May 15, 2016

Thinking Together

What is the CPI(M) stand on GM crops? Why can it be not utilised?

Padmakumar, Cochin

THE CPI(M) is all for scientific innovation which protects the best interests of people and farmers. However, the Party is firmly of the opinion that there should not be any commercial release of GM crops without ensuring safety for humans, animals and the environment. Stringent long-term bio-safety tests by a competent regulatory mechanism must establish safety for humans, animals, environment and bio-diversity of the country. The government should build public confidence by coming clear on the facts of the case in a transparent manner. It is important to ensure that bio-safety and bio-diversity is not compromised in any manner. Stringent tests and assessment by an independent body followed by placing all the information regarding the safety tests in the public domain must be mandatory for the grant of approval.

The seed monopolies and agribusinesses only aim to maximise profits. They are not concerned about bio-safety or issues like biodiversity or the environment. The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture with agribusinesses like Monsanto, Wal-Mart, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and ITC in its Board made efforts to turn the direction of agricultural research and policy in such a manner as to cater their demands for profit maximisation. Companies like Monsanto during the Vietnam War produced tonnes and tonnes of “Agent Orange” unmindful of its consequences for Vietnamese people as it raked in super profits and that character remains. Hence we are of the opinion that all such experiments should be done exclusively by the public sector and the government institutions and no multinational corporations or monopoly agribusinesses should be allowed to undertake field trials. The autonomy of public sector research institutions must be zealously protected.

Indian agriculture is increasingly coming under the control of global seed monopolies and agribusinesses that are charging extortionate prices from Indian farmers. Huge amounts in royalty are being collected by the seed monopolies. The monopoly of the MNCs like Monsanto over the technology and seeds is a major concern. They are also going against any efforts to control prices. Seeds are no longer in the public domain as they are now the “intellectual property” of these MNCs. It also leads to a dependency of farmers on the monopolies for seed needs. The government has made no efforts to generate self-reliance in seeds by combining the ingenuity of farmers and the technical know-how of scientists. Instead it has only sold out Indian agriculture to big agri-businesses, making IARI and other agricultural research bodies collaborate with global MNC's as virtual junior partners. 

The Bt Brinjal debate had brought to the fore issues of bio-safety and the above mentioned concerns like never before. A healthy debate was generated by the effort to commercially introduce Bt Brinjal and concerns expressed especially over bio-safety as it was for the first time a genetically modified food crop was sought to be commercially released. It forced the government of the day to go in for public consultation and to eventually place a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal. An application for approval for commercialisation of GM Mustard has been moved with the apex regulatory body GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) in the ministry of environment, forests & climate change. In both cases, the CPI(M) has stood opposed to their release for commercial cultivation. What is the reason for such a position?

The government is facilitating profiteering by MNCs without addressing the concerns about bio-safety, monopoly control over seeds and having a fool-proof regulatory mechanism in place. There is also no strong deterrent law that will fix liability and blacklist defaulters by adhering to the “polluter pays” principle. The manner in which Bt Brinjal was sought to be introduced based on data provided by seed monopolies, without stringent tests by a competent body with an independent character were cause for concern. There have been charges of conflict of interests with certain members of the GEAC being accused of having close links with seed monopolies like Monsanto. There still is no independent body set up with the competence to conduct stringent tests in a fool-proof manner. CPI(M) precisely for these reasons opposed the introduction of Bt Brinjal and GM mustard.

While it is important to encourage scientific research and welcome innovations that will improve the living conditions of the farmers, the introduction of any such innovation that could potentially have an impact on environment, animals and human beings should be predicated on sound research and verification of claims open to public scrutiny. Since such potential impacts may be of an irreversible nature it is always better to introduce such traits only after addressing all concerns.