There’s been a flurry of stories in my inbox since India’s GEAC cleared a variety of GM mustard, developed by Monsanto, for commercial utilisation in India. It’s an important step, bringing a potentially valuable – as well as potentially damaging – crop closer to being introduced in the market. However, thanks to disasters associated with previous GM foodcrop introductions like Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, the introduction of GM mustard isn’t going to go down smoothly. Then again, if a writer doesn’t want GM mustard to be introduced, then the burden of proof is on her to convince me, or any reader for that matter, either that GM mustard is bound to fail as a crop or that it is being introduced in a manner that’s become typical of the Indian government: through half-measures and seldom in a way that suggests the state is ready to face all possible consequences, especially the adverse ones.
On the other hand, how does it make sense to grate against Bt cotton and Bt brinjal in order to discourage the introduction of GM mustard? Doing so suggests an immensely pessimistic determinism, an assumption that we will never produce the perfect genetically modified crop. Notwithstanding Monsanto’s transgressions in the past, I do think that GM is the future – it has to be to keep feeding a planet of more than 7,000,000,000. And apart from optimising food storage and transportation, the demand for food is bound to grow with more people coming out of poverty. To insist at this point to switch to organic farming, which involves methods that may be locally sustainable but doesn’t have the mass-production capacity of conventional agriculture that this world has become addicted to, en masse and abandon GM options is nothing but foolish.
Yes, we make mistakes, and yes, we’re faced with some very difficult choices, but let’s start making decisions that go beyond the local ecology and local impact – not by abdicating local economies and people but by doing all of this in a way that no one loses out. Again, not going to be easy. I’m not sure anything in this sphere can be. Finally, yes, I’m aware that I’m speaking from a position of privilege; I stand by my comments. Oh, one more thing: The Wire‘s science section has also imposed a moratorium on non-reported GM pieces. I’m really keen on taking the conversation forward, not drowning a platform with The Wire‘s import in volleys exchanged between pro- and anti-GM camps.
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