OPPOSITION TO THE cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops is growing in Orissa. Social organisations and farmer leaders have stepped up their protest against the state government's move to encourage large-scale farming of these crops. The protesting organizations and leaders have been visiting premier educational
institutes, including leading universities of the state, and sensitising the students about the "dangers" and
"risks" involved in Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjaj cultivation. "Despite the state government's official declaration
not to encourage GM crops, Bt Cotton has been extensively cultivated in Orissa. Cotton is not a food crop,
yet the toxicity of this genetically modified (GM) crop has been so severe that thousands of domestic animals
and cattle have died from grazing in cotton fields in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. The persons
handling the crop have come down with severe allergies," says Debjeet Sarangi, secretary of Living Farms, a Bhubaneswar based social organisation.
The state government is ready to conduct field trials of Bt brinjal next month, a food crop. Commercial roduction
of the crop will be allowed next year. Quoting research works, Mr Sarangi informs that experiments on rats have shown that consumption of GM food can have very serious effects like damage to the immune system, organ defects and interference with digestive enzymes, infertility, stunted growth, stomach lesions and ulcers
and damage to the intestinal wall.
"Clearly this is highly unethical large-scale experimentation on human beings. The government must not
allow GM seeds in the state," he observes. During a week-long campaign titled "I Am No Lab Rat" from October 16 to 22, Living Farms, farmers and eminent public figures visited Utkal University in Bhubaneswar and a host of other educational institutes across the city with a well decorated vehicle that carried hoardings and posters
depicting ill-effects of the GM seeds. The response to the campaign against genetically modified food and crops was according to the perception of the students on the issue.. For many of them, it was a completely new concept.
Some said they had heard about Bt Cotton and its adverse impact but were unaware that the same technology
was being adopted for food crops as well. The students enquired in detail about the process of genetic modification. They were horrified when they were told by the campaigners that genetic alterations were being made in everyday food like brinjal, okra,cabbage, cowpeas, papaya and rice. "Till now we knew about the dangers of junk food, a habit we indulge in occasionally, but now if our daily food is tampered with and made toxic what are we going to eat? Pesticide has shown its dark side. We had hoped the government would think of naturally grown organic food as the alternative. Why are they doing this to us?" questioned the students.
Students of botany and zoology said they were already aware of the dangers of genetic modification and
maintained that GM seeds cultivation was highly unethical and had an effect on the overall environment
besides the known health hazards. They were surprised to know that such crop also had adverse effects on soil health.
Through the campaign, the organisers collected thousands of signatures on a petition that was sent to the
Union health minister seeking a ban on GM foods. "We would request you to kindly gauge the seriousness
of the situation and respond as a concerned citizen to make the campaign a success and thwart the devious
designs of a few powerful industries," the petition said. Prior to the recent campaign, the farmer leaders
had sent petitions to the Prime Minister, agriculture minister and Union forest and environment minister
urging them to protect and conserve biodiversity, environment and health, with due consideration to ethical,
social and cultural issues involved with the application of modern biotechnology.
People protest against genetically modified Bt brinjal in Orissa PHOTO: Asian Age
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