The Gene Gun At Your Head

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IMAGINE THE lowly brinjal you have always known turning into a sci-fi gizmo — with an uncharted potency for good and evil. Imagine a food turned into a pesticide — and you will have a measure of the essential uncertainty around Bt brinjal.

When Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced his indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal on February 9, he halted a juggernaut that could have swept India to a point of no return. His decision has earned everyone a precious window of pause — a time to reevaluate, reconsider, retest. Most of all, time first for everyone to familiarise themselves with what is at stake.

Conversations about science and agriculture are usually conducted outside public discourse. Most urban Indians, in fact, consider talk of farmers and vegetables a bore. If someone told you Bt brinjal is an issue of national security, chances are you’d laugh. But it is true. There are also people who speak of desi brinjal as a sort of modern day Mangal Pandey and the struggle to protect it a kind of 21st century Indian War of Independence. While this might seem hyperbole, it helps establish the scale of what is involved in the Bt brinjal debate in India. That debate, in fact, extends into every aspect of our lives: our personal health, our environment, our food prices, our bio-heritage, our economic security, our national sovereignty. Our entire future. To not be aware and involved is to sign up as the proverbial lab rat. Read More>

~Updates~

‘The New Biotechnology Bill Will Promote GM Technology Rather Than Regulate It’

The BRAI Bill proposes to set up a centralised single window clearance system which may lower the bar for GM crop approvals with no independent long-term safety assessments or need assessment of a particular GM product, say activists

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Around 2,000 farmer unions, activists and citizens from 18 states will assemble at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 8 August to put forward their concerns on the use of Genetically Modified (GM) crops and oppose the government’s alleged promotion of the same. The day-long dharna may also include the members marching to Parliament Street with a view that the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill may be brought up in the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament.

The Bill proposes to set up the BRAI – an autonomous body that activists, while citing conflict of interest, claim will promote the use of GM technology rather than regulate it. Activists say that the Bill proposes to set up a centralised single window clearance system which is designed to lower the bar for GM crop approvals with no independent long-term safety assessments or need assessment of a particular GM product.

Read More>

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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started Tehelka.com. When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.

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