Monday, June 15, 2009

Consumer can keep GM foods out by Malvika Tegta DNA June 14th 2009

Biodiversity is mankind's heritage, not the right of multinationals or seed corporations. A shift in consumer attitude is the need of the hour, Sangita Sharma, director, Annadana Soil and Seed Savers and practitioner of low-cost sustainable farming applying organic principles

We can do better than hybrids

Farmers have become so used to having high-yielding varieties that can generate crops for safety overnight that they don't think organic. But you are pumping in so many fertilisers and pesticides that the farmer cannot replicate the seed and is dependent on the seed corporations and companies for them. Whereas traditional organic seeds are replicable and are not designed for intensive farming that requires excessive use of chemicals.

The politics of GM foods
In Genetically modified (GM) foods, a gene of a soil bacterium is inserted into the DNA of say a brinjal. Pesticides can be washed off, but the constituents of GM food could go into the DNA of your body. So in other words you are creating a herbicide factory in your stomach.
Monsanto owns 93% of the world's GM seeds. They say GM foods will eradicate poverty as they are high-yielding. This is a load of lies. If 180 countries in the world — Germany, France, Poland included — have passed a moratorium on GM foods, why is India being the guinea pig? There are 56 GM crop trials happening in India. If these come to the market, we will be at Monsanto's mercy for our seeds. GM is disastrous for health. One is not opposed to science of genetic engineering, but it has to be done in a monitored environment and tested over a 7-8 year period. When you are messing around with the seed, you are actually going against nature.

We ingest what is available in the market. Yet, our leaders are making the choice to let GM foods into the country. So we must ask where our food is coming from - whether it is laced with pesticides or is it genetically engineered. Are we going to wait for the Supreme Court to decide about our food? GM food will come in so fast that by the time any ruling comes in, we would have lost our biodiversity and no real choice would remain.

Biodiversity is a right

Post Green Revolution, we started to lose a whole lot of traditional organic seeds. As we speak, about 150—200 superior species are being lost everyday because of climate change, hybridisation, heavy fertilisers and pesticides.
Syngenta has applied for patents on 30,000 genomes of rice out of the 37,000. What is going to happen to third world countries like India, which is heavily dependent on it? We are the world's largest biodiversity, with close to 80,000 species to our name. America is home to only five, and it is dictating what we should do on our fields. Biodiversity is mankind's heritage, not the right of multinationals or seed corporations.

Safeguarding traditional breeds
We have to safeguard our traditional breeds of cows and goats. Today, Brazil has a majority of our traditional high-yielding breed of cattle and we buy our own cows from them.
Every government should ensure we have access to traditional open pollinated seeds. Farmers should get the right price. Districts should have seed banks - right now only for hybrids - for traditional seeds. They can have a central system of seed sharing, like the traditional way that worked so beautifully. Why are we following the West? Agriculture is not their forte, it is ours.
Also, the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, chaired by Devinder Sharma, made a very apt statement that farmer must be ensured of a monthly fixed income. The government must think of a package of Rs10,000 a month or so based on land holdings.

We don't like to spend on food

Why is organic food expensive? It's because of the imbalance between demand and supply. How many of you say, 'I can't afford this'. You don't mind spending on cigarettes, branded shoes. But when it comes to food, why does it have to be very cheap? Why can't you spend 20% extra on a farmer giving you pesticide- free food? How about following a sustainable model of farming or growing your own organic tomatoes? Farming is not rocket science.
As told to Malvika Tegta

On Saturdays, DNA invites a Supercitizen (a person who has impacted the lives of people in the city) to interact with DNA's senior editors. The interaction aims to give readers a glimpse ofthe Supercitizen's perspectives on civic issues and the solutions s(he) has to offer. It also helps our readers understand how the city's influentials think and act.

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