ByÂ Ignatius Joseph:
Bangalore witnessed ‘Happy Brinjals‘ celebrating their status as free of any genetic modification (GM) on February 9. Greenpeace volunteers dressed in smiling Brinjal costumes were joined by Bangaloreans when they walked across M.G. Road in the epic Beatles’ Abbey Road style, holding a banner, exhorting citizens to “Imagine… A GM-Free Future.”
February 9 marks the third anniversary since Jairam Ramesh, the then Union Minister of Environment and Forests declared a moratorium on Bt brinjal, the first genetically modified food crop, which was considered for commercial cultivation in India. Following a series of public consultations and submissions made by academics, economists, environmentalists, farmers, civil society groups and citizens alike, the minister declared that the moratorium decision is “responsible to science and responsive to society.”
“We are here to celebrate the safety of our food and thank Mr. Ramesh for ensuring that our food is not contaminated with GMOs” said Bapi Mahanta , a software engineer and Greenpeace India volunteer in Bangalore , while engaging with the public. He further ascertained that availability of safe food free from GM or agrochemical contamination is the right of every Indian citizen.
The last three years has seen growing scientific evidence and public outcry against GM crops, the latest being an independent review released by Greenpeace on the safety assessment ofÂ Monsanto’s GMÂ corn that leads the regulatory pipeline for commercial approvals. The central government seems to be pushing forward with GM crops. There were efforts from the government to bring in a weaker regulatory law, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill, to circumvent all opposition and act as a single-window clearance for genetically modified organisms across the board. This has been stalled due to opposition both inside and outside the Parliament.
Last year saw the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in a report, unanimously agreed to by all party members, asking the government to avoid any haste in embracing GM technology in agriculture. Besides pointing at the various risks that GM crops could pose to the health of our citizens, biodiversity and farmers livelihoods, it also asserted that there is a need for an all-encompassing Bio-safety Authority through an Act of Parliament. The committee also recommended an immediate stopping of all open releases of GM food crops including those in the name of field trials.
At the walk in Bangalore Neha Saigal, Campaigner for Sustainable Agriculture, Greenpeace India said “It is preposterous that despite recommendations by both the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and Supreme Court’s TEC to adopt an extremely precautionary approach, and consider alternatives, the government seems keen to jump on the GM bandwagon. So even as we celebrate another year of GM-free food, we urge the government to look beyond such risky technologies like GM crops and go for real alternatives like ecological farming, which are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.”
Diverse groups from across the country celebrated the day as National Safe Food Day and demanded that Jayanthi Natarajan ensure there are no more open releases of GMOs in the country, including open field trials. Greenpeace has also initiated anÂ online pollÂ to gather public opinion on what people think of GM food and if they believe that it can be a solution to food shortage in India