A section of farmers’ organisations in the country on Monday threatened to take up nation-wide agitation if the government failed to take strong action to stop cultivation of illegal GM crops in the country.

The leaders were talking to the media after their meeting with officials of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body for genetically modified objects (GMOs), in which they appraised them of their concerns about illegal deployment of gene technologies without rigorous regulation.

“We will strongly resist any move to bring in GM crops into the country, including through illegal cultivation, as was the case with Bt cotton in the past. This is a clear case where government has to take a sane policy decision, using a precautionary approach and ensure that GMOs do not jeopardise our environmental sustainability, or farmer livelihoods or consumer health”, said Yudhvir Singh of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), who was present at the meeting.

Fake organisations

According to the leaders, there were at least four instances of illegal GM cultivation happening in the country, name Bt cotton, HT cotton, HT soyabean and Bt brinjal. While the illegal cultivation of Bt cotton eventually forced the hands of the authorities to give approval in 2002, other transgenic crops are currently being pursued by those groups whom they described as ‘fake farmer organisations’.

“This can be prevented effectively only if event developers are made liable for any illegal GM seed cultivation, rather than cracking down on farmers. Recently, the Maharashtra government threatened to initiate action against some farmers in the State to sow HT cotton, a transgenic crop which is not cleared for commercial cultivation yet.

Hazardous technologies

“This is a case of failed and hazardous technologies that are trying to be introduced through a backdoor route, entrapping desperate and poor farmers. The ones who are encouraging farmers to opt for, and grow illegal GM seeds are actually taking an anti-national step and in a way, this is bio-terrorism, said Badrinarayan Chaudhary of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, an organisation with strong links with the Sangh Parivar.

Kapil Shah of the Gujarat-based organisation, Jatan, said GEAC failed in its primary mandate of protecting citizens from the risks of modern biotechnology. “We need standard operating procedures to be put into place to make sure that every concerned agency knows its duties and what it has to do when illegal GM cultivation is discovered,” Shah said adding that the liability has to be fixed squarely on event developers for any GM seed leakage. “We need a rule to be notified under the Environment Protection Act 1986 to clearly fix liability on event developers”, he said.

Harmful impacts

According to Kavitha Kuruganti of Coalition for a GM-Free, one way to curb the spread of illegal HT cotton crop is to stop the sales of glyphosate, the herbicide required to kill the weeds. “This step is much-needed not only to ensure that illegal GM cultivation can be restricted, but also because glyphosate has many harmful impacts on human health and environment,” Kuruganti said.

Apart from these organisations, the letter sent to GEAC was signed by BJP Kisan Morcha, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Agragami Kisan Sabha, and Swadeshi Jagaran Manch among others.