"Decision-making on GE crops should be democratized"
Debates form the cornerstone for democratizing technology,decision-making and policy formulation in the country.
Very often, the primary stakeholders of such technologies are not informed fully on various nuances and details of the technology being thrust upen them in a top-down decision-making model. Much decision-making is often driven by funding rather than scientific facts and long term vision for the agriculture of this country. Genetic Engineering (GE) in agriculture is one such technology which will directly affect millions of farmers in the country and all of us as consumers of food.
This is something which people should engage themselves on and be clear about acceptance or rejection and the reasons thereof.
Genetic engineering in cultivation is permitted by only 21 countries around the world, despite the introduction of the technology on a commercial basis more than a decade ago in the USA.
Around 70% of the area cultivated with GE crops is in just the USA and Argentina. That speaks volumes about the acceptance and adoption of this so-called "frontier technology".
More and more countries, provinces andcommunities are declaring themselves GE-Free and several suchdecisions have been taken after understanding / experiencing the technology and its ramifications.
Unlike other hazardous technologies like chemical pesticides, Genetic Engineering in agriculture is an irreversible process, once released into the open environment, since the technology involves the modification of living organisms whichreproduce, contaminate, spread, impact eco-systems and so on.
There is growing evidence of the potential environmental and health hazards associated with this technology from across the world. There are fundamental questions unanswered on the very science of GE and its unpredictability and imprecision.
This is true in India too, where the only commercially cultivated GMcrop is Bt Cotton – here, even official reports now indicate that there are changes being witnessed on a large scale in cotton farm ecology.
There are newer pests and diseases emerging as major problems for the cotton farmers each year. The claims of higher yields and better economics have been proven wrong over the past five years for many Bt Cotton farmers, despite claims to the contrary by theindustry.
There is much hype that has been created around the many benefits that are supposed to have accrued to farmers who have adopted the technology. Much of such data has been generated with the industry's funding and unfortunately, the regulators have not made any efforts for systematic and scientific monitoring on the ground. Serious and unacceptable regulatory failures have been compounding the situation related to GE crop development and introduction in India.
In recent times, major farmers' groups, traders and even political parties have stated their rejection of the notion of GE technology being a solution to problems in Indian farming and the deep agrarian crisis being witnessed all around today.
Elsewhere in countries like the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Germany etc., decisions related to such technologies in general and GE in particular, are guided by deliberative democratic processes like citizens' juries, 'consensus conferences', referendums etc. and India has much to learn from such processes in relation to S & T policy making in this country.
- With thanks to Samanvaya, Sumitra. - Press release from Kavitha Kuruganti