“BIODIVERSITY AND BIOSAFETY KEY TO FOOD SECURITY” “TRANSGENICS WILL NOT MEET OUR FOOD SECURITY NEEDS”

National Seminar on and Food Security asks for a Biosafety Law to be enacted

 New Delhi / Ahmedabad, February 15, 2013: The 2-day national seminar on “GM Crops and Food Security” jointly organized by Jatan Trust, Gujarat Vidyapith and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh concluded in Ahmedabad today by calling for a Biosafety Law to be enacted in the country. Speakers emphasized on Biodiversity and Biosafety being key to food security of the country, whereas the current aggressive promotion of transgenic crops is jeopardizing this.

Speaking on democratizing the debate and decision-making around GM crops, Kartikeya Sarabhai of CEE (Centre for Environment Education) pointed out that debate on GM crops cannot be just about production and yields, and that the discourse around food security as well as GM crops has moved on. “The debate on GM crops is around sustainability of farm livelihoods, sustainable use of environmental resources, control over critical resources like seed resting with community, farmers and consumers having a choice, socio-cultural and ethical issues to be addressed and so on. Talking about GM crops only in the context of improving yields is inadequate and inappropriate”. He stressed upon the need for an informed debate in which all citizens should be able to engage, since this is a matter pertaining to something as fundamental as Food. He pointed out that creating a debate is not about being “anti-science”, but asking for holistic science. A multi-disciplinary approach, which includes social sciences, is needed, since this is about livelihoods and development, he stressed. He called for independent studies and said that research approvals should be conditional on making the findings public.

Earlier inaugurating the seminar, Sri Mohini Mohan Mishra, National Secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, said that in all his travels across the country and meeting farmers, he has realised that they aspire for their control over the very basic resources of farming – soil, water and seed. “In BKS, we believe that India does not need GM crops. Unfortunately, farmers have become victim of glorified propaganda of the Biotech industry. It is a pity that today non-Bt Seeds of Cotton are not available in the market”, he said.

Dr M H Mehta, former VC of Gujarath Agriculture University (GAU) and Chair of Science Ashram, speaking at the seminar, stressed on the need for focusing on economical and environmental friendly model of agriculture to feed the hungry. This will need an agro-ecological approach and not a GM crop based model. He pointed out that while science and technology need to be encouraged, any technology needs to be holistically viewed and the overall consideration of public good and wisdom must prevail.

Explaining how woefully inadequate the GM crop risk assessment is in India, Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign pointed out that our testing systems are simply not stringent enough and even the prescribed procedures are not followed by the companies or universities. Many scientific studies, including the ones conducted by the biotech companies themselves have shown adverse impacts on health and environment. In India, when the biosafety data of Bt brinjal was brought into the public domain, the inadequacy of the tests and the carelessness of the scientists doing the research, and the regulators reviewing biosafety came to the fore. This is not the way to do science, she stated.

Dr Sudarshan Iyengar, Vice Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith, presenting a fact sheet on issues related to Food Security in India, emphasized that there is enough evidence to say confidently that if land use planning is rationalized, land ownership issues are resolved, appropriate agronomical practices are introduced, nature’s own resources are used as farm inputs, the world can produce enough for the growing population.

Speaking on “Science & Technology for Food Security”, Dr Rajeswari Raina of NISTADS (National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, which is a science policy institute of CSIR) pointed out that what we need is “good science”. She explained that ‘good science’ is one that works towards economic, ecological and social progress, something that can tell us whether the existing evidence is enough or not, in terms of risk and impact assessment related to technologies like GM, in addition to giving due recognition and space to other knowledge domains and cultural values that ‘formal science’ has not studied thus far.

Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, said, “Transgenic technology is an unnecessary risk and costly distraction, while solutions for issues in our farming lie elsewhere. In the name of public sector research, resources are being mis-utilised, while something inherently unsafe will remain unsafe, whether it is from the private sector or the public sector”.

Dr Minoo Parabia, renowned botanist, biodiversity expert and Member of State Biodiveristy Board made a presentation on the rich biodiversity of Gujarat, including agro-diversity and expressed caution against transgenics. Dr Atul Mehta, senior rice breeder pointed out that while GM crops are being aggressively pushed, need assessment is sadly lacking, by presenting data of past 50 years to show that pest incidence (stemborer) on rice was low even though corporations are trying to push Bt rice as a solution for a problem that does not exist.

Speaking on the faulty framework of the proposed Biosafety Regulatory Authority of India () Bill, Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA showcased how improvements in the regulatory regime over the years will be lost if Bill is allowed to be enacted. “Sustained civil society action, including judicial activism, in addition to the Bt brinjal public debate led by Mr Jairam Ramesh, the then MoEF, brought in some improvements; through the Bill, the Government of India is trying to lower the regulatory bar which is objectionable and unacceptable”, she said.

Earlier, latest scientific evidence related to adverse impacts of GM crops were shared by Rajesh Krishnan of Greenpeace India. The Seminar also had presentations from the Biotech seed industry representatives, who presented on Bt Cotton in India and GM crop adoption in other countries. Participants of the seminar also included senior scientists from agriculture universities of the state, civil society members, seed and food industry representatives, members of various farmers’ unions and government officials, in addition to Members of the State Biodiversity Board.

For more information, contact:

Kapil Shah: 094-270-54132

Sridhar Radhakrishnan: 099-953-58205

Kavitha Kuruganti: 09393001550

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