A Comment on the:
Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill

 

The UPA government is about to form a new regulatory authority -- the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI)  to act as the sole agency responsible for the regulatory system, including research, transport, import, manufacture and use, of GMOs throughout the country.

 The BRAI would not be under purview of the Right to Information (RTI) and would have authority to override the decisions of state governments, thus reducing the states authority to that of mere spectator when it comes to the decision on introducing the genetically modified food. It would also be empowered to bypass the provisions enumerated in the Biological Diversity Act and the Environment Protection Act.

The BRAI is proposed to be under the Ministry of Science and Technology, which is already responsible for promotion of GM crops. Therefore, the BRAI will be only an agency to stimulate investment in biotechnology, rather than to uphold the standard of GMOs regulation in the country.

This bill aims at introducing a drastic changes in the process of regulating the research, transport, import, manufacture and use of GM products in the country

The Bill is apparently aims to lower the bar for introducing the genetically modified (GM) crops without taking into cognisance the impact on  the health of people and environment. BRAI is contrived to prevent people of their right to grow, own, trade, transport, share, feed and eat food that nature has bestowed upon the humanity. The farmers would not have control on what they grow and the public on what they eat. All control and supply decisions would rest with the profit hungry agro giants and the people would be reduced to an expendable pawn in the hands of the capitalist and its agents.

In order to stifle any resistance the bill has a provision to imprison whoever criticises GM crops, The bill states “whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products…shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both”. The government it seems has decided to put people’s health at stake to satisfy the greed of corporate sector

The Bill will pave the way for cultivation of not only Bt Brinjal but also about 60 other kinds of GMOs. According to Dr. P.M. Bhargava, founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology: “There is no penalty if someone promotes GMOs without safety tests but there is a penalty if someone wishes to inform the public about the hazards of GMOs. Besides, who is to decide on ‘misleading’ and on what basis?”

This bill, virtually gives the multinationals  a free hand to control the agricultural and food system of the country while abnegating every right to the farmers and the common people. The farmers would also loose their traditional right to save, exchange and replant seeds.

According to a press release of Greenpeace (India) “….This draft bill further exposes Science and Technology minister Prithviraj Chavan direct links with the GM industry. Instead of working closely with the environment and health ministers to strengthen bio-safety regulation and safeguard human health respectively, Chavan is trying to change the rules of the game to facilitate the back door entry of Bt Brinjal and GM Rice.”

Do we have no other option but to go for GM food and does the GM crops give better yield?

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development 2008, stated that there is no evidence that GM crops increase yield; on contrary, agro-ecological friendly practices have shown result of great increase in yield. Still the Indian Government is bent on giving a free hand to the agro-companies even though the effect of BT Cotton is a glaring example. Unfortunately the lesson of growing Bt Cotton in India --where the farmers have been forced to buy the expensive pesticides and seeds from the monopolies leading to mass suicides have been glossed over. India over the years has witnessed major crop failures in the three main cotton growing states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where the farmers adopted the BT cotton. The fourth state, Karnataka, banned the sale of Bt cotton seeds after much farmers unrest and resistance.

 Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will not only wipe out the native varieties but would make them unfit for growth thus forcing them on path of extinction. The world agriculture will become over-dependent on GM grains and the transnational corporations which monopolize the GMOs production would have stranglehold on the food system. The paranoia of the developed countries towards GM food can be ascertained from the fact that recently, the European Union banned imports of honey from Canada because Canadian producers could not guarantee that their honey is free of pollen from GM plants that are not approved in Europe. But they have been promoting their own companies to turn the population of the poor countries into guinea pigs.

It is also worth mentioning the way BRAI would function; according to Mr. P V Satheesh, national convenor of South Against Genetic Engineering (sage), a coalition of civil society groups in south India, Once an application is received, it will be sent to BRAI's risk management unit. This unit will do a “science based evaluation” and submit a risk assessment report. Following this it will go to a product rulings committee for its recommendation. “When there is so much debate and a strongly expressed need for disclosure and scrutiny of the approval processes, the BRAI bill and the processes it prescribes, present no scope for this” . Further more this bill envisages only an advisory role for states and completely bars intervention from non-official scientific and people’s organisation. Thus the health and agriculture sector would be in hands of BRAI which in turn would be a front organisation of the profit hungry Multinationals.

An article on the effects of GM crops in India by the NGO GMWatch reveals that …Corporations like Monsanto are keen to push their crops into India as quickly as possible as there is very little monitoring of the agricultural sector by any of the government authorities. Take the area of pesticides: large quantities of illegal pesticides are imported and used with impunity by farmers without proper supervision. Since a large number of farmers are illiterate they are unable to read the instructions for safe use. In a state like Punjab - which heralded the Green Revolution - exposure to deadly pesticides is generating a steady number of cancer cases which are now being documented with horror by the medical authorities. Yet it is very rare to find a pesticide manufacturer or distributor in jail even though their activities harm both people and the environment.

 

-------
Sources
Green Peace, Frontline, GM Watch, thaindian.com, scidev.net, International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development Conference 2008 (Report by UN–World Bank).

 

14-04-2010