Well, that piece of dirty cotton was 'BT Cotton'. This genetically modified crop later proved disastrous to the farming community in India and was soon swept away to the farming archives. BT Cotton not only lead to lower yields, decreased soil fertility and dependence on multinational companies but also resulted in the suicides of thousands of farmers who were unable to cope with the burden of loans and crop failure.
Well, history seems to be repeating itself with government approval being given for the production of BT Brinjal. This has resulted in strong protests by farmers, environmentalists, students and so on.
BT Brinjal is a genetically modified type of brinjal. It is a strain created by India's number one seeds company Mahyco in collaboration with American multinational Monsanto. The company claims that BT Brinjal or Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal will be resistant to certain pests and improve yields for the farming community. However, these claims are not fully proven and the danger of introducing genetically modified food is way too great.
- According to environment activists, experiments with genetically modified crops on rats have shown to be fatal for lungs and kidneys. Consumption of such foods are poisonous and it is dangerous to introduce such experimental foods into the market.
- A study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini says the tests conducted by Mahyco, the company producing Bt brinjal, were simply not valid and raised serious health concerns.
- The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has shown a bias towards multinational corporations like Monsanto. Lots of money seems to have changed hands to get approval for BT Brinjal.
- Indian agriculture would be threatened when such multinational corporations create a monopoly and start charging exorbitant amounts for seeds. The increased dependence on seeds on such MNC's would again lead to farmer debt and suicides.
How Do Multinational Seed Companies Really Work?
Decades ago, before the advent of multinational companies, farmers had a different system of cultivating crops. After harvest, some of the vegetable seeds or grain would be kept aside, so that they could be replanted the next season. Cow dung, vegetable waste matter and so on were used as fertilizers to provide nourishment to the crops.
For pesticides, the farmers relied on the animal food chain of insects, frogs, snakes and other farm animals. Though the yield was not very high, the whole ecosystem benefited from the hard work of the farmer. The farmer was also self sufficient and did not have to depend on big multinationals for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.
Well, the main aim of any profitable business is to first create a unique product and then create dependence on that product and related products. With good marketing strategies and timely government approvals, this maximizes profits. In the case of multinational seed manufactures this process includes creation of a new type of genetically modified seed to ensure that their business continues to flourish.
Monsanto and Mahyco are currently in the news for their new type of genetically engineered eggplant - BT Brinjal. Though the companies claim through their marketing departments that the new type of Brinjal plant will be resistant to some pests and increase agricultural productivity, the risks seem to far outweigh the benefits -
- The seeds can be used only once. The farmers cannot save seeds from the previous harvest for later use and will be dependent on Mahyco and Monsanto for more seeds in the coming years.
- The fact that BT Cotton is 'pest resistant' means that small animals that comprise the food chain in agricultural areas will either die of poisoning or starvation. Many organisms that depend on each other in the food chain will become extinct. This will have an adverse environmental impact and destroy the farm ecosystem.
- The production of genetically manufactured crops is known to reduce soil fertility. The amount of actinomycetes, bacteria and vital soil enzymes, necessary for healthy growth of the plant are lessened. Multinational companies hope to solve this problem of soil fertility by selling some of their related products like fertilizers and other chemicals to farmers. This will, of course, be at a high cost and only serve to increase their monopoly.
- Even though the company says that the crop is 'pest resistant', it still recommends 'one or two sprays' against insect attack, which may increase depending on the intensity of pest infestation. No prizes for guessing who manufactures the recommended pesticide...
- Around 2000 sheep were reported dead in India and New Zealand after grazing on post harvest BT-Cotton crops. Since humans don't consume cotton as a foodcrop, we were saved from experiencing adverse side effects to our health and long term poisoning deaths.
- As BT Brinjal is an edible foodstuff consumed by poor people all over India, it is necessary to make sure that the food is safe. This will stop health problems from happening and reduce dependence on pharma companies for medicines.
Organic farming is downright cheap when it comes to agricultural inputs, healthy and protects the farm biodiversity. Farmers are also not dependent on multinational seeds, pesticide and fertilizer companies and their monopolies. Instead of giving approval to 'faltu' improperly tested genetically modified crops such as BT Brinjal, the Government should concentrate on promoting environmentally safe and healthy techniques of cultivating crops such as Organic Farming.
Have you read about the BT Brinjal controversy? What are your views on this issue?