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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Day for protest on GM Food

This morning the first thoughts were that later today there will be a group trying communicate to an uncaring nation about the dangers of permitting GM Food into our kitchen through a protest at New Delhi (in front of Jantar Mandir, 10 a.m.).

Genetically Modified Foods are a solution to a problem that is non-existent. Scientifically, Technically, Socially, Ethically, Economically and Environmentally it is a bad initiative. Yet it is being pursued for one single reason - it is commercially more secure for the companies who developed it. And these companies are today associated with the politically powerful nations who can dictate what ought to be done and not be done to solve global problems of both real and imaginative nature.

It is often said that the choice of 'data' is the prerogative of the person who uses it. All kinds of social, economic and political data have been used to promote this technology that has been founded on corporate greed.

Hence you find that the infestation of a certain pest (bollworm) and the consequent consumption of pesticides among the cotton farmers is a problem that ought to be addressed ONLY by inserting a gene of a bacteria on the cotton itself that will resist the pest. This is akin to saying that if you had a skin of a mountain goat you can withstand the cold in the mountains very well, so maybe humans in the mountains will need a goat's gene in their bodies, it will also save on the money people spend on the woollen. What is the issue, spending on wool? living in such tough conditions in the mountain? or reducing all solutions to the artificial transfer of the gene between species?

Suddenly, brinjals which are grown across the country in India and is cooked in a thousand different ways has become a crop in contention. Or the pesticide consumption of brinjal crop has become an issue - we are told that it too suffers from pest attacks and to resist pests, it needs to be secured through artificial bacteria gene inserted into its gene code. Similarly, across India children suffer from Vitamin-A deficiency, we are told that they urgently need supplements and what is best way to do it, of course, artificial gene transfer from a vitamin-A rich flower into whatever they eat, if their staple is rice, then we will insert it into rice, and pronto, we have the media savvy scientists proclaiming with bleeding hearts that they now have the 'Golden Rice' to save the blinding children of India.

Remember when last time a man took it upon himself to only maintain superior species in the world, we had the second world war. But, he was a stupid dictator, not a business man, when a business man wants to do the same, he doesn't waste time annihilating the not qualified, he just provides then with solutions to become better and makes money in the process. It was called fascism when a dictator does it, it is called by whatever name the business people want it to be known as now, because they are not any business people, they are the most powerful ones in the world too.

Did we not manage pests in cotton and brinjal plants without pesticides? Did we not know how to over come the problem of Vitamin-A deficiency in our children?

Across the state of Andhra Pradesh last few years farmers have proved through a process in thousands of hectares of land how without use of chemical pesticides they can manage their pests. A technique called NPM (No chemical Pest Management) that originated in the farmers' fields and till date has neither received any university or research organization's contribution to its growth! They have proved that it is possible to do pest management without pesticides very successfully. They have done this through many techniques that were developed by farmers who decided that they wanted to save on the money being spent on the chemicals unnecessarily.

Green leafy vegetables and papaya are some of the riches sources of vitamin-A in the world. There was a internationally funded project across India to promote the consumption of these by poorer communities by planting these in their neighbourhood, this project funding I am told suddenly stopped when the powerful gene-transfer agents started their bid to sell the gene-transferred rice to the Indian government. Even today this would be the easiest solution as both green leafy vegetables and papaya are available easily in most parts of the country. there are cultural issues that often limit people in consuming papaya, this can be addressed through awareness drive through the powerful visual media.

NPM, growing green leafy vegetables and similar such initiatives have on limitation. They transfer the power of the lives of the people to themselves, they make people self-sustaining and hence a threat to the global corporate agenda. The global corporate agenda today requires that life of anyone be lived in accordance with the marketing requirements of the companies. That we are aware of what are marketing requirements of different companies promoting various goods in our areas and adhere to their needs makes us a 'good' consumer citizen. If we resist, rebel or just refuse to use their goods, they we are 'not with' them. And their world view is divided simply as 'those who are with us and those who are not with us', as one of their big poster-boy neatly summarised it.

Hence the promotion of GM crops has been both presenting selective and convenient data to create a 'problem' situation that we were not aware of till it was presented thus to us and to rubbish any other 'solution' that comes from people who are not with the corporate agenda. One big beneficiary has been the media and the public relations industry, for they have been given the work of changing the perception of the world on this issue. Perhaps never before in history did a 'solution' need to be promoted with such large investment on publicity. But, never before in history did we have a 'solution' that also had to create widespread 'problems' so that it can sell itself.

As a farmer from a non-powerful nation, Indian farmers have limited choice. I was told that, Andhra Pradesh farmers this year found when they went to the shops to buy their cotton seeds that the only seeds stocked were the Bt Cotton seeds, almost in unison all the seed companies (most of them taken over or distantly owned or dictated by few global major corporates) and government seed units have ONLY stocked up Bt Cotton for selling this year. They don't have the negotiating power nor the economic might to fight this injustice. Soon, we the consumers will have even lesser choices. We will have the entire super market shelf stocked with GM Foods.

The problems that arise out of GM Food consumption is not yet fully known. Only recently one university has dared to state that a new form of disease that is spreading in parts of USA, which is inexplicable and un-curable could be possibly due to GM Food consumption. Only recently another university report states that GM Crops actually do not enhance the productivity. China has already suffered growth of giant weeds in GM fields. Environmentally, the presence of a non-natural gene-transfer across species organism affects other life forms around and disturbs the entire ecological balance, however, over stating any ecological concern today means being labelled 'eco-terrorist', a label that is most used in the GM debates to completely stonewall any further arguments on some issues.

While the PR force of the biotech majors rubbish everyone who counters them as a terrorist of one form or another, the scientists have come up with a convenient terms and explanations. So, anyone talking of a detailed testing or inconvenient data is dismissed literally at times from their jobs and as being 'un-scientific'. A new term, 'substantiative evidence' is used against 'precautionary principle' to sell the technology. In ordinary language it means, 'look we don't have adequate evidence that such and such a product could have such and such side effect, so, if you fear that it will have a unhealthy consequence and want to take precautions, that is not fair, after all there is not enough evidence, let is use it as wide spread as possible (and the corporates recover their investments) and then if there is adequate evidence (and there could be another opportunity to sell 'solution' to that 'problem') then we will see'. Of course it doesn't matter that in the process quite a bit of eco-system as we know today, agri-culture a it was practiced in many old countries and policies, people life styles and public opinions have to be modified, so what, these of are no consequence in front of the corporate greed and their power today.

We can make a difference. And the difference will start with our life style, our choice of the what we consume. Locally grown food, preferably organic and of local variety, brought through the local vendors, bought and home cooked (and not ready-to-eat off-the-shelf food) are the first small steps to stepping out of the corporate greed agenda that is GM Food. Of course, this means time taken off from our often busy schedules. This time invested by many adds up, it adds up to erode the corporate markets thereby their greed and ultimately changes their course. If we don't have that extra time to alter our food consumption habits, we may not have much choice tomorrow, it is estimated that almost 85% of the American food is GM Food, we are not that bad yet, but, it is not too far away too.

You may not take time to symapthize with those who protest against GM food crops in Delhi today, you can however choose to live healthy by simply investing that extra time for your own benefit and incidentally the world will benefit too, it is as good if not better than tax exemption for spending on yourself. It is our choice.

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