Like most people, I enjoy healthy food - that’s why I am strongly opposed to genetic modification of our food.
I was so happy when I got to know that citizens' positive action with regard to BRAI Bill, the legislation that our Government is trying to bring in to give easy approval for GM crops, has already won our first victory. The Standing Committee on Science & Technology has extended the deadline for public feedback on the bill by giving an additional 45 days.
Now we need to make sure that the Committee hears the people’s voice against the Bill. We have to ask the Committee to recommend withdrawal of the Bill.
The BRAI Bill will allow Genetically Modified crops to gain fast-track approval without adequate safety tests. This will only benefit multinational biotech seed corporations, like Monsanto, and will allow them to push their patented GM crops into our farms and plates. It will thus facilitate the takeover of our farming and food by these corporations. BRAI will not only be dangerous for Indian farmers and consumers but to our national sovereignty itself.
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This is to bring to your attention our strong concern on the controversial Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill 2013, which was introduced in the last session of the Parliament by the Minister for Science and Technology.
The nationwide debate on Bt brinjal, the first genetically modified (GM) food crop that the biotech industry tried to bring in for commercial cultivation in the country, highlighted the objections and concerns of all sections of society including scientists, on GM foods in general and Bt Brinjal in particular. This debate also saw about 12 state governments (including the largest brinjal-cultivating states) express their opposition and reservations with regard to this not-proven-to-be-safe and unnatural food. The government responded rightly to the constitutional, democratic and scientific voices all around and placed a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal on February 9, 2010. The public consultations also threw up valid concerns about the flaws in our regulatory system that works to promote GMOs instead of safeguarding the health, food choices and livelihoods of citizens and protecting our environment from negative effects of modern biotechnology.
Instead of heeding the voices of citizens and establishing a strong regulatory mechanism with the mandate of protecting health, environment and livelihoods, the government has proposed the establishment of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), a flawed entity, which will act as a single window, fast-track clearance mechanism for GM crops.
Opposition to BRAI has come not only from ordinary citizens from all walks of life but also from scientists, politicians from across the spectrum and also state governments.
GM crops seem to serve only one real purpose: to hand over the control of our food and farming to multinational agri-business giants like Monsanto, the controversial American corporation. The government appears to be pushing for BRAI Bill to facilitate this takeover. BRAI appears to be the Indian equivalent of USA’s ‘Monsanto Protection Bill’, which came in despite vehement opposition by the American public.
The current BRAI proposal was created in an undemocratic fashion and has serious fundamental flaws:
The regulator is located in the Ministry of Science & Technology which promotes modern biotechnology. Promoters should not be regulators since this represents fundamental conflict of interest!
It proposes a centralised and narrow decision-making process with no effective role for state governments and panchayats. In fact, it negates the constitutional authority of the state government over matters related to health and agriculture.
It does not provide effective space for citizens to participate meaningfully in decision-making related to what we eat.
It even curtails our right to know about safety of these new organisms through provisions that override the Right To Information Act. Earlier directives under the RTI Act and Supreme Court orders have empowered citizens to seek information on safety data of GM crops and BRAI aims to take that right away.
It imposes restrictions on us from going to court when impacted by GMOs, thereby denying us our right to justice.
It has no provisions for long-term, independent biosafety studies ( for GMOs which are to be introduced into our food and farming), which are critical to assess the chronic impact to health and environment from the introduction of GMOs. Also lacking is assessment on socio-economic and cultural implications of introducing GMOs into the environment.
A non-transparent, centralised body of this kind is a sure recipe for corruption and will result in lowering the bar for approval of potentially dangerous GM crops and food in our country.
What is under threat is not just our food, our heath, our environment and livelihoods of farmers but our country's sovereignty itself. It is well known that those who control seeds will control farming and food. It goes without saying that those who control seeds would decide our future as well as our country's.
This Bill is being promoted when reports from worldover indicate numerous problems with GMOs and their environmental release. A collection of more than 400 such studies has been released by the Coalition for a GM-Free India recently.
It is untenable that BRAI is being promoted contradicting the strong recommendations from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, which had opposed such a flawed regulation with its limited mandate. The Standing Commitee made up of 31 MPs cutting across political parties, including 11 MPs from your own party had recommended a precautionary approach towards GM crops. They asked that a biosafety protection regime with a mandate to safeguard the health of citizens, environment and farm livelihoods be set up in the place of BRAI.
Given the fact that there is enough scientific evidence to question the safety of genetically modified crops and given the massive public mistrust about the technology, its products and its promoters, what the government should bring in is a Biosafety Protection statute instead of this BRAI Bill, to instill confidence amongst citizens about the intent of the government. Such a statute should have as its cornerstones ‘the safety of the environment, the well being of farming families, the ecological and economic sustainability of farming systems, the health and nutrition security of consumers, safeguarding of home and external trade and the biosecurity of the nation’.
In light of the controversy around the Bill and its potential to impact all of us and our future generations too given the fact that this Bill would very well decide what food India will grow and eat, we urge the standing committee to recommend to the government that the BRAI Bill should be immediately withdrawn, and a Biosafety Protection statute brought in.