Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dr.JP's Response to Questions on GM Corps

Question For Dr.JP by Samba

This is in reference to the article posted on the loksatta website "Agriculture – from Poverty to Prosperity", written by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan. I'm sending my comments in this mail since there is no other means to share feedback on the article page.

It is a thoroughly researched article, quite characteristic of Dr.JP, and makes a sincere, genuine and credible attempt to improve the lives of our farmers. It is this breadth and depth of knowledge of Dr.JP that continues to amaze his followers for years, and draws new admirers.

However, I strongly disagree with the opinions expressed by Dr.JP regarding the cultivation of genetically modified crops. It seems that we haven't yet learnt our lessons from the green revolution -- the very fertilizers and pesticides which were hailed as life and blood for crops 50 years ago are being looked upon as health hazards in just over 5 decades of their invention.

Who knows what these genetic modifications would lead these plant systems into? Who guarantees that these induced genetic modifications would not lead to further mutations and counter-mutations on their own in a period of, lets say a few decades or centuries, transforming those plant systems into a completely different species? How can a consumer accept food from a genetically modified crop even though the scientists, at that period in time and with their limited knowledge, assures nothing to worry?

Further, once we start cultivating these genetically modified crops, the traditional varieties would completely vanish in a short period of time[market dynamics] thus leading to a situation where we do not have the originals in case we need any further modifications or even new research for new needs and new challenges.

And above all, consumers are demanding more and more of original food, be it organic or even native varieties; for example, the hybrid thick-tomato or round-brinjal which are pushed on to the farmers by the agricultural research institutes on account of high yield and/or longer durability, are bought by consumers only because they were not given a choice of the original native varieties; if an option is available, 90 out of hundred will buy the native varieties, even at a higher price, not because of any sentiments but because of superior quality and unforgettable taste.

So, I would advise caution and demand more research in the traditional varieties and better farming practices than following someone else's mistake just because they are supposedly wiser than us, at the moment. It would be good if Loksatta can organize a brainstorming session on this topic by experts in agriculture, genetic engineering, environment protection, farming community, consumer research bodies, etc.

This is in reference to a couple of articles published on Lok Satta website related to Genetically Modified Crops, henceforth referred to as GM Crops. These two articles detail the efforts put by Lok Satta Party in support of field trials and possibly their subsequent commercial cultivation of GM crops in India. Going a step ahead, Lok Satta Party has even impleaded itself against the 10 year moratorium imposed by Supreme Court of India (on October 7th 2012) on field trials of GM Crops in India.

Sir, what appears to be milky white may be pitch dark when viewed from a different angle; so, I humbly request you to tread slowly in this issue and review the matter holistically before plunging ourselves into it.

I’m not talking about the intellectual property rights and their use or misuse by large companies or their monopolistic trade practices. I’m not talking about the plight of the farmers who may not be able to buy seeds for sowing in their own farms. I’m not talking about the pitiable situation of an elected government not being able to supply the seeds to its farmers.

I’m talking about the immaturity of the technology. I am talking about the danger to ecology. I am talking about the possible annihilation of native varieties (which we did lose immensely during the first phase of ‘green revolution’). I’m talking about the numerous inexplicable diseases that may cripple the consumers of these genetically modified crops (any studies on the linkage between GM crops and diseases like high incidents of depression, allergies, cancer, etc in USA and other developed countries?). I’m talking about the incapability of existing sciences to find the damage they do on humans and the eco system; we cannot, again, feel sorry after a few decades like the way we do in case of ‘green revolution’. I’m talking about the zero gain with possibility of irrepairable losses in allowing these GM crops since these are not meant [as of now] for high yields but only for pest resistance.

It is such a hotly debated topic in those countries where these inventions were made; and for every research that shows GM crops do not have any side effects [those mostly sponsored by the very corporations that sell GM crops], there are various research papers by independent universities or agencies refuting the same and even showing that cultivation of genetically modified crops have, instead of reducing the consumption of pesticides, increased the pesticide consumption by leaps and bounds because new weeds and new pests continue to attack these crops.

A half a century ago, green revolution entered the developing world as a helping hand via under-the-hood cold war diplomacy; and now GM crops are entering the same developing world as a ‘huge promise’ by their large capital houses. I could not find a single country from the developed nations club which employed Green Revolution. It was meant for “Third World Countries” to “save them from famines and starvation” as a publicly stated goal but to “prevent them from joining the sphere of communism” as a secret mission. And sadly we fell in to their trap then; lets not do the same again.

Our leaders, who never learnt from our history, turned a blind eye to the traditional cultivation methods (not sure if deliberately or inadvertently, nevertheless killed by the British rule) that once were noted in the administrative records of the East India Company as superior to theirs and yielded much higher returns than what we are getting by ‘green revolutionized’ crops today. Modern science, now, says that our traditional methods of cultivation are much better for environment, humans, birds and friendly insects; but it is too late to revive our traditional knowledge since three generations of neglect and forceful suppression have killed almost everything that can sustain such knowledge – we do not rear enough cattle per village to provide enough natural manure, lost the knowledge of friendly weeds that can help prevent pests, lost the knowledge of natural pesticides since we do not even recognize many plants, forget about knowing their medicinal values.

Green Revolution introduced the problems of malnutrition (because crops yield more with fertilizers containing high ratios of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium, and such fertilized crops do not contain many minerals that humans need), contaminated and polluted land, water, air, food, life, and what not. Scientists still trying to find solutions to the problems created by Green Revolution by the very means through which this science originated, i.e. more fertilizers, more pesticides, more fungicides, more synthetic pyrethroids, and more and more of the same stuff. Same is true for Genetically Modified Crops; they introduce more genes and more mutations to solve more anomalies produced by the very usage of these GM crops. A simple example: Researchers invented a genetically modified calf that can give milk which does not cause milk allergy – getting it? no one questions into why such an allergy comes in the first place, leave alone trying to prevent it. It is all about money and which market player can have a bigger share of what market segment – farming, dairy, poultry, medicine, education, engineering, energy, weapons, -- you name it, the result shall be the same.

Sir, I’m no expert on any field but I feel confident of being a jack of many trades. If there are any technical, economic, or political facts that I missed or misunderstood, then please let me know so that I can correct myself in this matter. I’m not stubborn or xenophobic to reject everything that is not indigenous; but I certainly take things with caution and go for external stuff only if I cannot get it locally.

I would sincerely request you to review the decision and initiate a discussion with a panel of experts on various fields such as farming, agriculture, genetics, environment, consumer interests, legal (patent law), healthcare, and allied fields. It is not too late before we plunge into this irreversible mess.

I do not want to raise these views publicly since these are differing with the publicly stated opinion of the Party, but I would request a healthy debate within the the party strategists on this topic.

Dr.JP's Response

Dear Samba,

I read your mails with interest. I can see your genuine concern. Certainly let us learn more about GM technology, or any other technology and have a meaningful debate.

1. All human progress is a result of the clash between hope and fear. Whenever you embrace new technology, there can never be 100% guarantees. All economists know that the cost of ensuring 100% guarantees is prohibitive. Ultimately it is about statistical probability, reasonable precautions and effective regulation. Microwave ovens, mobile phones, nuclear energy, radio isotopes, thermal power plants, biotechnology, vaccines, antibiotics, even some food stuffs are fraught with risks. Vitamins A & D can be poisonous if you eat in excess! We have to have a reasonable and uniform standard of safety, and not a variable and arbitrary one to suit our moods.

2. If GM seeds or hybrids are more remunerative, let farmers go for them. Economic forces and competition will decide which technology will survive. We cannot argue against allopathy on the ground that Ayurveda may suffer. However, we should preserve genetic diversity and germ plasm of all varieties is stored in many nations. Let us do it.

3. If people really want traditional varieties, so be it. But it can only be proved by the willingness of consumers to pay higher price. Farmers or any producers cannot sacrifice their lives for others’ fancies.

4. The only fair position can be let scientists and farmers decide what is best and safe. Let consumers decide what they want. Let market determine through price signal what people want. Arbitrary and unscientific regulation and emotional responses do more damage than good.

It is necessary to have a healthy debate on this issue. I am therefore putting this in public domain.

With warm regards

Jayaprakash Narayan

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