Thursday, July 3, 2008

After killer cotton, killer brinjal?

Monsanto is a PATCOP company (Profit At The Cost Of People). Like Union Carbide. Like Enron. The criminal irresponsibility of Carbide and Enron finally led to their doom. Monsanto met its doom in Europe where it is not allowed to operate. Today its only free-ride territory in the world is India that is Bharat. Jai Hind.

Nation-wide was the agitation against Bt.cotton seeds. Licensing authorities in India paid no heed. Today the Indian cotton market is under the monopolistic control of Monsanto-Mahyco. The suicides of farmers in Vidarbha and Andhra have been directly linked to the Bt.cotton monopoly and consequent destruction of local livelihoods.

Mahyco's Chairman is "upbeat" about the cotton seed's "success". In fact in regions around Vadodara Bt.cotton has already started becoming ineffective because of the resistance developed by bollworm. According to a scientist of the Central Institute of Cotton Research, under current farm practices, "it will take another six to nine years for the insect to develop complete resistance." By then the soil too would have become useless because of the deleterious effects of the Terminator seeds. That will be a propitious time for more suicides.

But the licensing authorities will pay no heed. They are already helping PATCOP chairmen to capture the brinjal and rice markets. This is far more dangerous to India and Indians than the loss of cotton. Food, unlike cotton, will take the genetic engineering chemicals directly into our digestive systems. To say nothing about the foreign monopolization of what have been cherished Indian staples for centuries.

Brinjal, especially, has a sentimental dimension to it. It is wholly, unmistakably, culturally Indian. That's why a public-interest case was filed in the Supreme Court against its genetic manipulation. The Supreme Court made three stipulations in its ruling: The working of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) must be transparent; the views of an independent committee of experts must be sought; and decisions must be free of vested interests. If the first stipulation alone is observed in practice, the picture will change immediately in favour of national interests.

The GEAC appears to be the villain of the piece. In the case of Bt.cotton, for example, the Biotechnology Regulatory Committee strongly recommended against giving testing licence to Monsanto. Yet GEAC provided the necessary permission.

India has no system and no experience in evaluating genetic technology on its own. It ends up virtually accepting the testing benchmarks proposed by Monsanto-Mahyco. Indeed, GEAC often acts as an extension department of Monsanto.

This is not just a life-threatening situation for Indians; it is also shameful. Perhaps that is why farmers have now taken to direct action. Mahyco's GE rice crop in a testing field near Coimbatore was destroyed by local people. They said the rice plants had toxins from the root to the tip. The Department of Biotechnology in Delhi had given permission on certain conditions. The company did not care to observe even those conditions, like isolating the trial field and informing the Panchayat officials.

Last week the Tamil Nadu Farmers' Association charged that Monsanto had a secret understanding with the authorities to continue with trial crops and warned it would "resort to extreme action" to stop all trials. The licensing babus will pay no heed. They will wait for instructions from Monsanto, not from farmers or the Supreme Court. They are a shameless lot-protectors turned betrayers of the country.

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