Farmers and environmental activists staged a protest on February 22 against genetic engineering (GE) field trials of Bt brinjal being conducted at Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) in Coimbatore. They began the protest by pasting a plaque titled ?now owned by Monsanto?, below the nameplate of the university at the entrance. R. Selvam, secretary, Erode Organic Farmers? Collective, alleged that the field trials of Monsanto Mahyco, the world'slargest producer of genetically-manipulated organisms (GMOs), were being conducted by the university to fulfill mandatory field trials required before commercial release. Shri Selvam said: ?There are documented health risks generated by GE foods. But, the university is planning to thrust GE foods down our throats. Is TNAU functioning for local farmers and society or an international company?? He said there should be a gap of 50 metres between a Bt brinjal field and a tomato field. The adjoining field at the university did not conform to this. He claimed that the crops grown as part of the experiment should be burnt after being weighed, but they were being dumped into a nearby well.
Vice-Chancellor C. Ramasamy said: ?All the field trials are being done with the approval of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. Even a single experiment cannot be conducted without the concurrence of the bio-safety committee.? But there is no independent regulator to certify Ramasamy'sassertions. Rejecting allegations of ulterior motives in the tie-up with Monsanto, he said: ?We will welcome good technology from anybody.? But technology without conscience is worse than no technology. During the division of amrut between asuras and devas, there was only one Mahavishnu. But in this GE issue, there are several Mahavishnus (Monsanto, Cornel University, USA, WTO and Central Government) behind the scene. Poor Ramasamy is the only Mohini to get thoroughly exposed.
The Vice-Chancellor termed the protest a ?criminal activity?. This brings an old joke to my memory. A raja and a rani were sitting on the balcony of a palace. Rani opened the rind of an orange and offered the pulp to raja. The rind was thrown away. A beggar picked the rind and ate it. Rani became furious, brought the beggar to court and gave severe lashings. In spite of the lashings, the beggar laughed. A surprised rani asked him why he was laughing? The beggar told: ?I only ate the rind to get this punishment; but raja took the pulp. I felt pity for raja. That is why I laughed.? If mere protest is a criminal activity, how to describe the ?criminal conspiracy? hatched between a Monsanto Mahavishnu and a Ramasamy Mohini?
WTO court in 2006 ruled that Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg had no legal grounds to impose their own unilateral import bans on GM food. ?Europe guilty!? shouted the US press. In fact, the US has mostly won a lot of new enemies. Rather than going away, as the biotech companies and Washington fervently hoped, the opposition to GM foods seems to have been growing since 2004 when the case was brought to the WTO. Europe, its member-states, and its consumers all rejected the ruling, making the WTO look even more out of touch and incompetent to rule on issues about the environment, health, and consumer choice.
Individual European countries who dislike being told what to eat or grow by the EC as much as by the WTO said they will resist any attempts to make them accept GM. Hungary had declared that it is in its economic interests to remain GM-free, and Greece and Austria had affirmed their total opposition to the crops. Italy had called the WTO ruling ?unbalanced? and Poland'sPrime Minister had pledged to keep the country GM-free. Local government was even more opposed: more than 3,500 elected councils in 170 regions of Europe had declared themselves GM-free.
There is little the WTO, the EC or the US could do in the face of this coalition of the unwilling. If the US again tries to impose its GM products on Europe?as it did in the 1990s, sparking the whole debacle?the attempt will backfire. It is now clear that the real reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was to make it easier for its companies to prise open regulatory doors in China, India, South-East Asia, Latin America, and Africa, where most US exports now go. This is where millions of tonnes of US food aid heads, and where US GM companies are desperate to have access.
There lies the criminal conspiracy between Monsanto Mahavishnu and Ramasamy Mohini.