Over 150 scientists have sought the intervention of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to counter the Ministry of Agriculture’s affidavit in the Supreme Court that genetically modified (GM) crops were essential for food security.

In a letter to the Environment Minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, the scientists said food security had no link with yield increases. They presented data from various countries to support their argument.

“Food security is not just about yield increases, but poverty, livelihoods and access for the vast majority of the people.  We have buffer stocks, mountains of grain rot and yet 320 million people go hungry in the country. So, it’s not a supply side issue, as is made out to be by the Agriculture Ministry,” said Kavita Kuruganti, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India, at a press conference to observe Food Safety Day, marking three years of the moratorium on Bt Brinjal in India.

Calling for non-transgenic solutions to increase productivity, such as the rice-intensification programme, Kuruganti said there were molecular approaches to developing newer seeds and India should invest in them instead.

On why open-field trials were being opposed, she said organisms that could propagate themselves in open fields were dangerous without proper safeguards in place and strict implementation of regulatory measures. “We are not opposed to research trials. But something as complex as transgenics should be tested in greenhouses with simulated conditions such as drought etc,” Kuruganti added.

In the letter to Jayanthi Natarajan, the scientists pointed out the flaws in the Agriculture Ministry’s stance that the apex court’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC) had recommended a 10-year moratorium on agri-biotech research.

“The Ministry has in its narrow definition included only GM crops as agriculture biotechnology. The TEC is specific; it is about GM crops and trees, and not about other biotechnologies,” says the letter.

Also, TEC has not recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM crops, but has specified “Bt GM crops, HT GM crops and crops for which India is centre of origin or diversity”.

“Contrary to the assertions of the Ministry of Agriculture, it is in fact the Indian public sector GM crop research that will continue in a scenario where the TEC recommendations are accepted,’ said the letter.

The letter urged Jayanthi Natarajan to “proactively” adopt the sound recommendations of the TEC in this regard.

aditi.n@thehindu.co.in

 

(This article was published on February 9, 2013)
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