Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gujarat farm leaders join hands and decide to fight the bill meant to legitimize genetically modified seeds

By Our Representative
Farmer leaders of Gujarat have come together in solidarity to express in one voice that they oppose the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill. They have asserted that under no circumstances they can afford to lose their freedom and sovereignty and risk the takeover of their food, farms and livelihood by multinational companies like Monsanto. The meeting was attended by farmer leaders such as Badribhai Joshi of Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Prafulbhai Senjaliya of the Organic Farming Cell of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, and Sarvadaman Patel, president, Organic Farming Association of India and Kapil Shah of the Jatan Trust.
The leaders were unanimous in their condemnation of the action of the Government of India of tabling this controversial Bill in the Lok Sabha on April 22, 2013, despite vociferous opposition to it inside and outside Parliament. The controversy didn’t end with the introduction of the Bill. Apparently the Minister for Science and Technology wanted the Bill to be sent to a Joint Committee, considering the impact of the Bill on food, farms, livelihoods, health, trade and environment. But the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Science and Technology.
"As the nation has grown the farmers have been weakened, slowly losing control over lives livelihoods. At the last count over 2,84,694 farmers have killed themselves in the last decade and a half due to acute distress, many of them cotton farmers. Now this Bill is further facilitating the takeover of farms and food by genetically modified (GM) crops/foods, propagated by large companies", a statement issued at the end of the meeting said.
"The Bill will result in a single window fast track approval mechanism for GM crops, which are a threat to human health, biodiversity and farm livelihoods. The Bill works in the interest of biotech seed companies by avoiding liability mechanisms or public scrutiny", the statement added,
“Is this government concerned about the farmers in the country? If so, why is this Bill being pushed with such haste without due consultations? There is not even an effort to translate the text of the Bill in local languages and making it accessible to farming communities around the country. How can a Bill that will affect farming seriously not be made available in local languages for farmers and groups like us to analyse and study its impacts on their livelihoods?", the statement worndered.
"How are we supposed to give feedback on this in 30 days during peak farming season? This very thoughtlessness and callousness of the government demonstrates that farmers don’t matter to the government,” said Bhogibhai Patel of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj.
“The Bill should be available in the public domain for feedback for at least 90 days, the text of the Bill should be made available in the local language and public consultations should be held in various locations so that farmers can express their views on GM technology and the Bill. We would like to point out that during Bt brinjal consultations in Ahmadabad farmers had attended in large numbers and expressed their views against GM crops. They have a right to do so again,” said Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust.
He added, “Biotechnology, particularly environmental release of GMOs, which comes under purview of BRAI is problematic with bans, moratoriums and other restrictions in many countries around the world. Serious problems have emerged in countries that have adopted it including negative trade impact, serious environmental problems (super-weeds and super-bugs), and massive losses for farmers due to contamination incidents. A compilation of over 400 studies which point to the problems with GMOs in agriculture has been put together by the Coalition for a GM-Free India.”
“We had enough bad experience with Bt cotton, there is no more choice left and all non-Bt cotton has been contaminated. We do not want anymore GM crops, the one GM crop that has been cultivated has already destroyed choice for organic cotton farmers. We can’t allow this technology to take over our livelihoods. With the advent of BRAI we will lose all control over our seeds. Already we are struggling to save seed, to preserve the purity of our seeds. With this there will be no choice left and we can’t allow it to happen,” said Sarvadaman Patel, President of the Organic Farming Association of India.
Badribhai Joshi of Gujarat Khedut Samaj said, “If this Bill is passed the biggest beneficiary is going to be Monsanto. With a single GM crop the company has already reaped over 1500 crores in royalty fees alone. With this Bill the money from rural India, from the pockets of farmers will flow into this company. This Bill is a Monsanto Protection Law. Therefore, we ask the government to drop the Bill.”
“The Bill has such draconian provisions. It puts biosafety data about GM crops outside the purview of right to information (RTI) law. Why should companies hide research data, do they have something to hide? Why is the govt making a regulatory body which facilitates this? Transparency is very important with technologies like GM, which are irreversible and have far reaching impact. Public interest is of utmost importance, particularly with regard to a technology which affects each and every one of us through our food, business confidentiality can’t be a reason for hiding vital data,” the joint statement said.
The gathering of leaders has decided on their course of action. They propose to have Sammelans, in Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Sabakantha and Bharuch. A signature campaign will be launched to collect signatures of MPs from the state. A Dharna is being planned for the last week of July in Gujarat which will culminate in “Chalo Delhi”, if government doesn’t respond by then.

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