Magazine article New Internationalist

Rice Resistance

Magazine article New Internationalist

Rice Resistance

Article excerpt

Should genetically modified food be forced upon unwilling populations?

Biotech companies-and the governments that root for them within the WTO -think so. But a resounding, and increasingly effective, 'no' is gathering volume around the world.

A recent French poll reports that 78 per cent want a temporary ban on GM crops. Similarly a Europe-wide poll published by the European Food Safety Authority states that 62 per cent are worried about GM products in food.

This will come as no surprise to farmers and consumers in Asia who have long been fighting an alliance of biotech corporations and their own compliant governments.

'It happened just after the 5Tsunami,' says Revathi, an organic farmer from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

She is referring to the Indian Government's first attempts to push through a new seeds Bill which would make it illegal to keep and germinate seed that has not been 'registered' with the authorities. Those breaking the law would incur a six-month prison sentence.

Traditionally women gather and keep seeds for use in future years. The objective of the legal requirement to register appears to be to take seed-germination out of the control of farmers and into the hands of biotech seed companies operating in India, such as Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and Dow Agro.

Biotech corporations claim that GM offers better yields. But farmers like Revathi only see deepening debt among peasants, who have to buy seed and other related products, and a rising suicide rate. Local seed diversity and food security itself are threatened by GM.

'We have many different indigenous types of rice growing for different conditions,' she explains. On the coast we have a type that grows taller so it is unaffected by rises in water level. Inland there is another type that grows in areas where there is little water. We will lose all this. People will starve.'

The seed Bill debate is ongoing and resistance is fierce. In Orissa more than 3,ooo tribal women made a bonfire of GM seeds and demanded that theirs be declared an Organic state'.

But, across the border in Bangladesh, the Government is ready to approve the introduction of Golden Rice, a GM brand developed by the Swiss transnational Syngenta, sparking protests by farmers and scientists. …

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