Over 150 Indian scientists have united to call public attention to the Ministry of Agriculture, which they believe has been making a political case for genetically modified crops to counter concerns of food security.
Together, the scientists wrote an open letter to the environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, referring to a recent affidavit that the agriculture ministry filed in the Supreme Court that claimed the nation’s food supply would be jeopardised without the widespread use of GM crops.
The affidavit had come as a response to a technical committee appointed by the Supreme Court that had recommended a 10-year moratorium on GM crops because of their unknown impact on the environment. The committee also called for greater research on the subject before the safety of GM farming in India could be decided.
“[The affidavit] argues that open-air trials of GMOs are absolutely essential for [food security],” they wrote, adding that the ministry’s argument contained “many serious scientific and policy fallicies”.
Third year of Bt brinjal
The correspondence comes at a time when the anti-GM lobby has been marking the third year of a moratorium on transgenic Bt brinjal, elsewhere known as aubergine. The hold was imposed by Jairam Ramesh, Nataranan’s predecessor, and the scientists, representing theCoalition for a GM-free India, are now calling for the current environment minister to ensure that the moratorium is not lifted.
"The overwhelming majority of countries worldwide do not grow GM crops,” the scientists wrote. “They are grown on a mere 160 million hectares that comprise 3.2% of global agricultural land. Just four crops cover 99% of the area under GM crops: soybean (47%), maize (32%), cotton (15%) and canola (5%)."
The letter quoted a US governmental report from 2011 that said almost 18m households in the country were food insecure at some point in the year.
"This means that an unprecedented … one in every six Americans lives in food-insecure households in a nation that has the largest area under GM crop cultivation in the world, after having begun commercializing crops with this controversial technology way back in 1996," the scientists wrote.
They also suggested that distribution was a greater factor in food security than production. “Today, India's paradox of overflowing godowns/rotting grains, with 320m people going hungry, is well-known. The world over and in India, most of the hungry people are ironically partaking in the food production process. Clearly hunger is a more multi-faceted problem than what can be fixed by using a particular seed or cocktail of chemicals," they said.
ABLE calls for movement
Meanwhile, the agricultural group of the Association of Biotechnology-led Enterprises (ABLE) said it was “disappointed over the continued delay” of the Bt brinjal, and warned the government’s “indecisiveness” was making it difficult for the industry to continue investing in research.
Seetharama Nadoor, the executive director of ABLE’s agriculture focus group, has sited Bt cotton, which is permitted in India, as a notable example of GM agriculture working well.
“[It] has completely transformed India’s cotton industry. It has been one of the most rapidly adopted crops in the country—a great example of the potential,” Nadoor said
“If we are to become globally competitive in agriculture, predictable regulatory frameworks that support research and timely approvals are critical.”