Valued contact Devinder Sharma asks this question in India, where the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has been ‘aggressively pushing’ for the spread of GM crops in the name of food security – just as the industry’s scientists do in Britain.
We summarise his article about the ‘bull-dozing of public resistance through a legally binding mechanism”.in this week’s Tehelka.
- In 2010 the Ministry of Environment & Forests questioned the veracity of scientific claims, and imposed a moratorium on the genetically engineered Bt Brinjal.
- The 2012 report of the Standing Parliamentary Committee found “biotechnology regulation to be too small a focus on the vast canvas of biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health and therefore recommended an all-encompassing Biosafety Authority”.
- Seven states – West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Kerala – refused to go in for open field trials of GM crops.
The incestuous relationship of the industry with government
Sharma sees a parallel between political developments in USA and India – both make obvious the incestuous relationship industry has with the government
The HR 933 continuing resolution — popularly called the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ —effectively divests the federal courts of their constitutional power to stop the planting or sale of genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops regardless of the health and environmental consequences.
In April the Indian government introduced the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill 2013 which led the Association for Biotechnology Led Enterprises to express ‘jubilation’.
Sharma sees the BRAI bill as a precursor to passing legislation similar to the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’. The US government has removed regulatory hurdles in the promotion of GM crops and the BRAI bill provides a single-window, fast-track clearance for GM crops.
Biotechnology companies and conspiring government officials
Citing ‘confidential commercial information’, the BRAI bill imposes restrictions on the application of Right to Information Act, so that with certain clauses that limit the jurisdiction of the courts over the decisions taken, the bill provides a strong and legally-tight protective shield to the biotechnology companies and conspiring government officials.
The need to curb transparency and accountability arises only when something dangerous has to be kept hidden from the public:
- pro-industry scientists are appointed to senior government and university positions,
- facts are misrepresented in the name of a ‘science-based’ debate
Conflict of interest
The Prime Minister’s Office then moved the introduction of the bill from the Ministry of Environment & Forests to the Department of Science & Technology, which is a promoter of the technology.
At the same time, citing ‘public interest’, the BRAI bill has taken away the role the states have over agriculture and health. The states can no longer refuse permission. They are left with only an advisory role.
As Sharma notes, the government has set aside all the concerns expressed by the 2004 Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology led by Dr M S Swaminathan:
- the safety of the environment,
- the well-being of farming families,
- the ecological and economic sustainability of farming systems,
- the health and nutrition security of consumers,
- safeguarding of home and external trade
- and the biosecurity of the nation.
Source: Tehelka, May 11, 2013. Issue 19 Volume 10: http://tehelka.com/who-decides-what-we-eat/