Draft for Discussion Purposes and Comments. Draft National Land Reforms. Policy. 18th July 2013. DRAFT FOR DISCUSSION PURPOSES AND COMMENTS.
Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times Mumbai, July 29, 2013
Imagine you have a choice of bananas – one that you have always preferred from the 200 varieties India has to offer and another engineered to give you extra iron but whose impact on your physiology is uncertain. Imagine a similar choice with your staple rice; regular rice or fortified with beta-carotene whose long-term impacts are not fully studied. Or mustard.
Conventional wisdom would have you pick the first item in every category. That’s if you knew which banana, rice and mustard in the market was the natural organism and which genetically modified. The idea of choice works when there’s information to make it.
The pitched debate around genetically modified (GM) crops, including food crops, revolves around two important themes: ambiguity about long-term health and safety impacts and inadequate labelling that hinders choice. The genetically modified organism (GMO) industry – international and Indian companies – believes GM food could deliver food security to India, a line parroted by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. The broad-based anti-GM coalition believes existing data is inadequate to embrace GM food and evidence of its adverse impacts is rising.
The battle is likely to get sharper, perhaps ugly, in the months ahead. There’s a clear division in Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet itself. “We have two senior cabinet ministers ranged on either side,” said a Congress party source, referring to environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and Pawar, “It’s not right to link GM foods to food security.”
“Let’s be honest. Farmers don’t fund elections; rich and big companies do. Besides, we know the PM’s stand on the issue,” says Devinder Sharma, food policy analyst and anti-GM campaigner. Sharma and others like him say “a false crisis about food security is being created; the real agenda is to create a market” in India for GM foods.
The Technical Expert Committee (TEC) of the Supreme Court, recommended last Monday an indefinite moratorium on all field trials till a proper regulatory authority was put in place. Natarajan had announced in April that 20 food crops has been approved for field trials and trials had been initiated in cotton, corn and mustard.
While the Coalition for GM-free India urged the government to accept “the recommendations based on sound science, justice and principle of sustainability”, Monsanto spokesperson stated, “The TEC report sought to go beyond the Terms of Reference and recommendations made are discouraging of science and agriculture.”
In the high-stakes battle, the role of an independent regulatory authority – to safeguard people’s health and protect the country’s bio-diversity – becomes crucial. The dispute over GM crops these days often segues into a debate over the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI). “There’s the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. The new regulatory authority will be under the science and technology ministry which is responsible for promoting GM technology. What’s this if not conflict of interest,” asked Sharma. However, the industry believes India’s regulatory framework is good. “India has a robust science-based regulation and regulatory process in place which is comparable to global standards,” stated the Monsanto spokesperson.
This divergence of perspectives is forcing people to take sides. Politicians seem to have chosen theirs. For people to weigh in, “more honestly scientific information” about GM food impacts has to be in the public domain, said Sharma. This includes letting people know what they are consuming by adequate labelling. Cotton seed oil derived from Bt Cotton could already be in your kitchen. “Cotton seed oil contributes to domestic edible oil needs, it’s the number 1 choice in Gujarat,” admitted Monsanto spokesperson. What exactly it does to your gut is still in the realm of research. What a GM-rich diet does to health is left to your imagination.
30 July 2013
(Reuters) – Developing countries should speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from their markets following the death of 23 children from contaminated food in India, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday.
The children in Bihar died earlier this month after eating a school meal of rice and potato curry contaminated with monocrotophos, a pesticide considered highly hazardous by the FAO and the World Health Organization.
“Experience in many developing countries shows that the distribution and use of such highly toxic products very often poses a serious risk to human health and the environment,” the FAO said in a statement.
Monocrotophos is banned in many countries but a panel of government experts in India was persuaded by manufacturers that the product was cheaper than alternatives and more effective in controlling pests that decimate crop output.
Although the government argues the benefits of strong pesticides outweigh the hazards if properly managed, the food poisoning tragedy underlined criticism such controls are virtually ignored on the ground.
The FAO said many countries lacked the resources to properly manage the storage, distribution, handling and disposal of pesticides and to reduce their risks.
“Highly hazardous products should not be available to small scale farmers who lack knowledge and the proper sprayers, protective gear and storage facilities to manage such products appropriately,” the FAO added.
Monocrotophos is currently prohibited in Australia, China, the European Union and the United States, and in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the FAO said.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, editing by Silvia Aloisi and Elizabeth Piper)
Hard-working rig-operators are providing a real response to a very real demand from farmers, but with grave consequences for groundwater supplies
No other town can boast as deep a connection with the rest of the country as this little one in Tamil Nadu. Machines from here have struck great depths in most Indian States (and in many African countries as well). Tiruchengode is the nation’s borewell rig capital and thousands of machines and operators from here go down as much as 1,400 feet on any day, most months of the year. The monsoon has paused their activity in States like Maharashtra where they have picked up a great deal of business in recent years. But there are parts of the country where they’re still drilling for water.
The water-crisis in Maharashtra — which only gets highlighted in summer — saw many thousands of borewells drilled in just the Marathwada region in the first three months of this year. The truck-mounted borewell rig was omnipresent in the fields. And the borewell itself was a major source of debt, if not of water, in the rural districts. Most of the rigs we saw rumbling along the roads turned out to be from Tamil Nadu. (Some were from Andhra Pradesh). “They seem mostly to be from a single town,” a senior geologist of the government of Maharashtra had then told The Hindu. That town, it turned out, was Tiruchengode in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu.
“I stayed four months this year in a village close to Nanded in Maharashtra,” C. Vaiyapuri of Sree Balamurugan Borewells told me in Tiruchengode. He is a dynamic, hard-working rig-operator. In four months, this single operator sank about 500 borewells in Maharashtra, mostly in water-stressed Marathwada. “You can do up to 1,300 feet a day,” he says, “if the soil is ‘loose formation’ and so easier to drill. Which means you can sink even four a day if the wells are under 300 feet. If it’s ‘hard formation,’ you won’t go past 1,000 feet in a day.”
Each truck-mounted rig is supported by a second large vehicle ferrying both equipment and men. The whole team could be up to 20 people. A manager, two drillers, two assistants, two drivers, a cook and 12 manual labourers. The workers bring another pan-Indian dimension to Tiruchengode’s reach. The rig operators of Tamil Nadu have agents and brokers in every State. The workers are mostly from Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. Just a handful is from Tamil Nadu. The standard pay is Rs. 200 a day plus three meals for work that could last many months in the year.
It’s hard work, and the rate varies according to how tough the job is. In some of the harder surfaces of Andhra, you can’t go beyond 80 feet in an hour. That fetches Rs.75 per foot. So drilling a 1,000 feet a day brings in Rs. 75,000. In the “loose formation” soil where Vaiyapuri says you can go as low as 120 feet in an hour, the rate drops to Rs. 56 a foot. But you can reach 1,300 feet, or almost Rs.73,000 a day. Even if you’re on the job for just 200 days (it’s often much more), that would total close to Rs.15 million.
How many rigs are there in Tiruchengode town and taluk? Not more than 5,000, says T.T. Paranthaman, Managing Director of PRD, a major drilling rigs concern. Nearly 7,000, estimates N.P. Velu, president of the Tiruchengode Lorry Owners Association, and a rig owner himself. Up to 20,000, insist other operators. All three estimates could be right — at different levels. An industry veteran says: “A lot of the owners and rigs are here. But many rigs are registered in other States, perhaps for tax purposes.”
Meanwhile, rig operators are returning from places as far off as rural Rajasthan. One had even sunk borewells in Jammu. There are two or three months in a year when the rigs take a break for servicing. That’s mostly when the rains have set in.
The average borewell depths vary in different States, says Mr. Velu. “In Karnataka, the average is now close to 1,400 feet. Not very much less in Tamil Nadu. It all started with a drought in the 1970s.” Sensing an opportunity in this sector, groups of farmers and workers engaged in sinking wells, pooled resources and bought a few rigs. (Even today, over a third of the rigs here are owned by such groups).
“At that time, the depths at which we hit water was no more than 100-200 feet,” says Mr. Velu. “Maximum 300. The greatest increase in depths to which the wells are sunk has come in the last five years.”
The story of this town’s rig operators throws up a serious dilemma. They have brought jobs and prosperity to Tiruchengode and nearby regions. Among them are those once illiterate workers who banded together in the late 1970s to buy their rigs and work their way out of poverty. (This entire belt of Tamil Nadu, including Coimbatore, Karur and Tirupur, has an impressive history of entrepreneurship from below). The rig operators also respond to a real demand from farmers across the country. A demand driven by despair.
The same process, though, implies grave consequences for groundwater supplies. Rampant exploitation of that resource has seen the water table plummet across the country. The Collector of Osmanabad in Marathwada said this March that the water table in his district (where the rigs had been active) was five metres below its five-year average. If 10,000 rigs from just one part of Tamil Nadu are sinking a 1,000 feet a day on average across India — that’s 10 million feet. Doing this even for just 200 days a year would make that 2 billion feet. That’s a lot of drilling. Even with high failure rates, that’s a lot of groundwater being sucked out.
The Tiruchengode rig operators did not choose this path of development for the country and can’t be faulted for that. They did not impose the regime of unchecked groundwater exploitation that prevails. And though they are the major force, there are also other operators in the country. Further, rigs have other uses too, but the great demand is for borewells. And the explosion of those signals disaster. (The groundwater accounts for two-thirds of irrigation water and over four-fifths of drinking water in India). The much-needed social control of this process won’t happen in the present water regime.
Why are there so few many machines at work in your own neighbourhood, I asked one Tiruchengode veteran. “There’s not so much water here, now,” he said. “We’re hitting 1,400 feet in nearby Erode town.”
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Farmers who used weedkillers were more than twice as likely to be treated for depression than farmers who didn’t use the chemicals in a new study from France.
Whether the weedkillers are causing depression “is not clear,” said Marc Weisskopf, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. “But (the result) suggests we should not be ignoring herbicides just because they’re targeting plants.”
Earlier research on depression and pesticides has focused on insecticides, particularly organophosphates, which are known to be toxic to nerve cells, said Weisskopf.
Monocrotophos, the insecticide that killed 23 school children in India this month, is an organophosphate, for example.
The use of pesticides has also been linked to Parkinson’s disease among farmers (see Reuters Health story of May 28, 2013 here:).
As part of a study on Parkinson’s disease, Weisskopf and his colleagues assessed the risks for depression with exposure to any kind of pesticide by surveying 567 French farmers about their use of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides.
The team conducted home visits to get a detailed assessment of chemical exposures, including going over bills for pesticide purchases, looking through farming calendars and inspecting old pesticide containers.
They also asked the farmers whether they had ever been treated for depression.
Weisskopf’s group reports in the American Journal of Epidemiology that 83 farmers, about 15 percent, said they had been treated for depression. Forty-seven of them had never used pesticides, while 36 had.
Among the farmers without Parkinson’s disease, 37 who had never used herbicides and 20 who had used the weedkillers reported being treated for depression.
There was no difference in the risk of having depression among the farmers who had used fungicides or insecticides, compared to those who hadn’t used any pesticide.
But when the researchers took into account factors linked with depression, such as age and cigarette smoking, they determined that those farmers exposed to weedkillers were nearly two and a half times as likely to have had depression.
Furthermore, farmers who had greater exposure – either more hours or longer years using herbicides – also had a greater chance of having depression than farmers who had used weedkillers less.
That kind of dose-response relationship is usually thought to support a connection – in this case, between the chemicals and depression. But this type of study cannot prove cause and effect.
One possibility that wasn’t ruled out is that the exposed farmers might have had other health conditions that affected their ability to work, which in turn made them vulnerable to depression.
“The health of the farmer is critical. If they can’t work, they get depressed,” said Cheryl Beseler, a researcher at Colorado State University, who was not involved in this study.
She said the study was otherwise very well done in terms of collecting information about the farmers’ past pesticide use.
The results do not apply to the average gardener, although Weisskopf said it will be valuable to better understand herbicides’ safety in farming and non-farming settings.
“It’s very important given their widespread use around the home,” he said.
“I think people tend to not take (the risks of pesticides) seriously when they’re gardeners,” she told Reuters Health.
Weisskopf said one explanation for his finding that insecticides and other pesticides were not tied to depression is that farmers might be aware of their potential hazards and they take greater precautions to avoid being exposed.
Another possibility is that the chemicals simply don’t cause depression.
He said that more research is needed to determine the safety of herbicides, and meanwhile it would be wise for farmers and gardeners to be just as diligent about protecting themselves as they are with other chemicals.
“If (herbicides) are considered in general safer and people take less precautions because people think they’re not as bad, then that poses a problem,” he told Reuters Health.
“This still has to be considered a relatively first, small study. There’s more work to do, but it raises concerns that need to be looked into more fully,” Weisskopf said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1dXuiro American Journal of Epidemiology, online July 12, 2013
Pesticide Exposure and Depression Among Agricultural Workers in France
- ↵*Correspondence to Dr. Marc G. Weisskopf, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Landmark Center, 401 Park Drive, P.O. Box 15697, Boston, MA 02215 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Abbreviations: CI, confidence interval; HR, hazard ratio; OR, odds ratio; PD, Parkinson’s disease.
- Received January 4, 2013.
- Accepted April 17, 2013.
Pesticides are ubiquitous neurotoxicants, and several lines of evidence suggest that exposure may be associated with depression. Epidemiologic evidence has focused largely on organophosphate exposures, while research on other pesticides is limited. We collected detailed pesticide use history from farmers recruited in 1998–2000 in France. Among 567 farmers aged 37–78 years, 83 (14.6%) self-reported treatment or hospitalization for depression. On the basis of the reported age at the first such instance, we used adjusted Cox proportional hazards models to estimate hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for depression (first treatment or hospitalization) by exposure to different pesticides. The hazard ratio for depression among those who used herbicides was 1.93 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.95, 3.91); there was no association with insecticides or fungicides. Compared with nonusers, those who used herbicides for <19 years and ≥19 years (median for all herbicide users, 19 years) had hazard ratios of 1.51 (95% CI: 0.62, 3.67) and 2.31 (95% CI: 1.05, 5.10), respectively. Similar results were found for total hours of use. Results were stronger when adjusted for insecticides and fungicides. There is widespread use of herbicides by the general public, although likely at lower levels than in agriculture. Thus, determining whether similar associations are seen at lower levels of exposure should be explored.
Vol – XLVIII No. 30, July 27, 2013 | Dipa Sinha
While critics have overblown the cost estimates of the National Food Security Ordinance, the ordinance itself is a missed opportunity. What is needed is a more comprehensive Act which incorporates measures such as procurement, storage and distribution through a decentralised, strengthened and universal public distribution system, among others and a strong grievance redressal and monitoring mechanism.
With the promulgation of the National Food Security Ordinance (NFSO) last week, there have been many shrill voices warning the nation about the high costs of its provisions. The media, especially the TV news channels, have been continuously flashing figures on how expensive, and therefore harmful to the Indian economy the food bill will be. The most popular figures seem to be 3% of the GDP annually as estimated by the economist Surjit Bhalla (Indian Express, 6 July 2013) and Rs. 6 lakh crores over the next three years as estimated by Ashok Gulati, the Chairperson of the Commission of Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) (The Economic Times, 4 July 2013). It is necessary to understand how these figures have been arrived at, based on extremely dodgy assumptions. Further, there is a need to look beyond this superficial discussion and investigate how far this ordinance will go in addressing people’s hunger and malnutrition.
Surjit Bhalla uses an erroneous method to arrive at this estimate of Rs. 3 lakh crore per year. He assumes the actual consumption and outreach of PDS as reported by people in the NSS survey to be the current provision of the government and adjusts it to the proposed coverage and lower prices under the ordinance. So, he argues that according to National Sample Survey (NSS), 44% of the people get access to Public Distribution System (PDS) at an average of 2.1 kgs per head. To expand this to 67% coverage and 5 kgs per head at lower issue prices as proposed by the ordinance, the food subsidy of 2011-12 (Rs. 72000 crores) has to be increased 4.3 times. The implicit assumption here is that the present level of leakages as reflected in the NSS will remain the same even after the ordinance is rolled out and further, that the government will allocate resources taking into account leakages. His calculations do not take into account the fact that the allocation of foodgrains under the Act will in fact go up only by 2 mn tonnes from 60 mn tonnes to 62 mn tonnes or that the current allocations are at three different issue prices for the Above the Poverty Line (APL), Below Poverty ine (BPL) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana(AAY) populations; or that currently the allocations are at the scale of 35kgs per household per month or even that the expenditure of many state governments on food subsidy will now go down as they will be getting grains cheaper from the central government. By using statistics to one’s own convenience without clearly mentioning the assumptions being made, such a method of estimating the food subsidy is only misleading.
By challenging readers to counter his calculations Bhalla tries to convince them that there can be nothing wrong with it. In fact the counter-question to be posed to Bhalla is how he proposes the Rs. 314,000 crores will be put to use. Food subsidy is the difference between the economic cost and issue price; which is currently around Rs. 20 per kg. To spend Rs. 314,000 crores the government will have to procure 157 mn tonnes of foodgrains, which is even more than the total marketable surplus of cereals produced in the country. Is he by any chance imagining that the NFSO will nationalise the foodgrains market? That would be too far-fetched for even someone like Bhalla!
Ashok Gulati on the other hand inflates his estimates by including “the investment in agriculture that will be needed to stabilise production, the investment that would be needed in storage and the investment that would be needed in transportation through railways”. The question to ask here would be whether these costs can all be attributed to the NFSO. “Food subsidy” only includes the cost to the exchequer on account of procuring foodgrains at minimum support prices, storing and transporting the grains and then selling them at a subsidised price to the consumers.
It is only fair that when we are comparing how much higher the food subsidy will be as a result of the NFSO, only these aspects are included in the Ordinance being taken into account. Moreover, is Gulati suggesting that the government (or he) does not think it is necessary to invest in agriculture and the only reason to do it would be to provide for the NFSO. The public investment in agriculture has stagnated since the 1990s leading to stagnation in the agrarian economy and this needs to be corrected to protect the lives and livelihoods of majority of our rural population and to ensure that we remain food sufficient and do not become import dependent like in the 1960s. This is a goal in itself whether we have a PDS or not. An expanded and reformed PDS can only contribute to revitalising agriculture by increasing decentralised procurement (which by the way will also reduce transportation costs) and including newer crops such as pulses and oilseeds.
The NFSO in fact is only a very small step towards ensuring food security. It is a myth that it is very expensive and that it will result in food shortages in the open market. The current food subsidy is around Rs. 90,000 crores. With an average subsidy of Rs. 20 per kg; the food bill will cost about Rs. 1,24,000 crores (for 62 mn tonnes). This is around 1.2% of the GDP and not 3% as projected by media reports. The other figure that is repeatedly quoted by the media is that food subsidy was only Rs. 25,000 crores 10 years back and it has been constantly increasing at a rapid rate. The reality is that as seen in the figure below from the Economic Survey of 2013 over the last 10 years the food subsidy has hovered around 1% of GDP. Interestingly, the percentage of households accessing foodgrains from the PDS has gone up from 28% in 2004-05 to 39% in 2009-10 and 44% by 2011-12 despite the expenditure remaining constant at less than 1% of GDP. This has also been accompanied by steep reduction in leakages in the PDS. In fact it is the improvement in efficiency of PDS which has been ignored by Bhalla’s calculation. But that also explains why the NFSO can still deliver subsidised foodgrains to 67% of the population without much additional costs if the PDS is made efficient.
Source: Economic Survey, 2013
This unfortunate discussion around the cost of the NFSO has only served to divert the attention away from the real issues. Similar attempts were made to derail the NREGA when it was being passed, with one estimate stating the Act will cost up to Rs. 2,08,000 crores a year. After it was passed, the expenditure on NREGA has been less than Rs. 40,000 crores a year.
So, how far does the NFSO go in addressing hunger and malnutrition? Is it indeed the “gamechanger” that it is being made out to be?
One of the positive aspects of the NFSO is that it presents the opportunity to move the PDS away from the current APL-BPL system (linked to the poverty line) which is fraught with problems of identification and ensuing exclusion of many poor to one where only the rich are identified and excluded and the rest are covered with uniform. The NFSO proposes to do this by covering 67% of the population at uniform prices of Rs. 3 for rice, Rs. 2 for wheat and Re. 1 for millets; while excluding the rest. The 67% is to be divided across the states based on their level of development. So states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan can expect to cover 80% or more of their rural population under the PDS. Such an expansion, if accompanied by some reforms, can be expected to go a long way in strengthening the PDS in these states. In fact, the NFSO can also be expected to contribute to lowering of leakages in the PDS. Recent studies based on NSS data and field surveys have shown that the extent of leakages in the PDS have been going down in many states. The PDS is functioning better in states where the BPL coverage has been expanded, where issues prices have been decreased and reforms in PDS have been initiated (Drèze and Khera, 2011; Himanshu, 2011; Khera, 2011; Sen and Himanshu, 2011) which is precisely what the NFSO aims to do.
Concerns with the NFSO
However, there are problems with the way in which the PDS entitlements have been currently defined. While the principle of excluding the rich and covering the rest is a sound one (of course, it would be even better if the PDS is universalised) the ordinance does not specify the identification criteria for exclusion. Moreover, a cut-off (75% for rural areas and 50% for urban areas) is prescribed at the national level but there is no clarity on what the percentages will be in each state. There is once again the danger of some poor being left out arbitrarily. What can be hoped is that the state governments take this opportunity to universalise coverage, at least in the poorest districts, by using state funds. The NFSO also provides only a limited quantity of 5kgs per head per month and restricts itself to cereals; where the minimum basket should have included pulses and oils. By doing so, the extremely inadequate diets of the poor could have been addressed to some extent.
The NFSO is also very limited in its entitlements for children, who ideally should have been central to a food security act. Child malnutrition levels in India are extremely high and it is well known that interventions to address malnutrition must focus on children under two years of age, pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls. While the NFSO converts the existing schemes for mid day meal and take home rations in schools and anganwadi centres into legal entitlements, this is not accompanied by essential interventions for treatment of malnourished children, provision of calorie-dense local foods, growth monitoring, and nutrition and health education and so on. Addressing malnutrition would also require other complementary interventions such as access to basic health care, sanitation and drinking water.
The NFSO introduces a limited but extremely critical entitlement for women in the form of maternity entitlements for all pregnant women. By doing this, for the first time we recognise the right of children under six months to breastfeeding and that most women in our country are in fact ‘working’ women. However, once again the ordinance fails us by not going far enough – maternity entitlements are wage compensation for women to be able to stay home for rest and exclusive breastfeeding. They should therefore have been linked to minimum wages. But, the ordinance at least makes a beginning by including this very important entitlement.
The Congress is now in a hurry to implement the ordinance and reap electoral benefits. Such hurry without working out proper identification criteria and mechanisms can derail the entire process. On the other hand, many state governments over the last few years have moved many steps forward in improving their PDS – these states can now take advantage of the additional resources to universalise coverage and even provide other items such as pulses and oils if they are not already doing so.
In many ways the NFSO is a missed opportunity. A comprehensive Act which includes procurement, storage and distribution through a decentralised, strengthened and universal PDS, universal nutrition services for children, special provisions such as community kitchens in urban areas, provision of cooked meals for the destitute persons, social security pensions for the aged and strong grievance redressal and monitoring mechanism is the need of the hour. One can only hope that when the ordinance is debated in the Parliament amendments towards strengthening its provisions as introduced by the Left and some regional parties are discussed and passed.
Bhalla, Surjit (2013): Manmonia’s FSB: 3% of GDP, Indian Express, 6 July 2013
Drèze, Jean and Reetika Khera (2011): PDS leakages: the plot thickens, The Hindu, 12 August 2011
Himanshu (2011): A revived PDS is visible now, Livemint, 16 August 2011
Khera, Reetika (2011): Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 46 Issue 44
Sen, Abhijit and Himanshu (2011): Why Not a Universal Food Security Legislation?, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 46 Issue 12
The report is a strong indictment of regulatory affairs: Coalition
Welcoming the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on Genetically Modified crops, the Coalition for a GM-free India has urged the government to accept the report and “not come in the way of delivery of justice.”
The panel, set up by the Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation, has recommended in its final report that it would not be advisable to conduct any field trials in Bt transgenic crops till gaps in regulatory system are addressed.
“The report is a strong indictment of the state of regulatory affairs with regard to modern biotechnology in the country. We urge that the Central government to take the report seriously and act on it in the interests of food safety, security, and sovereignty as well as protection of environment and farm livelihoods,” the Coalition said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
However, the Association of Biotech Led Enterprise – Agriculture Group (ABLE AG) that represents the industry has termed the document — though an improvement over the interim report that called for a 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenic in all food crops (those used directly for human consumption) — as “regressive and a troubled treatise” that promises to push Indian agriculture into an archaic age.
“The industry believes the TEC report, besides being incomplete, is also anti-science and anti-research and will severely dent the future of country’s farmers besides destroying the domestic private and public sector research. While improving the testing programmes is a continuous process, we do not believe that testing should be stopped in the interim,’’ said Ram Kaundinya, Chairman, ABLE AG in a press statement.
The report submitted to the Supreme Court has not been signed by R.S. Paroda, the representative of Agriculture Ministry who was inducted after the submission of the interim report last year.
“This is not surprising given the fact that Dr. Paroda’s very inclusion in the Committee was controversial and objectionable — his organisation receives funding from biotech majors like Monsanto and Mahyco — and this constitutes a clear conflict of interest. It is ironical that even this court-appointed committee has had to face such a conflict of interest situation, given that this has been the case with almost all GM-related issues in India so far,” the Coalition’s letter said.
The TEC’s comments with regard to bio-safety dossiers that were approved by the current biotechnology regulator is a scathing indictment of the failings of the existing regulatory regime, the Coalition noted.
The TEC could not find any compelling reason for India to be the first country, where Bt transgenics are widely consumed in large amounts for any major food crop that is directly used for human consumption.
The TEC has therefore reiterated its recommendation made in the Interim Report that there should be a moratorium on field trials for Bt in food crops, until there is more definitive information from sufficient number of studies as to the long-term safety of Bt in food crops.
- Industry calls report as regressive, biased and a troubled treatise
- Report not signed by R.S. Paroda, Agriculture Ministry representative