Friday, November 27, 2009

Response to the article by Dr. S Shantharam by leading organic farmers

Greetings from "My Right to Safe Food"

Powerful hard hitting, thought provoking response by Juli and Vivek Cariappa - Organic Farmer, Krishi Pandit, ex-Gram Panchayat member, President of Savayava Krishikara Sangha, Member Empowered Committee On Organic Farming, GOK, Member, State Horticulture Mission, GOK. to an interview with Dr S Shantaram, former Syngenta man and key player in India's industry-linked GM lobby group Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE).
I was rather surprised to read the article / interview with one Dr. Shantharam from the USA. The tone of the responses to the questions regarding GM food and the debate going on in India, was very much like the petulant tantrum of little children whose toy is taken away for their own protection, as they are not mature enough to handle things that can harm them!!

Some points I would like to clarify for the benefit for your readers who might take seriously what the good scientist had to say.

***Modern science is only about 200 years old. To say that what is in the lab is the only science is nonsense. Science happens in the fields and in daily life. What knowledge we have today is the result of "science" from a time long before modern science came into the picture. Modern science has a way of creating fascists. Scientists, barring a few, have become totally fascistic in their belief systems. There can be no other truth other than what they believe. Science should liberate the scientist taking him/her closer to the truth. Today that is far from the truth.

***The scientist says that only one crazy African Nation has said no to GE food. He should know that that is totally false. Included in that list is Switzerland, Ireland, Japan, and many European nations that have a very strict system of labelling, even Australia. This is only in processed food and grain. No nation has as yet allowed vegetables to be genetically engineered for human consumption. All Nations that export food are saying "No" to GE food as there are export sanctions against GE food.

***If GE was so good for us poor countries then why did the MNCs wait for patenting and the intellectual property laws in India to be changed? The only reason as any intelligent person will realise, is that it is because there is a huge amount of money to be made in India with patented seed. Maybe the scientist is not able to see this simple truth.

***The article gave the impression that "some NGOs and Organic Farmers" are misleading the farmers, and that organic farming is only a fashion that will die out. If that were true then why would the government of Karnataka and other state governments In India support a fashion - why would they believe in a self-reliant agricultural sector? Was Mahatma Gandhi making a fashion statement when he argued for rural sustainability? Why should the state invest Rs.100 Cr. Annually to promote organic farming? Is the government misleading the farmers then? The State Governments of Kerala, West Bengal, Uttranchal, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand have said NO to GE food. Are they stupidly misleading their people? Obviously not. They have serious doubts about the claims of the GE industry claims.

***Look at the issue of farmers' suicides - how many sustainable organic farmers have taken that extreme step in the past 25 years - NONE. So if the present government feels that the way to improve the rural economy is to go the sustainable orgainc way, does Shantharam feel that the government is fooling the people? Farmers' Unsustainability is a great profit maker for the agri-industry, is that being proposed by him?

***Shantharam also encouraged the readers to check certain websites for the truth regarding GE. His true mental picture and his convictions/bias were revealed when he gave websites of two of the most corrupted lobby groups in this field of GE food. ISAAA is a lobby group recently formed to push the GE issue funded by Monsanto; their papers are edited by Dr T. M. Manjunath who until recently was the head of reasearch of Monsanto India, and still is its mouthpiece. And IFPRA is the same but a little older. There are other websites also, like those of the Union of Concerned Scientists - from the world over:, GMWatch, and one can look at the whole PIL (public interest lawsuit) in the Supreme Court of India (pil 260/2005). One can also type in on Google, words that bring a shiver to those who know what really happened - Starlink, thalidomide, endosulfan, EMS etc.

***Shantharam spoke about monoculture and how it can not happen here in India, because the land holding is small. As he has lived 15 years in the USA, I guess he has not visited or looked much this side. From Mysore to Bangalore, entire Mandya district grows only two crops in the irrigated area - sugarcane and paddy (rice). Entire Mysore district grows thousands of acres of cotton in the rainfed areas just as northern Karnataka and every state in India; this is monoculture even though the land holding is small. You do not need similar social conditions of the west to have the same downfalls from the imported technology.

***As all myopic scientists who see Indian history and heritage as that of poverty and famine, Shantharam also talks of the' begging years' of 1960-65. And how the great science saved our people from starvation. Shantharam forgets that we as a civilisation are more than 8000 years old, and have seen many famines and wars in the long past. I would say that it was the failure of our scientists then that they could not find any other solution (other than the so-called Green revolution) that would have saved our fertility, health and environment from chemicals and at the same time solved the food crises.. These were the same scientists who then told the farmers to use chemicals on our lands and called them medicines: ironically, these very same people today encourage organic farming!

***It was because of a PIL in the Supreme Court of India that the honorable Court Appointed an observer (Dr P. Bhargava, an eminent scientist himself) on the GEAC (genetic engineering approval committee), because the Judges in their wisdom felt that it was too important an issue to leave in the hands of scientists who had been put on the committee to promote genetic engineering in the first place. There was an obvious conflict of Interest.

***The reason why organic farmers have taken a stand against GM food is because they are more alert to the problems than others and see things in their fields in a different light than those who look at land as something only to make money .

***Dr. Shantharam also mentions, rather stupidly, that people always take the path that brings them most profit. Let them decide (he also says that
farmers do not know much!!). Is that why people drink Pepsi and Coke? Is that why a majority of farmers use tobacco? Is that why alcohol is such a rampant problem in rural areas? Is there no consideration for social pressure? Is the advertising industry ineffective in rural areas? The truth is that the seed industry has misled the farmers for their profit.

***Lastly, Shantharam apparently speaks from long experience in the laboratory and is working today at a prestigious foreign institution. Congratulations to him. Many educated people have opted to leave India for a lucrative and prestigious career. Their patriotism is not in question here, though their commitment to India is. They have contributed to the world scenario, but India, our nation, is built on the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice of those who opted to stay behind, not the NRIs [Non-Resident Indians]. Unfortunately he is not qualified to talk about Indian agriculture, let alone policy.

It is natural that one says what one believes, but there are many who confuse the issues because they serve masters whose aims/goals are different from that of a sustainable, safe and responsible society. These are people who do not know the A of accountability or the B of Building-the-Nation nor the R of responsibility, nor the H of honesty.

The truth of the matter is that GM food as direct consumption has not been tried and tested on humans anywhere in the world. Can the scientists swear that GM food is safe for the old and infirm ? Is it safe for pregnant mothers ? Is it safe for the unborn fetus ? Can they prove that there will not be any deformed babies born (like with Thalidomide)? Can they prove that there will not be any deterimental effect on our soil after 10 years or more ? Can they prove that GM food will not destroy our health and sap our strength in the short or long run? Can they protect our seeds
from horizontal gene transfer and the contamination of our national heritage of germ plasm? The answer is -- "No".

Just like science thought that there was no water on the moon for more than 45 years, just like science said that DDT was harmless, just like all those things that science said and came out false, the answer to all those questions is "No".

Science does not know the answers. Science cannot be sure of anything. Only time can tell.

But besides this, what is the purview of science and the scientific community? To do research responsibly for the benefit of the whole of society. To question the correctness and social and environmental relevance of their research. To accept the validity of peer reviews and criticism and accept facts in a scientific manner. Science is about humility not arrogance, no one is bigger or greater than scientific fact. And in this case the science has a great potential for harm. In the practise of good science there is a principle called the “precautionary principle" which guides a responsible scientific community. It is law in our constitution.

So why should an untested technology be tried on an unsuspecting public? Is it because we are not a developed nation? Are we supposed to be guinea pigs for the "developed” world? These are the real questions that scientists like Shataram need to answer, instead of putting blame and ridicule on dissenting public opinion.

Science should make a scientist accommodating and open to dissent and debate.... Instead the biotech industry and its scientists are making a breed of arrogant, reductionist facists, who do not have the courage to think for themselves.

We are not opposed to using science to understand our world in a responsible and beneficial manner. Science must always address the consequences of its actions. Whether it is liked or not, there is a social contract between science and society which must be respected. When this contract is violated we begin to lose our trust in the scientific community. Agriculture has been a science long before it went into the lab, it continues to be a science in which we all take part in in our fields every single day.

The Organic Farming Mission, GOK, is building a dialogue with the University of Agricultural Sciences at Dharwad which is one of the institutions which has been doing Bt Brinjal trials. We are not interested in discarding something if it is worthy and safe for the agriculture of India and if it is proven to be safe for our children and their children to consume, but whatever the results may be, the scientific community must “respect the sanctity and integrity of all species, preserve and honour biodiversity and protect the environmental health of all inhabitants of this planet”.

Juli and Vivek Cariappa
Krac-a-Dawna Organic Farm
H.D.Kote Taluk 571121

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