Many sections of the Indian media have been plugging for Monsanto and other companies that are into genetically-modified (GM) food seeds. Indian Express newspaper, self-declared upholder of journalism of courage, has been the most miserable, highlighting the support for GM food by notorious crooks and corrupt politicians such as Sharad Pawar and Kamal Nath
The claims of high-yield and pest-resistant of genetically-modified food such as brinjal are not necessarily true or sustainable. Worldwide experience, such as that with BT cotton, suggests that yields do not stay high and that pest attacks are not eliminated.
Since there is no adequate surety of the benefits one has to look at what harm can be caused. The biggest harm of BT foods is the strangulation of bio-diversity. A former managing director of Monsanto, TV Jagadisan, in an interview in a latest issue of a weekly magazine (Tehelka) (the entire interview from Tehelka is presented at the end below) had this to say about the risk of GM foods on India's bio-diversity:
"India’s biodiversity will be gravely tampered with. For example, we have more than 2,400 varieties of brinjal in the country. Brinjal is a highly cross-pollinated crop. So if you have Bt brinjal growing in some field, its pollen can easily get transferred by wind or insects to other fields. Monsanto has itself filed suits against many people in Canada for growing Bt cotton without license, but for no fault of theirs. It’s the wind and insects that had carried pollen and created Bt cotton in their fields! Monsanto vs Schmeiser is just one famous case in Canada. The court judgment went in favour of Schmeiser. The same thing will happen here in India. They say 30 meters is sufficient to separate BT and non-BT brinjal. I don’t believe that. There’s no way anyone can control the gene flow because you cannot control wind and where insects will fly. And once that cross-contamination takes place, our entire biodiversity will be at stake. Our native brinjal has a wonderful property – it can control Type II diabetes. We don’t even know what properties Bt brinjal will have once its genetically transformed."
GM food, in my view, is likely to cause much more harm than any potential benefit. What is worse is that the government of our country is not making it mandatory for any GM producer to label their food as 'GM'. At the very least, we, the consumers, have the right to be informed of the type of food we buy.
Here, then, is the interview in Tehelka magazine:
‘Go Aheads Came On Monsanto’s Data’
Of all the voices that opposed the introduction of Bt brinjal, one was most significant — that of 84-yearold TV Jagadisan, the former MD of Monsanto India. Talking to SHOMA CHAUDHURY at his Bengaluru flat, Jagadisan, who was with the company for 18 years and served as managing director for South Asia for eight years, spoke of all the reasons to fear Bt brinjal. He may have retired 20 years ago but here’s an industry insider talking about the disturbing way in which corporates and governments function. Excerpts:
I was with the company for 18 years. I joined as a marketing and development manager and was promoted to general manager. In my last eight years with them, I was the managing director for India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. I retired about 20 years ago.
At Minister Jairam Ramesh’s public consultation over BT brinjal, you expressed serious concerns about the way government regulatory bodies give clearances. Can you elaborate? In your time as MD, Monsanto India, what products were cleared?
With something like BT brinjal, this becomes very disturbing. Unless long term tests are held independently by bodies like the ICAR and IARA, there should be no hurry to introduce it. In my opinion, in fact, there’s no need for BT brinjal. India cultivates brinjal in about half a million hecatres and produces over eight million tons every year, so there’s no problem of low production. Yes, there is pest incidence, the fruit and shoot borer no doubt does cause damage, but there are other methods for controlling that. Simple home remedies like neem oil emulsion can control this pest. There is absolutely no need to move towards BT brinjal.
These industries are very opaque. What was the internal culture of Monsanto like? Did you really conduct any internal tests at all?
Would you say any data was fudged during your time?
Bt cotton must have been developed during your time. Did you have doubts about that as well?
There is concern about farmers having to buy new Bt seeds every season.
As MD, weren’t you privy to these things?
Monsanto creates herbicides and pesticides; Bt seeds are supposed to resist them. Isn’t that a conflict of commercial interest?
Apart from dangerously inadequate government clearances, what are your other concerns about Bt brinjal?
The same thing will happen here in India. They say 30 meters is sufficient to separate BT and non-BT brinjal. I don’t believe that. There’s no way anyone can control the gene flow because you cannot control wind and where insects will fly. And once that cross-contamination takes place, our entire biodiversity will be at stake. Our native brinjal has a wonderful property – it can control Type II diabetes. We don’t even know what properties Bt brinjal will have once its genetically transformed.
So we are back to inadequate testing and malafide government clearances?
In your opinion, is there any need for Bt brinjal at all?
Defenders of Bt crops say it’s necessary for our food security. Two decades ago we were applauding the Green Revolution. For a while, with increased pesticide use, crop production went up. But then the land degenerated and we now think of it as a mixed experiment if not complete failure. So it’s not good to think of all this only in terms of short term gain. You remember the thyladomide case? Foreign companies would like to introduce a product as quickly as possible, make money as quickly as possible and get out as quickly as possible. It is our government that has to be more cautious and protect our interests. That’s where our government and regulatory bodies fail to do their duty.
Why are you speaking up now? Why not earlier?