GM crop debate finds place in India’s election discourse

GM crop debate finds place in India’s election discourse

GM crop debate finds place in India’s election discourse

Our bureau
New Delhi, Apr 8:

India’s major parties acknowledge concerns and promise precautionary approach, in allowing Genetically Modified (GM) crop for large scale cultivation.

As an acknowledgement of widespread opposition to GM crops across the country due to their adverse impacts on citizen’s health, environment, farm livelihoods and seed sovereignty, major political parties, both national as well as regional, have been forced to articulate their position on the controversial issue of GM crops.

The latest in the list is Bharatiya Janatha party (BJP) which released its manifesto yesterday. The agriculture section in the BJP manifesto says that ‘GM’ foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on its long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers”

Earlier, Aam Aadmi Party in its manifesto had committed to “Regulate Genetically Modified crops to ensure that safety to human health, food and enviornment is ensured before introduction of irreversible technologies.”

Besides national parties, significant regional parties like AIADMK had made commitments to ban GM crops if they form part of the Central Government after the elections. CPI(M) had spoken about the promise to work towards reversal of Intellectual Property Rights that favour big business, a major concern with GM crops, as well as stopping such research in agriculture which is detrimental to Biodiversity.

“While it is welcome that parties like BJP and AAP have taken note of demands by farmer Unions, civil society groups and scientific community and committed to a precautionary approach towards GM crops, it is unfortunate that the incumbent Indian National Congress maintained an absolute silence on the matter” Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM Free India, said.

It is learnt that the lack of position of Congress stems from a difference of opinion within the party on this controversial issue. While the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and the current Union Minister for Environment Veerappa Moily have been actively promoting GM crops along with NCP leader Sharad Pawar (whose manifesto curiously remained silent on GM despite aggressive promotion by Pawar as the Agriculture Minister).
It is a Congress Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh who put Bt Brinjal, the first GM food crop that came up for commercial approval, under an indefinite moratorium in 2010. His predecessor, another senior Congress leader Jayanti Natarajan also recommended a precautionary approach towards GM crops and had stopped field trials in the country.

In the past the political opposition to GM crops was most visible during the Bt Brinjal debate and when the outgoing government brought in the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill,2013 to easen the approval of GM crops in the country. The BRAI Bill is said to have lapsed since it couldn’t be passed by the government.

The public outcry at the time when Central govt was planning to release Bt Binjal also lead to the parliamentary standing committee on Agriculture, comprising of Member of Parliaments (MPs) from all political parties to come out with a report on GM crops which was tabled in the Parliament in August 2012.

The parliamentary standing committee after detailed deleberations over 2 years and consultations with all stakeholders had strongly reccomended against any haste in embrasing the risky GM technology.

Taking into consideration the inherent risk to human health, biodiversity and potential of monopolisation of seed markets through this patentable technology as seen in the case of Bt cotton, the only GM crop commercially cultivated in the country and also given the poor regulatory system existing in the country, the committee also reccomended against any open releases of GM crops, including field trials.

Although national parties like BJP and AAP’s manifestoes suggest stronger regulation and long-term studies they falls short of declaring an immediate moratorium on any open release of GM crops which is a first step in the precautionary approach towards GM crops. This is also in tune with the reccomendations by the Parliamentary standing committee on Agriculture as well as the Supreme court appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) comprising of eminent scientists in the field of biosafety

Reminding the political parties to put the nation and people before catering to industry lobbies in an opaque system of political party funding, the Coalition for a GM Free India demands all political parties to continue representing the people’s concerns on GM crops inside and outside the Parliament even after the elections as what is at stake is the future of our food, farming, environment and national sovereignty.