Saturday, May 30, 2015

Story of Stakeholder’s Workshop on GM Crops



Story of Stakeholder’s Workshop on GM Crops

MARKETING OF GM CROPS IN THE NAME OF                
DISCUSSING SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS?


AGRICULTURE RESEARCH ESTABLISHMENTS JOIN HANDS WITH GM INDUSTRY
By Ajay Tripathi and Kartik Kwatra  

The “Stakeholder’s workshop on Socio-economic considerations of GM crops” jointly organized by Department of Extension education, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana and Division of Agricultural Extension, ICAR-IARI, New Delhi held on 26/05/2015 at PAU, Ludhiana was an utter sham where the scientists from agriculture research establishment and regulatory bodies not only favored but proactively defended GM industry and its members. It was a covert exercise to promote GM crops and suppressing the dissent voice by means of lying and giving statements which misguided the attendees of the workshop and there seemed to be a nexus between GM industry and members of agriculture research establishment.
The workshop, organized under the project “Developing Guidelines and Methodologies for Socio-economic Assessment for Living Modified Organisms (LMOs)” sponsored by the MoEF & CC, Govt. of India was held at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana under the directorship of Dr. RK Kalra and Dr. RN Padaria, where three members, namely Ajay Tripathi, Kartik Kwatra and Kuldeep Singh were representatives of Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab.
Dr. RN Padaria is Principal Scientist with ICAR-IARI. Dr. RK Kalra is professor and Head
by Department of Extension education, PAU, Ludhiana.
 
The workshop was chaired by Dr. SS Banga(Member of regulatory body for GM crops GEAC and National Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at PAU.).  Dr. Kuldeep Singh, Sr. Molecular Geneticist, PAU, Ludhiana was the co-chairperson of the workshop.  

Dr. SS Banga started with saying that India’s population is increasing and to feed the burgeoning population we need use GM technology in crops and at the outset set the agenda by saying that he would consider the workshop a success even if 1% of the apprehensions for the GM crops is reduced and opened the floor for hearing what attendees knew about GM crops. A leader of Kisan club sitting in the area designated as “progressive farmers” mentioned that Bt cotton has brought prosperity to farmers of Punjab and less pesticide is required now. Both these arguments were countered by Kartik Kwatra by mentioning that the Govt. of India has surplus grains, as much as three times (eg. Wheat) relative to the need of the Indians and it is a problem of distribution and access as opposed to lack of food. This begs the question why we are in such a hurry to bring GM crops and why there is a need for GM crops in the first place? Citing the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (2012) which clearly states that Bt cotton yields started decreasing after 1 or 2 years due to resistance developed by pests in the studied areas of Maharashtra, the so called good performance of Bt cotton was questioned. It was also stated that the report says that GM crops should be the last resort when all other methods have failed which is clearly not being done.  

Attempts were made to create an understanding of GM technology which is too simplistic and highly reductionist to dissuade the apprehensions people have about transgenic food crops. This is exemplified in Dr. SS Banga’s immature statements mentioning that bacteria is in our stomachs also, if gene was not there human body would not have been possible as it is made up of genes implying that gene transfer from bacteria was not an issue at all because it is already existing everywhere. This half-baked information was used so as to make attendees, including farmers, somehow accept GM crops even if based on wrong or incomplete/half-baked information. Genetic Engineering technology is highly unpredictable in the sense that the interactions that can happen in genes can result in unexpected combinations which can be toxic.

Dr. SS Banga even went on to ask members of the workshop that which crops they would like to see genetically modified and then kept asking Monsanto employees “Do you have this product?” and then Monsanto employee would start talking about its products in pipeline. When farmer leader PPS Pangli,
President, Seed Producers and Nursery Growers’ Association started saying that Genetically Engineered maize and other crops should be brought, the Chair and Co-chair started talking candidly to Monsanto representatives asking if they had any such products having certain traits in such a way that it seemed an outreach program for the industrialists.
This was a mere marketing exercise for Monsanto and rest of GM industry. In spite of all the evidences against GM crops given by representatives of Kheti Virasat Mission, Dr. S.S Banga went ahead to say “Nobody can stop GM crops from coming and even atom bomb could not be stopped”. This was the predisposition of the Chairperson of the workshop which was supposed to discuss socio-economic considerations of GM crops and not promote it. This is nothing but an attempt to forcefully impose genetically engineered crops without considering its other dimensions. This kind of statement, especially coming from the person chairing the workshop and member of GEAC which is a body to “regulate” the use of GM crops and not “promote” is totally unwarranted and uncalled for.
  
It was brought to the notice of workshop attendees by Kartik Kwatra that the Cancer Research Division of World Health Organization, France, had brought out a research which concluded that glyphosate which is the main component of Monsanto’s widely used herbicide called RoundUp is probably carcinogenic i.e it can cause cancer and Monsanto is producing various GM crops which are resistant to this herbicide which are called RoundUp Ready GM seeds. The questioned was asked that do we need those GM crops on which are specifically made resistant to herbicides which are cancer causing! Dr. Kuldeep Singh, lied to all the attendees of the workshop, including farmers, and mislead them that the research has been officially revoked. The research paper is not revoked and is available on The Lancet (link below). This is a deliberate attempt to silence any voices which raise important questions about GM crops and produce evidence for it. This blatant lie clearly shows that workshop was orchestrated to promote GM crops and impose the technology somehow onto the minds of the farmers attending the workshop along with doing marketing for the GM industry representatives. Dr. Kuldeep Singh did not acknowledge the fact the yields of Bt cotton have reduced over the years even when two farmers in the workshop said that yields have been decreasing and more and more sprays are required now. Even after listening to the aforementioned farmers, Dr.Kuldeep said “I have not come across a single farmer whose yield has decreased over the years” and kept on praising Bt ignoring the voices of farmers of Punjab.
          
When Kartik Kwatra mentioned in the discussion that 95% of India’s cotton seed market is controlled by Monsanto, Dr. SS Banga(Member GEAC and Chairperson of workshop and National Professor at PAU, Ludhiana) immediately, without pause dismissed and hushed up the issue in a uncomfortable voice by saying that it is “free” and Monsanto has given it to other companies. Dr. Banga deliberately tried to misinform the gathering of farmers and other members because as a matter of fact Monsanto controls 95% of cotton seed market in India and collects royalties. As a matter of fact no company does it for “free” and Monsanto collects royalties. Interestingly all the pointed criticism of Monsanto that members of Kheti Virasat Mission were doing were responded without pause from Chairperson, Dr. SS Banga and Dr. Kuldeep Singh even before the response coming from representatives of Monsanto.
SK Sopory committee report was mentioned by Kartik Kwatra which had brought out the case of public sector institution ICAR where it claimed a GM variety of cotton as indigenous and developed by it but the committee found a Monsanto’s gene in it, to pose the question that are the public sector institutions even functioning independently and honestly. Dr. SS Banga mislead the members of the workshop by saying that cross pollination might have occurred. This argument was countered by Kartik Kwatra by saying that cross pollination cannot happen before open air trials and Dr. SS Banga admitted with a mild voice that the institution did a mistake. This is again steering the attendees of the workshop, including farmers, away from the problem because the report mentions that the likelihood of it being contaminated accidentally is very less and it could be a deliberate move.
Dr. RK Kalra misinformed the attendees by saying that GM crops and hybrids are same which was strongly countered by Ajay Tripathi, Director , KhetiVirasat Mission by mentioning the fact that GM technology is irreversible and it pollutes the other crops by gene transfer through cross pollination while the hybrids don’t disturb other crops. Dr. Kalra in the end of the workshop even conclusively said that we should use and try GM which cannot be said as a conclusion as this was a discussion based workshop not intended to arrive at a conclusion or decision.  

Dr. SS Banga was passionately urging attendees of the workshop, including farmers, to trust GM technology and trust the regulatory mechanism and said that the regulatory mechanism is very stringent and rigorous. Kartik Kwatra gave a fitting reply to it by mentioning the fact that Biosafety data is not available in public domain except Bt cotton on igmoris.com and the regulations are toothless and mentioned the RTI response KVM got for the GM Mustard trials in Bathinda where the RTI reply says that there is no District level committee and the isolation distance is mere 50m, which is very less for mustard which is wind pollinated. The question was asked how, after all this, can one trust the regulatory mechanism.  GEAC member Dr.SS Banga changed his position by saying that only three top level committees function well rest of them don’t and the isolation distance should have been 10 times of the stipulated distance. Kartik also mentioned that through RTI, it got to know that only two inspections were done as opposed to recommended six in the Guidelines for the monitoring of confined field trials of regulated, GE plants. Dr SS Banga suggested Kartik Kwatra to file a complaint to GEAC pertaining to the inspections.

It was repeatedly emphasized by Dr. SS Banga that the cost of food safety and assessment is very high and public sector institutions don’t have that much money. He then asked G Ramamohan, a representative of Monsanto, about the expenses of food safety and assessment which G Ramamohan mentioned as Rs 120 crore. Hearing that Dr. SS Banga   did a gesture suggesting that the cost is too high at which immediately the question was posed by Kartik Kwatra that if the cost of food assessment is high does that mean we should undermine the health impacts of GM crops to which Dr. SS Banga agreed saying that these considerations are very important.
When the discussion was revolving around monopoly of a few companies, Dr. Banga said that farmers should form unions and argue with Monsanto saying that we need for example drought resistant  which practically impossible in monopolistic setup and given the giant company Monsanto is. Even a farmer mentioned that if this unionization could have been possible, then there was no question of a problem.

It was mentioned by at least one attendee of the workshop that all are in favor of the GM crops and only concerned about the impacts and that regulatory mechanisms should be strengthened. KVM categorically reiterates as was done in the workshop that we are for a GM free India. This does not mean that we are against technology, as was tried to paint such a picture during the workshop when it was said by Dr. SS Banga that you should not stop the technology but shape it.
KVM strongly favors S&T and on the basis of science only criticizes GM crops and promotes organic farming as a sustainable way of agriculture.
Interestingly the press release by PAU about the workshop doesn’t mention even a single argument put forth by KVM and only says “Members of Kheti Virasat Mission also shared their views on the occasion” putting a big question mark on the organizers in PAU. KVM asked for the minutes of the meetings and the document we got mentions only a couple of lines merely stating that KVM was not in favor of GM technology. Thus it was imperative for us to bring out the whole picture of the workshop.
    
The whole purpose of workshop was betrayed and the workshop turned out to be bogus as there is seemingly a nexus between GM industry and agriculture research establishment. At the same time consumers were not called, who are one of the biggest stakeholders in the GM debate. Also they called leaders of Kisan club but not members of Kisan unions like BKU and others. Seemingly members of agriculture research establishment were acting as pimp for Monsanto to their deadly agenda of GM crops in India. Any such attempt which undermines our food safety, food security and food sovereignty on a basis which is biased and makes a mockery of science will be resisted with full force.


Authors are associated with Kheti Virsat Mission. Ajay Tripathi is working with KVM as Director and Kartik Kwatra is presently interning with KVM looking after issues of GM crops.

KhetiVirasat Mission
Jaito, Faridkot,
Punjab.
Contact: 9915195061

To keep track of Kheti Virasat Mission’s activities follow KVM on :

References:
1. The WHO’s Cancer Research Division Report Link:
2. PAU’s press release for the Stakeholder’s Workshop on GM :
http://web.pau.edu/index.php?_act=manageEvent&DO=viewEventDetail&intEventID=1481

3. The document got on asking for minutes of meeting can be taken on request on khetivirasatmission@gmail.com

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