Genetically modified crops are unsafe and unnecessary, allege activists.

The fight against GM Mustard Director Vetrimaaran and actor Rohini join the cause
news GM Crops Monday, October 03, 2016 - 16:33

On Sunday, as the tributes for Gandhi Jayanthi poured in, one organisation called the Safe Food Alliance (SFA) marked the day with a “Seed Satyagraha”. Among the many participants of this satyagraha were Tamil film director Vetrimaaran and actor Rohini.

The protest, which took place at the Thakkar Bappa Institute in Chennai, was organised against the impending introduction of DMH11 or genetically modified mustard. 

After BT Brinjal, mustard is the second food crop which is likely to receive approval for cultivation in India. Though BT Brinjal was approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in 2009, it was put on indefinite hold following protests by activists who claimed that the ill effects of genetically modified crops on the environment and on livelihoods far outweighed its advantages.

Speaking to The News Minute, Ananthoo of the SFA said, “GM crops have not succeeded anywhere in the world. Leading scientists like Pushpa Bhargava have spoken about why we should not have GM crops. Moreover, the claim is that there will be an increase of 25% in the yield by using such crops. But there are several other cost-effective and non-risky ways of doing this.”

GM crops are a hotly debated subject in India, with the scientific community divided on their benefits and risks. While some point out that we’re not yet in a place where we fully understand the effects of genetically modified organisms, others believe that the fear is unjustified.

BT cotton, a non-food crop, is the only other GM crop that has been tried out in India. Once again, the jury is out on its advantages and disadvantages.

Asked for his reasons for participating in the event, director Vetrimaaran, told The News Minute, “Don’t ask why I’m part of this event. The question should be why aren’t all of us part of this event?”

He added, “What’s the point of a crop that gives higher yield if it destroys the soil from which it comes?”

His view mirrors that of environmental activists who believe that once the soil has been used to grow GM crops, it becomes necessary to replenish it with chemical fertilizers for the next batch of crops. 

Ananthoo alleges that there is no transparency about the process for the approval of GM mustard. “How did they arrive at the conclusion that GM mustard is safe? The data should be in the public domain and easily accessible but it’s not. It’s a sham process.”

Ananthoo adds, “Once you create a living organism and put it in the ecosystem, you have no control over it. The genes can spread and lead to disastrous consequences. You cannot predict how it will behave.”

Apart from questioning the safety of consuming GM crops, their impact on the environment and their effectiveness, environmental activists like Vandana Shiva have objected to the loss of seed diversity and the eventual control of the seed market by a few MNCs.

In traditional farming, farmers use seeds from a particular year’s harvest to grow the next year’s crops. However, GM crops are thought to obstruct this re-seeding, rendering the farmer dependent on companies that will sell them GM seeds each year.

At Sunday’s event, Ananthoo said, thousands of people signed a petition asking the government not to proceed with the approval of GM mustard. A ‘missed call’ campaign has been initiated too.

“We will be writing to the Prime Minister and the Environmental Ministry about this,” said Ananthoo. “We will also request the Tamil Nadu government to inform the center that the rights of the farmers have to be protected and that a decision cannot be taken without involving the stakeholders.”

Vetrimaaran said that, inspired by actors Kishore and Pashupathy, he has started his own roof garden in which he grows basic vegetables: “I’m alarmed by the poison in fruits and vegetables available in the market today. We already have high levels of pesticides in these, and now there’s GM crops to worry about.”

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