`We need a sci­ence-based de­bate'

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY - DEVINDER SHARMA

In­stead of learn­ing a les­son from the Bt cot­ton de­ba­cle, a strong lobby is try­ing to get the prime min­is­ter to ap­prove GM mus­tard les­son from the Bt cot­ton de­ba­cle, a strong lobby is try­ing, through a sec­tion of the English me­dia, to get the prime min­is­ter to brush aside all poin­t­ers to the false claims, and get ap­proval for a kjunky GM mus­tard va­ri­ety, DMH-11. Although de­vel­oped by a team of sci­en­tists at the Delhi Univer­sity, there is noth­ing swadeshi about it. The Delhi Univer­sity re­search is ac­tu­ally a Tro­jan horse for the multi­na­tional, Bayer, which will be the only ben­e­fi­ciary with its sale of her­bi­cides ex­pected to in­crease man­i­fold. The trans­genic va­ri­ety is be­ing pushed on the grounds that the coun­try needs to cut down on its 66,000-crore im­port bill for ed­i­ble oils, and, there­fore, a khigh­yield­ingy mus­tard va­ri­ety will help raise pro­duc­tion and re­duce ed­i­ble oil im­ports.

These claims are un­founded. Firstly, ed­i­ble oil im­ports are not be­cause of a short­fall in do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion. In 1993-94, In­dia was al­most self-suf­fi­cient. The im­port surge is the out­come of a de­lib­er­ate re­duc­tion in im­port tar­iffs over the years bring­ing it to al­most zero. Se­condly, there are five ex­ist­ing hy­brid va­ri­eties that out­per­form the DMH-11 va­ri­ety in yield. But the data, for some un­known rea­son, has not been con­sid­ered by the Ge­netic En­gi­neer­ing Ap­praisal Com­mit­tee (GEAC). In short, GM mus­tard pro­vides no ad­di­tional ben­e­fit. And fi­nally, I don't know why agri­cul­tural sci­en­tists as well as the GEAC are avoid­ing a kscience­basedy pub­lic dis­cus­sion about the need and rel­e­vance for such a risky and un­wanted tech­nol­ogy. You only avoid a pub­lic de­bate when you have some­thing to hide.

The au­thor is a food and agri­cul­ture pol­icy an­a­lyst con­ducted in 2006 by the Cor­nell Univer­sity and the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences found that Chi­nese farm­ers had to use 20 times more pes­ti­cides in just seven years of the in­tro­duc­tion of Bt cot­ton. kThe study found that by the third year(s), farm­ers who had planted Bt cot­ton cut pes­ti­cide use by more than 70 per cent and earned 36 per cent higher than farm­ers plant­ing con­ven­tional cot­ton. By 2004, how­ever, they had to spray just as much pes­ti­cides as con­ven­tional farm­ers, which re­sulted in a net av­er­age in­come of 8 per cent less than con­ven­tional cot­ton farm­ers be­cause Bt seeds cost three times more than con­ven­tional seeds.y (Peo­ple's Daily, July 26, 2016)

Pro­jected as a ksil­ver bul­lety for Chi­nese small cot­ton farm­ers, the magic bul­let had bit­ten the dust. I re­call at a meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee on Ethics in Glob­al­i­sa­tion, Per Pin­strupAn­der­son, for­mer di­rec­tor gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute and a strong votary of GM crops, be­moaned the col­lapse of Bt cot­ton in China.

In 2015, when the white­fly in­sect rav­aged the stand­ing Bt cot­ton crop in Pun­jab, Haryana and western Ra­jasthan, caus­ing farmer sui­cides, and vi­o­lent protests, I thought it was time to pull down the cur­tains on a ques­tion­able tech­nol­ogy. K R Kran­thi, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral In­sti­tute for Cot­ton Re­search, had him­self ac­knowl­edged: kNo sig­nif­i­cant yield ad­van­tage has been ob­served be­tween 2004 and 2011 when area un­der Bt cot­ton in­creased from 5.4 to 96 per cent.y

But the drum beat­ers are at work. And this time, more ag­gres­sively. With­out draw­ing any

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