We middle class city-slickers are extremely hypocritical.

We want the latest smartphones and iPads, would oppose any extra levies on diesel cars, and will think least about carbon emissions or climate change while using air-conditioners and choosing to fly rather than take a 40-hour train journey.

But when it comes to farmers, we baulk at their using chemical fertilisers or pesticides to raise or protect crop yields. Farm mechanisation is, likewise, seen to displace rural labour and promote fossil fuel consumption, just as rice fields and cattle are considered to be major sources of methane — the most potent of greenhouse gases. The Supreme Court-appointed TEC’s report echoes all these biases.

‘Suitability’ for whom?

Take its recommendation on banning field trials of crops genetically engineered to ‘tolerate’ herbicide application. Why? Because by eliminating the need for manual weeding, these would “take away a source of employment in rural areas for the weaker sections”.

But by that logic, shouldn’t we stop using washing machines, which “takes away” work from domestic helps?

If washing machines have made life more comfortable for us, how can we possibly grudge farmers from planting herbicide-tolerant maize or cotton, when they are now forced to spend Rs 5,000 or more per acre on manual weeding?

The TEC report claims that the introduction of these transgenics “may lead to health and environmental risk”. Instead of explaining how or why — which is what one would expect from a body of scientific experts — it has questioned their “suitability in the Indian context” taking into account “socioeconomic considerations”. Now, who decides ‘suitability’ and do these concerns apply to washing machines?

Monopoly matters

The entire urban middle class-focused debate over the health and environment safety of GM crops is amusing for another reason: Many of our close friends and relatives study or work in the US, where people have been consuming these ‘Frankenstein’ products since 1996. Yet, we see no contradiction in queuing up for H-1B visas and preventing our own farmers from planting transgenic mustard or brinjal!

The basic issue about GM crops is not bio-safety, but monopoly. Today, these technologies are controlled mainly by five global giants: Monsanto, DuPont, BASF, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience. They are companies with deep pockets, which are looking at the Indian market not of today’s, but of ten years from now.

Ten years from now, we will not be debating the safety of GM technology. Given our ever-growing food and feed needs, the arguments for and against it would sound as silly as the 1980s’ debates over the desirability of computers.

It is for us to determine whether to build indigenous expertise and capabilities in this field — as the Chinese and the Brazilians are doing — or vacate it exclusively for Monsanto and Co. The TEC’s recommendation of a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all transgenic food crops would pave the path for the latter.

If I were Monsanto, I would be very happy about what Greenpeace and its poor cousins here are doing.

Also read: >Should field trials of GM crops be banned? - YES