Monday, May 19, 2008

Dialogue on GM Crops & Health Issues

Dialogue on

GM Crops & Health Issues

Organized by



1st June 2008 , Sunday; Venue-: Wheat Auditorium, PAU, Ludhiana

Environmental Health Action Group (EHAG) of Kheti Virasat Mission extends a warm invitation to you to join us in a One day conference titled Say No to GM Crops for Health on 1st June 2008.

Since the last three decades, thousands of farming community members suffered acute insecticide poisoning from deadly pesticides in Punjab. The last few years has seen a dramatic increase in the number of reports coming out which indicate that the prevalence of chronic pesticide poisoning in various forms is becoming alarmingly high in our people.

The list of poisonous substances in our environment is getting longer continuously - the latest addition to this list are the potentially harmful and toxic genetically modified crops. As in the case of other agrochemicals Transgenic crops are being pushed around as a solution for the agricultural distress. The interesting fact is that its it the same multinational agrochemical giants who are the also the promoters and benefactors of these novel product.

Genetic engineering (GE) or genetic Modification refers to a set of technologies that are used to change the genetic makeup of cells of plants and animals to bring about a desired function e.g. insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, etc. In the early 70s for the first time humans decided to alter the natural evolutionary process and create new plants and animals through techniques that involve complicated manipulations of genetic material and other biologically important chemicals. What has this interference cost us? Perhaps we will know when the last organism on earth has also lost its exclusivity.

In the 12000 year old history of agriculture there has been no technology that is as vehemently opposed by farmers, consumers and civil groups alike.

The major reasons for resistance against genetically modified crops can broadly be categorized in to three

  1. Impact on health.
  2. Impact on environment
  3. Socio-economic impact

The first two are inherent while the third grows out of the commercial interests that drive this technology.

A history of accidents

One of the greatest concerns about genetically engineering living organisms is the uncertainty of the outcome. Added to this is the risk of contamination. The history of Genetic Engineering is splashed with grave accidents that should be treated as learnings.

Such a doubt was first raised when Dr. Arpad Putzai at Aberdeen University in Scotland relialised that the rats that fed on genetically modified potatoes ended up with malfunctions of vital organs and reduced immunity. Though there was a serious effort from the Pro-GM industries to cover up the study, the incident brought about a great change in the way policy makers and consumers perceived the technology. This was followed by several such incidents the latest of which is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s finding that the insect resistant pea they created had reduced the weight of internal organs of the test animals .This led to CSIRO winding up the research on GM pea.

The gravity of such research revelations is amplified by the uncontrollability of transgenic crops once released in to the fields. Once in the open air, transgenic crops spread uncontrollably by cross pollination or seed transfer. GM contamination register ( which is an annual documentation of such contamination by Greenpeace and Genewatch reported 39 new instances of crop contamination in 23 countries over the past year. Most of the contamination involved staple crops as rice and corn, but also included soy, cotton, canola, papaya and fish. Over the last 10 years, the GM Contamination Register has recorded 216 incidents of contamination in 57 countries.

. This uncontrollability has led to increased concern over health and biodiversity across the world and has become the basis of a precautionary approach towards the environmental release of Genetically Modified organisms. The precautionary principle was advocated by the Cartegina Protocol on biosafety, under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The protocol came into force in September 2003 and has been ratified by 103 countries in the world, the notable exception being United states of America. India was one of the first signatories to the protocol. The two pillars of the precautionary approach are prevention is better than cure’ and ‘the rights of those who stand to be affected by an activity, must be prioritized rather than those who stand to benefit from it’.

The Indian scenario

India should pay great attention to the precautionary approach because of its environmental and socioeconomic situation. Especially, when we are on the verge of opening the gates for Genetically Modified food crops to enter our market. The lessons from the firth and only commercially available Gm crop, Bt cotton stands testimony to the potential dangers of transgenic crops. The un accounted deaths of thousands of sheep and goats in different parts of the country after grazing on Bt cotton stubbles, the unexpected diseases that started showing up in the Bt cotton plants and last but not the lease an abnormally high incidence of skin allergy and respiratory problems in cotton cultivators and farm laborers are all writings on the wall that can be ignored at our own peril.

The government, regulators, agricultural scientists and professional bodies are not taking due cognizance of the gravity of the situation to initiate an appropriate action plan for elimination of pesticides and other toxic chemicals in a phased manner and to mitigate the environmental health crisis being faced by Punjab.

The anti-GM battle in India has reached a crucial stage - soon, Mahyco, the Indian avataar of Monsanto, would be walking up to the regulators for permission for the second [and last] year of large scale trials this Kharif [starting June 2008] of Bt Brinjal, the first food crop in India and the first such GM vegetable crop with Bt gene anywhere in the world.

Elsewhere in the world, especially Europe, more countries are clamping bans on GM crops. More regions are declaring themselves GM-Free. In India, the central government is steamrollering ahead, with its support to the biotech industry and showing its lack of vision for Indian farming again and again. Certain state governments are fortunately taking a long term, holistic view on genetic engineering and are appreciating the environmental, human health, political, economic and socio-cultural implications of such a technology on Indian farming and society. However, the Union of India is not upholding even this Constitutional right of state governments and is blindly moving ahead with its approvals of various crop trials and experiments.

Bt Brinjal biosafety is questionable - in fact, we should not forget that the results of genetic engineering itself are very unpredictable and the very process of GE results in different unintended hazardous consequences.

The regulators sitting in Delhi have also proven themselves to be unaccountable, unscientific, wedded to conflicting interests and apathetic to the real experiences of farmers on the ground. If we continue to keep silent, more of this undemocratic thrusting down of unwanted, corporate technologies will continue to smother Indian farming as well as all of us - after all, you and I will not have any choices left if Bt Brinjal and other GM foods is allowed in. No systems of labelling will let you know if you are consuming Bt Brinjal or not, in this country.

It is in this context that we invite all right-thinking, pro-nature, concerned physicians, veterinarians, plant scientists and other sections of pro-people and right thinking persons to assemble on 1st June at Wheat Auditorium, PAU, Ludhiana for a one-day dialogue to discuss various aspects of GM crops. If you want the government to take our message seriously, you should be there to show that you are against GM crops too. Please block the date, plan your travel straightaway and bring as many people as you can to the conference site.

Hope to see you in Ludhiana - remember, if we don't show our concern strongly now, it might be too late later on. Do join us.

Several environmental action groups, civil society organisations and medical professional groups are likely to participate in the programme. Prominent among them are:

Dr Davinder Sharma, Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Kavitha Kuruganti and Rajesh Krishnan

Your participation is of immense value to this dialogue and we look forward to your participation and support in evolving a participatory civil society strategy to combat the current crisis.

With regards

Yours truly

Dr Amar Singh Azad

Working President

Kheti Virasat Mission


Dr Inderjit Kaur


Pingalwara Society


Dr G P I Singh

HoD, Dept of SPM, DMC&H and Convener, EHAG, Ludhiana

Dr Arun Mittra Dr Balbir Singh Dr Satish Jain Dr Jaswant S Thind

(Ludhiana) (Patiala) (MDOCH, Ludhiana) (Kapurthala)

Dr Manvir Gupta Dr Neelam Sodhi Dr Nirmal Singh Dr Harminder Sidhu

(Kotkapura) (Ludhiana) (Lambra- Jalandhar) (Raikot)

Dr K K Nayak Dr Satish Sharma Dr Rajinder Passi Dr Rajiv Shah

(Bathinda) (Jalandhar) (Phillaur) (Oswal Hospital)

Dr Ashok Goyal Dr Balbir Singh Bhaura Dr A S Maan Dr G S Mauji

(Amritsar) (Jalandhar) (Sangrur) (Bathinda)

Dr Mohinderjit Singh Dr Navteej Singh Dr Shub Prem Brar Manmohan Sharma

(Jalandhar) (Banur- Patiala) (Ecologist, Bathinda) VHAP, Chandigarh