In the news: ChemChina is bidding to acquire Syngenta AG, a global Swiss biotechnology agribusiness that produces agrochemicals and seeds and conducts genomic research. The company is said to be ‘positioning’ itself for “the day when GM corn can be grown domestically, boosting yields in a country that is home to more than 20% of the global population but has less than 10% of the earth’s arable land”.
Beijing does not currently allow cultivation of genetically-modified crops, but is reported to be considering a relaxation of the ban – though its citizens are opposed to use of this technology – see the recent news on this site about a ban on GM food in a section of the Chinese army.
Here, the US/Swiss Syngenta connection is spelt out:
Brian Babin, a Republican congressman whose district includes a Syngenta plant in Houston that produces ingredients and fungicides, foreshadowed potential obstacles ahead. “I believe it is critical that every purchase by China of any company that operates in the United States should be fully reviewed by Committee on Foreign Investment United States (CFIUS),” he said. “There should be absolutely no exceptions.”
Indian-developed GM mustard yield is said to be 20-30% higher than normal varieties, which would help slash an annual bill for vegetable oil imports of more than $10 billion.
Dr. Eva Novotny (Scientists for Global Responsibility) recently sent a link to news from New Delhi that government officials were to decide on Friday 5th February whether to allow what could be India’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop, mustard, spurred by food security concerns.
Dr Vandana Shiva gave a clue to the provenance of this mustard: “Our mustard is once again under threat, this time from genetic engineering of mustard for sterility and herbicide tolerance by Dr Deepak Pental (left), Delhi University’s former vice-chancellor”.
But a further search found that recently Pental’s chief funder, National Dairy Development Board’s (NDDB), has withdrawn funding, recommending that the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) should support the further research on the project.
Will others step in? Monsanto? Syngenta/Chem China?
A second message from Eva contained a link to the active and intelligent protests taking place. It gave the news that, under the banner of Sarson Satyagraha, a large informal nation-wide ‘rainbow’ network of organisations and individuals concerned about the environmental release of GMOs gathered to hold a symbolic protest outside the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change in the Capital. These included members of farmers’ groups, other civil society organisations, activists, students, researchers and Sangh Parivar affiliates such as SJM who oppose the government proposed plans to allow commercial production of GM mustard, citing concerns over bio-safety and livelihood of peasants.
They were representing the views of tens of thousands of citizens who have been writing to the Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar for the past few weeks, asking him not to proceed with the processing of the ‘environmental release’ application of a genetically modified food crop – GM mustard – and the signatures of more than 41000 citizens on a Change.org petition were handed over, asking him to stop the invasion of GM mustard.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) was holding its meeting to consider the ‘environmental release’ application of GM Mustard, and the Chairperson of GEAC, and later, the Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change met a delegation from Sarson Satyagraha. The Minister assured the delegation that without due processes, GM mustard will not be approved.
Protestors reminded government of its stated commitment to transparency, accountability, good governance and federal polity
The delegation pressed home the point that:
- GMO regulation has to begin with a needs assessment,
- and establish whether alternatives are available,
- applications should not be processed routinely without policy directives put into place,
- no health ministry person is participating in the regulatory body,
- unacceptable conflict of interest continues in the regulatory body,
- despite court orders, data is not being shared and
- even agenda and minutes of meetings are not put into the public domain from the time this government took over.
The Minister assured the delegation that all these issues will be looked into, that he will organize a separate meeting soon and hear out all the issues, and then sit with GEAC, “to resolve the issue”.
Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) explains: ”Our point is this: this technology is a risky, irreversible, living technology. On top of that, our regulators have proven themselves to be untrustworthy of protecting citizens from the risks of modern biotechnology. Given a combination of both, should we not have a policy directive on the subject that ensures that we don’t adopt such risky technologies when we have other alternatives? We repeat that our government should not be imposing on its citizens unneeded, unwanted and unsafe GMOs. GM mustard is certainly one such GMO with serious adverse implications for various stakeholders”.
The protesters pledged to fight any such efforts by vested interests to compromise with the interests of people of India and push through GMOs into its food, farming and environment.
Umendra Dutt of Sarson Satyagraha added, “True science would have welcomed a proper public scrutiny and debate on the whole subject, and not hidden it in ‘confidentiality’ clauses. What is top secret about the safety of your food and mine, unless there is something to be hidden? . . . We want all governments to be responsible to science and responsive to society. We cannot remain silent spectators to what is being unleashed on us in a secretive, hurried, unconsultative manner. We have come here to show our valid dissent”.
Last word from Delhi’s deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia, who sent Prime Minister Narendra Modi a letter this week: “Why is the government imposing its decision on farmers on an unsafe and unproven technology, despite the availability of good varieties of mustard in our country?” We pray to you not to compromise our agriculture, citizens’ health and the environment under pressure from a handful of foreign companies.”