Farmer Unions, Activists, Scientists join hands to launch public campaign against GM crops in Punjab

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Activist-scientist Dr Vandana Siva giving the keynote address at a public meeting organised by the Punjab Chapter of Coalition for a GM Free India at Ludhiana on Wednesday.

Ludhiana, March 12, 2014: The city today saw eminent scientists from across the country, farmer unions, civil society groups and activists join hands to launch a public campaign against open field experiments of Genetically Modified (GM) crops which are to start soon in Punjab. The campaign was launched at a public meeting organised by the Punjab Chapter of Coalition for a GM Free India. This was in response to the recent decision by the Centre to permit hundreds of field trials of GM crops including that of GM varieties of rice, wheat, maize, potato, mustard across the country. Punjab is one of the states where field trials have been proposed.
Giving the keynote address at the occasion activist-scientist Dr Vandana Siva expressed shock at the way voices of science and society had been disregarded by the Centre while giving approvals to these field trials. She stated that “This mindless promotion of GM crops at a time when there is enough scientific evidence to show that they pose a threat to our health and environment is nothing but suicidal. There is also enough evidence across the globe to show the GMOs failed in their promise of increasing yields and reducing chemical use. These are seeds of poison, seeds of slavery and seeds of destruction”.  
The Coalition had recently released a compilation of more than 400 abstracts of peer reviewed scientific papers that points to the various adverse impacts from GM crops. There are also numerous evidences of contamination of seed and food supply by GM crops from field trials. The recent experiences of Monsanto's GM rice and GM wheat from field trials contaminating the grain supply chain in USA is a case in point.
Speaking at the occasion Umendra Dutt, Executive Director, Kheti Virasat Mission said, “Punjab unfortunately has become a hotbed for these experimental trials with Punjab Agriculture University fields being used repeatedly for the trails of these toxic crops which will end up contaminating our food, farm and environment for ever. As a state reeling under the impacts of intensive usage of toxic agro chemicals from the Green Revolution era, it is un acceptable that we expose our people and farms to another experiment whose consequences will be for all and forever.”
Pointing to the blatant nexus between the political class, both at the Centre and state and Multinational seed companies like Monsanto, the American seed giant who is the main driver of GM technology Sukhdev Singh Bhopal of the Kheti Badi Kisan front said “It is also deplorable that the state government instead of standing by the farmers of the state is making agreements (PPPs) with Monsanto and submitting our entire research system on their feet. As Bt cotton has shown this is going to give a total monopoly of our seed systems to Multinational Seed Companies, whose sole motto is profit at any cost”. It was also highlighted that the share prices of Monsanto has shot up by 144% due to consistent statements by the Central government to permit field trials.
 
Other Farmer leader like Darshan Singh Koli of BKU Ekta Ugrahan also addressed the gathering and exhorted the farmers of Punjab to stay clear of the GM seed trap which will destroy our seed sovereignty and farm livelihoods themselves.
The conference was also saw eminent Ecologist and Agri-Biodiversity conservationist Dr Debal Deb  talking about the sustainable alternatives "Our country has the largest diversity of farmer evolved traditional rice varieties which includes those that can withstand drought and survive on dry upland farms; that can grow in farms flooded with water 4 meter deep; and varieties that can grow on coastal saline farms; those varieties that contain 20 to 50 times more iron than does the IRRI's iron-fortified GM rice. Pumpkins, yams, mustard leaves, red amaranth, Ipomea aquatica and many wild food plants contain incomparably greater amount of vitamin A than the GM Golden Rice. It is therefore common-sensical and rational to make the traditional rice varieties and other food plants more widely available and more accessible to the poor, than to invest millions of dollars into developing GM crops or to import hugely expensive GM crops as a magic bullet solution to our food security." Last year more than 150 Indian scientists had written to the central govt showing how GM crops instead of being a necessity for food security is an actual threat for it.
The public conference was also addressed by Gyani Keval Singh, former Jathedar of the Thakht Dumdama Saheb, Social activist Padmabhushan Dr Inderjeet Kaur, Rajesh Jindal of Art of Living and secretary, Punjab Chapter Coalition for a GM Free India, Rajesh Krishnan, National Convener, Coalition for a GM Free India etc who reminded the state government that Punjab has already borne too heavy a burden of chemical contamination thanks to Green Revolution. The Cancer train and the epidemic of farmer suicides are tragedies that should not be repeated.
A public petition drive was initiated as part of the public campaign urging the Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to not permit any open field trials of GM crops was launched at the event. The participants took a solemn oath to join hands to keep the farms, food and environment of Punjab free from GM crops and to work towards the promotion of ecological farming which is socially just, economically viable and ecologically sustainable.

Date: 
Wednesday, March 12, 2014