Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Monsanto Moratorium in India

The Indian High Court has just ruled to delay indefinitely the introduction of bt-brinjal here, a genetically modified eggplant introduced by a company (Mahyco) that is 26% owned by Monsanto.

Here's the Environment Minister, Jiram Ramesh, talking some some sense in the Indian Express:
We cannot depend on private sector to drive the biotechnology research in our agriculture sector . . . India's first green revolution was not powered by the private sector. And there is no reason to believe that the second green revolution would be driven by private companies.
The debate has largely focused -- predictably -- on safety issues; indeed, it's the only focus of the NYT article linked in the title. But Ramesh, here, is practically alone in calling attention to another serious concern. It isn't that the agribusiness model is non-Indian or Western or too scientific (Norman Borlaug's recent passing was noted with much sorrow in the national press, here, where he was widely appreciated).

Instead, the problem is that private-sector ag models have resulted in patents and lawsuits and harassment and intimidation of the people who grow our food. These are problems. Is private ag research a bad thing? Not at all. Bullying farmers whose non-GM crops happen to be contaminated by Monsanto's own? That's a bad thing. And I think India is wise, for now, to be avoiding it.

Here's the conclusion from a NYT editorial last October. It's akin to the point Ramesh is making:
Agriculture is at the frontier of technological progress. Its innovations will determine, to a large extent, whether and at what cost this country and the world will be able to feed its growing populations. No company should dominate such an essential business.
[Sharp-eyed phronauts will recognize Jiram Ramesh as the same guy who called bullshit on the IPCC's conclusion that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. The problem isn't that the glaciers aren't melting; it's that those advocating policy to address climate change need credible evidence in place of speculation, especially from bodies like the IPCC.]


helmut said...

I was just working on a post on the IPCC. Maybe later....

The point about companies monopolizing GM crops is a very important one that privatization-fetishizing Americans may be less inclined to consider. Curious about that contradiction.

But at the same time, matters are more complicated when it comes to the issue of GMOs themselves. Risk analyses usually suggest a negligible difference between GMO crops and non-GMO crops, much as we might prefer to avoid the former. But I don't think that necessarily means as much as partisans tend to take it.

What is meaningful, though, is a case Paul Collier has been making that GMO crops could bring a sort of renaissance to African agriculture if not for one key obstacle. The obstacle is the ban on GMO crops in Europe combined with the fact that Europe in the whole is by far Africa's largest trading partner. Add climate change adaptation problems into the mix and the issue is even more complicated.

Not supporting GMOs here necessarily. But there are other important values in play.

MT said...

It's easier to foment fear of eggplants than anger at them.

troutsky said...

"innovation" does not determine whether people eat or not. Market forces do.

barba de chiva said...

Well I mentioned Borlaug for just that reason; there is that fear of "tinkering" with nature, or whatever. But there really isn't anything to be afraid of . .. not in terms of tinkering, anyway. Putting all of your egglants in one basket, though, monopolistically speaking, seems like a terrible idea.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out after the patents have expired (though Monsanto is fighting against any conventional patent expiry applying to itself); I mean, I've partly suspected that Europe's reservation about GM crops has to do with their privately-held nature (so to speak).