‘Natural farming to starve India, Biotechnology to feed India’ slogan against zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)
When Centre was pitching for pesticide and chemical fertilizer-free ‘natural farming’ in the country, Anil Ghanwat, the leader of Maharashtra-based organisation Shetkari Sanghatana and who was also a member of the Supreme Court-appointed committee on now-repealed farm laws in 2021, is speaking out and has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to relax the moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crop licences in India.
He was stating that transgenic crops will ultimately benefit farmers while the much-touted ‘zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)’ would only harm their interests due to lower productivity.
‘Free India movement’ on February 17
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ghanwat, president of the Shetkari Sanghatana’s (SS) political wing Swatantra Bharat Party, stated that if the central government does not lift the moratorium on GM crops by February 16, his organization and others will launch a ‘free India movement’ on February 17 with the slogan ‘Biotechnology to feed India. Natural farming to starve India,’ demonstrating how the organic agricultural experiment in Sri Lanka has affected the country’s farmers.
The SS activists will commence the effort by planting an unapproved strain of GM seeds, which will be falsely labelled as unlawful transgenic seeds, according to Ghanwat. The Sanghatana has long advocated for the deferred licencing of GM food crops such as Bt Brinjal, as well as non-food transgenic crops such as HTBt (herbicide tolerant) cotton. So yet, only one GM crop, Bt cotton, has been allowed for commercial production in India.
Ghanwat’s letter comes at a time when the Coalition for a GM-Free India and other organizations, including RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), have criticized the central food regulator FSSAI’s recent draft regulation on GM foods, claiming that it would allow for ‘easier entry’ of transgenic foods into the country without protecting peoples interests and health issues.
‘The ZBNF will affect both the farmer and the land. We must learn from the terrible 2021 Sri Lankan obligatory organic farming experience. Many locations say that the harvest is currently 60% of what it was last season. Because of its illogical infatuation, Sri Lankan has threatened starvation’ Ghanwat penned.
The letter, which was copied to the chief justice of India (CJI) and the Union agriculture minister, also questioned why the findings of the SC-appointed committee had not been made public as of yet. ‘If the SC does not release the report by then (February 16), despite my two letters requesting it, I will make it public at a right time to inform policymakers and farmers, especially given that the huge majority of submissions the SC committee received were appreciative of the now-repealed agricultural laws,’ Ghanwat said.
He further stated that he would bring farmers to Delhi to show their support for reforms following the conclusion of Assembly elections in five states.
Others oppose FSSAI draft
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) released a draft regulation in November last year that proposes labelling all food products with individual genetically engineered ingredients of 1% or more as ‘Contains GMO/Ingredients Derived from GMO,’ which the Coalition for a GM-Free India and SJM found to be quite limited in their scope to effectively regulate genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
‘99% of GMO crops planted worldwide are herbicide-tolerant and Glyphosate/Roundup-resistant.’ Glyphosate has been linked to cancer and causes renal and liver failure. Article 21 of the FSSAI Act requires you to control food such that it contains no pesticides. Your foolish, illegal proposal recommends pesticides in GMO processed food. There is no mention of testing GMO food for pesticide/herbicide residues in your announcement.
‘This brief reprieve is insufficient and insignificant. While it may be useful in certain ways, it does not address the concerns expressed by citizens. We are concerned that the regulator is neglecting what citizens have rightfully demanded. Citizens want to participate in the FSSAI’s proposed regulations since there is a large demand from Indians who wish to maintain their food GM-free. That is why they are requesting local language versions of the draft regulations, as well as consultations organised by the regulator. The FSSAI does not appear to be serious about meeting citizens’ desire for safe food’, according to a statement issued by the Coalition for a GM-Free India.
Meanwhile, the FSSAI has extended the deadline for stakeholders, including the general public, to comment on its draft until February 5.