biotech industry, in collaboration with the United States government, lobbies very effectively and repeats the same talking points over and over until politicians and others believe that they are true. They wield influence by investment in academia and agriculture. It is often difficult for well-meaning politicians to identify the fraud behind the promises.”

India needs to rethink the future of agricultural development through GMO as the rejection of GMOs by consumers is mounting
worldwide. India, unfortunately, is still moving ahead with the GMO. Reports show that in the US, surveys show that 40 per cent of Americans say they are reducing or avoiding GMOs in their diets. More than 30,000 products have labels declaring non-GMO, and even restaurant chains have big signs on their windows declaring “A Farewell to GMOs.”

“The US is undergoing a tipping point, similar to Europe’s more than a decade ago, where food companies are rushing to rid their ingredients of GMOs. It won’t be long before the US market kicks out  GMOs altogether,” said Smith. More than 400 scientists and agricultural experts who prepared the IAASTD, UN and World Bank report declared that Agro ecology is the way
forward. In developing countries, Agro ecology can increase yields by 100 percent or more, in contrast to the GMOs.

It is also suitable for the Indian economy as it just not involve high input cost. Agro ecology reduces the need for expensive inputs, reduces dependence on transnational corporations, provides greater income and security for farmers, generates biodiversity, and is customized for the climate, geography, and culture of the region. India is ideally suited to take up this prized technology, according to Smith.

Still trials are on and India is on the track to start to embrace this technology that has been rejected world over. Now, whether India will retract in time or will suffer like the other countries before abandoning GMO is debatable.

Sagarika Ranjan