GM Crops May Spell Death to Bio-Diversity

by Wan A.Hulaimi
NewStraitsTimes
October 3, 2011

If you wake up in the morning to find that your brinjals are no longer yours, what would you do?Take a case in point. Prabeer Kumar, a farmer in Karnataka, India, suddenly discovered that he had no seeds to sow and for his next crop he had to buy from a giant multinational. Farmer Kumar doesn’t exist — I have just made him up — but Karnataka does, and India and that giant multinational, they are all real. Some other Kumars in India found that they had a piece of paper in hand that made them promise to buy only GM seeds from one big company. GM seeds that will bear fruit and die so that farmer Kumar will have to go to the shops again and again ad infinitum until he himself dies for want of more rupees.

I have made up farmer Kumar because he represents many thousand farmers in the state of Karnataka who have unwittingly signed pieces of paper that have bound them to genetically modified (GM) seeds, nature tampered by big money-grabbing multinationals and then thrust back upon them at a price to be grown in land that they have not yet patented, thank God, to yield genetically modified crops to feed us all.

You have heard the benefits of GMs already even if we do not yet know their effects on our environment, health and wealth. This is the solution for world hunger, they say. But who knows? Take a simple question: if farmers have to go back to the shops after each yield, it will? But oh no, they’ll say, crops will be grown in huge quantities by big companies. Oh yes? Oh dearie me!

They introduced Bt cotton in India, a non-renewable genetically modified cotton seed with claims about insect resistance and the usual spiel. We do not know what this tampering with nature to ‘control’ the assault of nature is doing to our birds and our bees and our butterflies, but many Indian farmers — a quarter million according to some sources — committed suicide as a result of the high price of seeds which they once got for nothing from the last crop. Non-renewability of GM seeds sends farmers out to the shops, and shopping for tailor-made goods, as you know, costs a big wad of rupees.

Yet it keeps moving on as more and more of our natural species are being tampered with, their genes added to and readjusted to make them safe for big companies to make proprietary claims on them all. India has close to eight per cent of the world’s living species. They tried to patent basmati rice so that only they will be able to sell them to farmers, but they failed, and their next trick is with the humble brinjal which you could have taken from your neighbour’s garden and planted in yours for just a chat and a smile. They are now trying to patent the brinjal in India so that you will no longer be your next door’s good neighbour because you and they and your friendly local farmer will soon have to buy GM ‘bt brinjal’ for your curry. And bully for India, they are taking Monsanto to court for ‘bio-piracy’ which, in this context, means stealing indigenous plants, genetically modifying them, and giving nothing — but misery — in return to the people. This is the first time in the world that a nation is taking such a step against a multinational. Other countries in the world with huge bio-diversity reserves would be well advised to sit up and listen well.

What will GM crops do besides giving untold wealth to giant seed monopolising companies? We don’t know, but more than a few suspicions have been expressed and they should all be looked into.

In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), a body of medical clinicians from various specialities, called for a moratorium on GM foods. “GM foods pose a serious health risk” they said in their position paper. And more: “there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects”. And more: “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”

Very little long term research has been done on the health and ecological effects of GM seeds. But if you have time and the search engine, do go and look up Dr Arpad Pusztai and his experiment in Scotland in 1998 with rats and the GM potato.

So is GM food safe or is it not? We don’t know, but if you had baked beans for breakfast this morning, chances are it was GM product down your tummy-tee-tee. That GM food inside you now is sweeping the world, stealing the livelihood of our farmers, depleting our heritage and may even be the death of our bio-diversity.

Farmer Prabeer Kumar may not exist, but the real Shri Prabeer Kumer Basu is India’s agricultural minister. Email him now at secy-agri@nic.in to say how much you appreciate his call.

Wan A. Hulaimi also wrote A Map of Terengganu, under the pen name Awang Goneng. He may be reached at elsewhere@columnist.com