Renewed GMO threat in India

From ToxicLeaks

After Monsanto succeeded in forcing India to accept genetically modified (GM) cotton in 2002, there is a new attempt to dump more genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Indian agriculture, highlighting the essentially fraudulent strategies GMO advocates have been using for decades to make people believe they are safe. This particular round of the battle concerns mustard and large scale tests that have been started to evaluate the safety of GM mustard crops. However, the tests in themselves reveal the dishonesty and influence of the pro-GMOs. The stakes are paramount because if the project goes through, it would be the first GM food crop and would open the way to many other GM crops. Fortunately, civil society has risen to denounce this hazard for India.

Petition against GM mustard tests[edit | edit source]

In Decembre 2015, Aruna Rodrigues, an Indian environmentalist, filed a petition in the supreme court to put a stop to the large scale tests of GM mustard that are taking place. This GM mustard is designed to be Herbicide Tolerant, HT, which means that it would resist use of very heavy herbicides. Aruna Rodrigues proves in her petition that the body in charge of conducting the tests, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), is far from following the rules and is clearly under the influence of pro-GMO lobbies. Indeed the procedure states that the large-scale tests can only be done when biosafety studies and risk assessment protocols have been carefully followed. This has not been the case, namely because the GEAC has not been transparent and has not given the public access to the information concerning the tests.

Furthermore, when they proceeded to open field trials, they did not take the necessary measures to prevent contamination of other fields which could jeopardize biodiversity. Aruna Rodrigues rightly questioned the scientific integrity of the GEAC because it doesn't take into account the scientific data that proves the danger of GMOs. For instance, the 2013 report of the supreme court appointed Technical Expert Committee explicitly rejected GMOs and in particular HT crops, that in the opinion of the committee were “completely unsuitable in the Indian context as HT crops are likely to exert a highly adverse impact over time on sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods, and environment.” Therefore, Aruna Rodrigues asks the supreme court to enforce this idea and impose a « a full moratorium on GMOs » in India. She pointed out that GMOs are unpredictable and dangerous : « This technology is a classic case of ‘unforeseeable systemic ruin’, which means that we will know we are ruined after it happens ».

False information flooded into Indian GMO debate[edit | edit source]

Lie#1 : GMO producers shouldn't have to prove GMOs are safe[edit | edit source]

It's fortunate that brave citizens like Aruna Rodrigues are stepping up to say no to GMOs because a heavy machinery is in motion to support the introduction of GM food crops and the GMO advocates ruthlessly use every trick they can to mislead Indians into opening the door to GMO food crops. A significant piece was written by Kalyan Ray in India's Deccan Herald in January. This pro-GMO piece was full of the usual lies the GMO industry tells to make people believe their products are safe. For instance, he stated that “Worldwide, over 175 million hectares are dedicated to GM crop, accounting for 12 per cent of arable land.

No inherent risks have so far been identified to human or animal health from this consumption or to the environment from their cultivation.” This is a good old tactic against the ‘precautionary principle’. The argument is that it's not up to GMO producers to prove that their products are safe, but rather that it's up to states or individuals to prove that they aren't safe, and if they can't then the crops should be allowed. This is of course a crazy view. Open crops spread billions of seeds into the ecosystem and it's essential to be 100 % sure of the safety of a crop before we start growing. Which is why GMOs are such a bad idea in the first place, it's virtually impossible to be that sure, and therefore we shouldn't grow them.

Lie#2 : GMOs are essential to development of emerging countries[edit | edit source]

But let's get back to Kalyan's Ray very unrigorous piece on GMOs. He quotes what he presents as a « year-old British Parliament document » to make the point that new agro-technology is essential for emerging countries to build up their agriculture : “We are convinced by the evidence provided to us that this suite of technologies is a potentially important tool, particularly in the developing world, which should not be rejected unless there is solid scientific evidence those technologies may cause harm.” This view may have been expressed in the document he quoted but it is countered by numerous reports produced in the last years, also it's not at all in line with the 2008 World Bank-funded International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge and Science for Development Report. This report encouraged smallholder, traditional and non-GMO farming to achieve food security in the global south.

Lie #3 : GMOs have higher yields than traditional crops with less pesticides[edit | edit source]

The document Kalyan Ray quotes expressed the very popular but false belief that GMOs have higher yield rates and allow farmers to use less pesticides, thus making the produce actually cleaner than non-GMO farms that use pesticides. These two beliefs are lies. First of all, GMO crops don't have higher yields than non-GMO crops, it's actually the opposite ! In a 2013 peer-reviewed study, Jack Heinemann and his team established that the yields of European (non GMO) crops had been better than those of the American and Canadian GMO crops between 1985 and 2010. Which is incontrovertible proof that GMOs aren't just dangerous (which is already more than enough reason to ban them), they're also completely ineffective ! Heinemann proves that the thing that gives American crops high yields in general is actually a good mastery of traditional farming, namely conventional breeding.

And the icing on the cake, no pun intended, is that despite the use of GMOs, the European crops use less pesticides than the American ones. This clearly disproves the false belief the GMOs help reduce the amount of pesticides used. It's actually the opposite as the pesticides are inside the plants, to begin with, and more pesticides are used on the crops. Another study made by Charles Benbrook confirmed this idea and proved that pesticide use had increased 7% in the United States despite claims about GMO effectiveness. This all shows us how empty the GMO promises are and that purchasing GMO seeds only serves one interest, the corporation that manufactured them.

Lie#4 : GMOs are essential to reduce vegetable oil imports[edit | edit source]

This final argument is also quite significant and as dishonest as the former ones. According to India's prime minister Narendra Modi, GM mustard is a necessary move to reduce edible oil imports and achieve sufficiency in that field. Today, India spends $10 billion a year on palm or soybean oil imports from Malaysia, Indonesia, the US, Brazil and Argentina. The purpose of growing GM mustard would be to produce Indian vegetable oil from these high-yield crops. Except... that as we just said, the yields of GMO crops are grossly overstated.

As Devindar Sharma, food a trade analyst, pointed out : “If GM cannot increase yields even in the US, where high-input, irrigated, heavily subsidized commodity farming is the norm, it is irresponsible to assume that it would improve yields in the Global South, where farmers may literally bet their farms and livelihoods on a crop.” So essentially, GMOs are a completely fake solution to this real problem. That's what makes this argument quite devious. Other answers are of course possible and should be developed to truly address the issue : adopt trade policies that will protect traditional farmers, alternative agricultural methods like the System of Mustard Intensification which has much higher yield than GM mustard. However, as none of these methods fill Monsanto's pocket they are not at the core of the debate, how strange !

Indian government forced to defer decision on GM mustard[edit | edit source]

Activist uproar about GM mustard has not been in vain. Despite the campaign of misinformation of the pro-GMOs, the public was informed about the tremendously high risks of going through with this senseless GM mustard testing. Whereas in January the Indian government still seemed poised to approve the commercial launch of the GM mustard, it has since backtracked and the GM mustard is to go through another set of tests, whose date will be made public and open to debate.

This is very clearly a concession to the strong opposition that has risen against this project and a sign that the government may have to give up if citizens and environment groups maintain pressure. However, as this is a crucial decision for GMO firms, they are bound to continue their campaign of spreading lies on GMOs, lies that have to be met with hard facts, so that every Indian knows the truth about GMOs and to ensure that the ecological disaster that the introduction of GMO food crops in India would cause, never comes to pass.