On the occasion of the recently celebrated National Safe Food Day, Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty traces the journey that won the citizens of India moratarium from its first GM food – Bt brinjal
The story so farAs the country celebrated its third National Safe Food Day this year, voices were raised against the government’s continued support of GM food in the country, says Punya Srivastava
February 9, 2013, was celebrated across the country as the ‘National Safe Food Day’ marking the third anniversary of the moratorium on Bt brinjal in India. Delhi witnessed a press conference as well as ‘Citizen’s Action for Safe Food’ initiated by ‘Delhi Alliance for Safe Food’ with people participating in various events to spread awareness regarding the pros and cons of genetically modified (GM) foods.
The press conference saw a letter directed to the Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF) in which more than 150 scientists from across the country pointed out that food security arguments around GM crops are baseless and fallacious, both from the scientific and global experience point of view. These scientists expressed disappointment that the MoEF, responsible for regulation of transgenics, allowed the Ministry of Agriculture to step into the Supreme Court PIL on GMOs on behalf of the Union of India.
“We urge Ms Jayanti Natarajan, Minister for Environment & Forests, to show the independence that her predecessor showed in placing a moratorium on what would have been India’s first GM food crop, Bt brinjal. The Bt brinjal moratorium decision has set a good precedence in terms of a precautionary approach,” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM-Free India. According to the Coalition, various agencies like Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology, headed by Dr M S Swaminathan in 2003, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (2012), the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council (PM-SAC), the Sopory Committee, commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court (SC TEC) have highlighted the much-required element of needs assessment and assessment of alternatives, before going in for the GM option. They had pointed out serious and objectionable issues with regard to transgenic research and regulation, where crores of rupees of taxpayers’ funds have been expended. They had also confirmed GM contamination. “It is surprising that the Ministry of Agriculture ignores all of the above and continues with its biased and unscientific stand on GM crops. The Ministry of Agriculture’s continued aggressive promotion of GM crops is unacceptable and we want the Minister for Environment & Forests to be responsive to society and responsible to science. Therefore, we expect the Environment Minister to accept the first set of recommendations by the TEC,” added Radhakrishnan. The Coalition pointed out that citizens are keen to have an informed debate on the subject and it does not help to have a unilateral view presented by the government, that too using taxpayers’ funds. A number of people, mainly the youth, turned up at Jantar Mantar, the protest hub of the city, to mark their dissent against the GM foods being endorsed by the government. The venue buzzed with excitement amongst the young volunteers as they shouted anti-GM slogans and addressed people’s queries on GM food. A group of students from Khadya Nyaya Abhiyan (KHANA) campaign conducted a street play on food safety and GM foods, followed by an open discussion on the threat posed by GM crops to Indian agriculture and citizens.
Armed with banners and posters, the volunteers distributed flyers to the gathered crowd, involving them in discussions and dispelling various myths. The general refrain among the crowd was regarding the government’s disdain towards citizen welfare. “This apathy from the powers-that-be is upsetting. The way they spend huge amounts on creating transgenic food, despite knowing the harm it causes, is preposterous. The youth must come forward and be a part of such awareness programmes to ensure food safety and pressurise the government into paying heed to our concerns,” stated Ayush Srivastava, a second-year student of hotel management. According to Nishank, Secretariat Coordinator, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) and one of the organising members of the meet, the main aim behind this initiative was to involve urban milieu as well since everyone must know what they are eating and how GM foods affect us all. The event ended with volunteers forming a human chain on the streets of Jantar Mantar to show resolution and solidarity towards the cause.
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