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Should India be Fed With GM food?

         A ROUND TABLE OF
Food & Nutrition Scientists, Consumer Activists,
Farmers, Lawyers and Civil Society Groups

5th July, 2006, Bangalore


Under SAGE banner a roundtable on Should Indians be fed with g m food? was jointly organized by CREAT, DDS and Mysore Grahak Parishad in Bangalore on 5th July 2006. This roundtable was organized in protest against the recent slew of legislations that aims at according access of genetically modified foods into Indian market and also to express the pernicious ramifications thereof particularly on health and nutrition.

Eminent persons from all walks of life representing the scientific and the academic community; consumers and civil society groups; farmers unions; food and nutrition specialists. Lawyers and the media attended the roundtable and extended their unconditional solidarity in the fight against the menace of genetic engineering.

Experiences and views were shared; new insights were developed and a declaration was was prepared against the intrusion of gm foods into Indian markets and participatants abhorred the very idea of genetic engineering and unequivocally rejected genetic engineering in all its manifestations. The declaration prepared is attached below and the same was submitted to Ministry of Health and Family affairs, To Food and Consumer affairs, Government of India and aslo media.

The Bangalore Declaration, July 5, 2006

In a Round Table titled Should India be fed GM Food? held at Bangalore, Karnataka on July 5, 2006, a 52 member group consisting of six food scientists, nutrition experts and agricultural scientists, two law specialists, a dozen eminent farmer leaders, twenty consumer groups, half a dozen media people and six environmental NGOs thoroughly discussed the GM Labelling Rules being proposed by your Ministry and have come to the following conclusions:

We question the need to allow import of Genetically engineered foods, and wonder what is the current necessity to facilitate these imports at all? Is it to give more nutritious food to Indian people or to ensure their food security? On both counts the need of these imports is highly questionable.

As food, nutrition and agriculture scientists in the group, :

  • We are completely convinced of the advantages of our traditional foods over the articulated need for genetically engineered [GE] foods. The traditional cropping technology that is marked by biodiverse farming systems contains all the human nutritional needs within it. These systems are natural, non-toxic, and the knowledge of their cultivation is located within the community.

    These natural foods have therapeutic value also because of the bioactive molecules contained in them.

    It is the awareness of these advantages that we must create among the citizens of this country.

  • We would like to emphasise that a particular focus of our government should be on reclaiming and popularising less familiar, uncultivated and underutilised foods that are integral to our biodiverse farming and are very rich in all the macro and micro nutrients.
  • Considering the problems of primary, secondary and tertiary processing of foods, we feel that there are temptations to recommend GE foods. But these problems can be met by making citizens and consumers aware of the multifaceted advantages of traditional Indian foods
  • According to us, most of the problems relating to agricultural productivity, food security and nutrition arise from a fragmented approach to science. This blinds a majority of scientists to the existing alternatives. Therefore there is an acute need for holistic scientific research along with integrated evaluation.
  • We want to emphasise that biotech science has been marginalising other life sciences. There are large areas of scientific ignorance and misinformation that govern the current biotech led scientific arguments. There is an urgent need to correct these and retrieve a holistic science.
As farmers we are convinced that
  • We do not want any kind of labelling. We totally reject GE food and GE technology, since we all know that authentic alternatives already exist in this country including organic, traditional systems of food production.
  • The proposed amendment in the name of biosafety undertaken by the government is totally anti farmer, anti people and anti environment. We are of the opinion that the labelling order being pushed down our throats without any large debates and discussions is definitely an effort to promote GE and prop up the MNCs involved in GE.
  • We want to emphasise that food and nutritional security of this country can only be achieved if the knowledge of crop production is integral to the community. In our traditional systems this knowledge is located and distributed within the community and therefore it carries a distinct social and economic advantage over GE crops which is a centralised, proprietary knowledge system and must be viewed within the framework of IPR regime.
  • Apart from externalising production knowledge, GE is also characterized by a total externality of inputs. It is a market oriented technology and has very little to do with the welfare of food consumers and food producers. It can only be done in a monopolistic form of production which will displace the farming community of this country, which is almost 70% of our population. This will be a disaster of monumental proportions.
  • We contest the idea that we have to keep on increasing food output using GE to meet the food security of people. This is a total fallacy. Traditional production systems have the capacity to produce enough and more to address the food security of this nation.
  • It is a great irony that while our government is happy to export organic foods produced in this country, it is also trying to import GE foods into the country. Through this policy process, we wonder whether it is trying to create a “second class” of food consumers in this country who should be fed with inferior GE foods that are injurious to people’s health while superior organic foods are exported.
  • To overcome all these, we should concentrate on traditional food systems which have all the nutritional, food and health security. This centuries old organic system in this country will be killed if we allow GE foods and technologies to take over.
  • We want to warn the government that GE technology, besides tampering with nature, through the contamination of crops which is inherent to it, will irreparably damage our biodiversity and genetic resources and pauperise the enormous genetic wealth of this country. Therefore the government should never forget even for a moment that GE is internally contaminant and its presence itself is the presence of contamination and therefore whether it is labelled or not, will carry irreparable damage to our agriculture and environment.
  • We believe that a lot of the changes in our food and agricultural policies are being done without any discussion with the people being affected by those changes. Such policy changes made at the Centre are contrary to the Constitution of the country where agriculture is a State subject.
As consumers in the group
  • We are horrified that the rights enumerated in the Consumer Protection Act have not been represented in the current labelling efforts.
  • We are completely opposed to GE technology per se. The lessons learnt from other countries that have rejected GE foods have guided us to come to this conclusion.
  • We strongly urge that GE foods should not be imported until it is conclusively proven safe.
  • The regulatory mechanism available in the country such as GEAC, Food Standards Council should be made more transparent and autonomous. Currently they are captured by the industry. As consumers we oppose GE food and GE technology thrust by such mechanisms.

In the light of all of the above, the Bangalore Declaration emanating from the round table Should India be fed with GM Food, in which food, nutrition and agricultural scientists, legal experts, farmer leaders, consumer groups and environmentalists strongly opposes the efforts to import GM foods, labelled or unlabelled, into this country.

The Bangalore Declaration strongly argues for a GM-Free India in the interests of the health and nutrition of its population, food safety, food security and the environmental integrity.

[P V SATHEESH]
On behalf of

CREAT

MYSORE GRAHAKARA PATRIKA
A Mysore city based consumer organisation

SOUTH AGAINST GENETIC ENGINEERING
A coalition of 50 networks, individuals representing farmers, consumers, academics, scientists, media practitioners and civil society groups in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra