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2-Plants: Herbicide-tolerant GE crops a losing proposition in India

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TITLE:  GM crops a losing proposition
SOURCE: The Time of India
        posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   01 Feb 2006

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GM crops a losing proposition

The prime minister has called for a second green revolution with a focus
on dry land agriculture and needs of small and marginal farmers. He
asked for technologies that use labour.

However, in a recent issue of a popular biotechnology magazine, the
agbiotechnology industry has published a wish-list on which it wants
speedy action.

Industry seeks approval for commercialisation of herbicide-tolerant
crops. It says that the agbiotech task force's recommendation against
introducing labour-displacing technologies like GM herbicide tolerance
should be disregarded.

Industry would like the task force restriction on genetically modified
soybean to be removed and GM soya developed in the country.

The task force set up under the chairmanship of M S Swaminathan makes
some significant recommendations keeping in mind the interests of poor
farmers and the country's need for food security.

The report says that transgenic research in India should take into
account developments in inter-national markets so that our programme in
transgenic crops does not hurt our trade interests.

Many countries are closing their doors to GM produce. The report has
recommended that we should not produce transgenic crops in those
commodities that we export.

Hence, export crops like soybean, basmati rice and Darjeeling tea should
not be tampered with and should remain GM-free.

The task force mentions that India's policy on transgenic crops should
be sensitive to biodiversity conservation and the social and economic
context of our composite agrarian system, which means essentially that
the rights of farmers and their livelihoods must not be jeopardised in
any way.

Herbicide tolerance and insect resistance are the two traits that
dominate the field of genetically engineered crops. Industry, which owns
both these traits, is keen to promote them as much as possible.

Herbicide-tolerant crops contain a gene that makes them resistant to the
herbicide that is sprayed to kill herbs and weeds.

The company that owns herbicide-tolerant crops is also the company that
owns herbicide that that particular crop variety will tolerate.

Hence the company promoting herbicide tolerant crops makes a double
killing, one on the sale of the herbicide itself, and two, on the sale
of the crop varieties which are tolerant to that herbicide.

Controlling weeds by using chemicals like herbicides becomes necessary
in conditions where large land-holdings and labour shortages are the norm.

In developing countries like India weeds are controlled manually.
Weeding and other agricultural operations provide income opportunities
for landless labour, especially women.

Introducing the company-owned package of herbicide and its tolerant
crops will take away wage labour and bring in an expensive technology.

Weeds are not considered useless plants in India. They have multiple
uses in the lives of rural people. The so-called weeds growing around
agricultural fields provide leafy green vegetables which serve as a
source of nutrition for rural families -- nutrition that comes for free.

This perhaps explains why rural nutrition is often better that the
nutrition available to the urban poor. The plants that families do not
eat are used as supplementary fodder for the cow or goat.

In addition to providing food and fodder, weeds are also the medicinal
plants that village communities depend on for health and veterinary care.

With respect to soybean, India's trade interest is in remaining GM-free.
Today India is the only country in the world which can certify its soya
to be GM-free.

Thanks to this, India has a niche market in countries like Japan and
South Korea. If Indian farmers were to start cultivating genetically
modified soybean, their produce would be unable to compete with the
heavily subsidised soya produced by large countries like the US and
Brazil; it would on the other hand lose the assured niche markets for GM-
free soya.

The government must make sure that farmers are not hurt by adopting the
wrong product.


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