No GM please,
we are British !
By Devinder Sharma
28 September, 2003
has done it. In a historic verdict, the British people have rejected
genetically modified crops (GM crops) and foods.
With only 2 per
cent of the population saying yes to GM foods, and another 8 per cent
not averse to eating GM foods, an overwhelming percentage of the people
who participated in one of the biggest ever public debates in Britain
have rejected the modified foods. "The GM Nation" report,
based on the response received from more than 37,000 people, has not
only 'expressed caution and doubt, but also thorough suspicion and scepticism,
and even hostility and rejection'.
The rejection of
the GM crops and foods in Britain will soon have repercussions in India,
where in the name of foreign investment the multinational industry has
managed to seek political patronage for a risky science. Despite public
outcry, at least ten States have made available prime land at a throwaway
price for a nascent biotechnology industry -- a scandal that is sure
to be a hundred times bigger than the infamous Taj Mahal corridor scam
in Uttar Pradesh that has invited Supreme Court's ire against the former
chief minister, Ms Mayawati.
The British outcry
against GM crops is also a clear warning for the Indian agricultural
scientists. By not listening to the farmers and the civil society, the
Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) too invites scepticism
and scorn about the need and relevance of the direction of research
in the world's second biggest public sector research infrastructure.
In Britain, agricultural biotechnologists have already begun to flee.
Aware of the public's mistrust over a science, which has tragically
been allowed to slip into the hands of multinational companies, newspapers
report that leading biotechnologists have already left the country searching
for greener pastures.
The United States
too is faced with almost a similar crisis, with many universities unable
to fill the vacancies created by molecular biologists opting for the
private sector, already in the thick of a recession. For an emerging
workforce of molecular biologists in India, unable to find suitable
placements abroad, the GM bubble (unlike the IT industry) has burst
even before it grew to a respectable size.
A stream of leading
GM crop researchers, reports The Guardian, have quit the country, while
others are preparing to leave in the next few months, threatening to
damage Britain's world-class reputation in the field. "The really
committed people who have underpinned our excellence are moving out
and that's a real worry," said Professor Chris Leaver, head of
plant sciences at the University of Oxford.
Such is the public
hatred for anything associated with genetic manipulation that even the
multinational plant biotechnology industry has not been spared. "High-profile
GM research companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dow have all closed
down research facilities in Britain in recent years, drastically diminishing
the career prospects of scientists working on GM crops. Only one multinational
company, Syngenta, remains", says John Vidal in the Guardian.
The public mistrust
against genetic engineering is the outcome of the aggressiveness with
which distinguished agricultural scientists joined the multinational
industry in blindly promoting an untested and risky technology at the
cost of human health and environment. Not realising that the art of
public deception cannot last for long, agricultural scientists -- and
that includes the Royal Society in Britain and the National Academy
for Agricultural Sciences in India - actually turned into a mouthpiece
for the discredited industry.
politicians joined them later) used emotional arguments of eradicating
hunger and malnutrition as a justification for introducing modified
crops, which actually have nothing to do with hunger. Developing countries
of Asia, Africa and Latin America, have been very cleverly forced by
the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and
the World Bank to accept agricultural biotechnology as "the tool
for eradicating hunger". And as Dr Richard Horton, editor of the
British medical journal The Lancet, once said: "Seeking a technological
food fix for world hunger may be... the most commercially malevolent
wild goose chase of the new century."
The hunger argument
continued to flourish and gain ground. As American President George
Bush told the June BIO 2003 industry convention, "America and other
wealthy nations have a special responsibility to combat hunger and disease
in desperate lands". So much so that the United States had actually
created a scare of an impending famine in some of the southern African
countries in 2002 so as to justify the offloading of GM food grains
for which there were no takers.
For an industry,
which is being driven out of the rich and industrialised countries,
translocation to some of the fast emerging economies and countries like
India, Brazil, Argentina, Thailand and Malaysia, among others, remains
the only option. Except for South Africa and Egypt, none of the African
countries seem suitable because of the absence of an adequate public
infrastructure. The focus of the industry therefore is to make the developing
countries accept more and more investment in genetic engineering, and
at the same time provide markets for the GM products and crops. Such
are the high stakes involved that the hunger card still continues to
be used with impunity.
No wonder, India
is busy preparing a national agricultural biotechnology policy before
even ascertaining the national research priorities. Pakistan and Bangladesh
have recently been forced to accept genetic engineering as part of a
restructuring that is being advised as a pre-condition for financial
credit. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and even the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal
are being made to accept genetic engineering. Much of the pressure is
coming through the donor agencies, which are bringing in development
projects weaving in biotechnology and genetic engineering. #
is a New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst. Responses can be
mailed at: email@example.com)