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Monsanto’s plans to push genetically modified (GM) food crops in Asia ran into a wall on February 9, 2010 when India’s Environment Minister put a moratorium on the introduction of a variety of GM brinjal (eggplant) containing Monsanto’s patented Bt gene. China too has been hesitant to approve GM food crops, notably GM rice. It appears that these Asian governments, both outspoken proponents of GM agriculture, are not only feeling the heat from their people’s strong resistance to GM food crops but are also being forced to think twice about turning their seed supplies over to Monsanto and the other foreign transnational corporations (TNCs) that control the global GM seed market. What they seem to be saying is, “Yes, we want GM seeds, but we want our public institutions to be involved in their development to safeguard the national interest.” It’s a pretty hollow argument, given how “public” research is in bed with corporate interests these days and how removed GM agriculture is from the needs of Asia’s farmers. For Asia’s small farmers is there really any difference between a national GM crop and a transnational one?

A fuzzy line between public and private in China

In his report imposing a moratorium on Bt brinjal, the Indian Environment Minister referred, amongst other things, specifically to India’s lack of a “large-scale publicly funded biotechnology effort in agriculture” that can serve as a countervailing power to Monsanto, and pointed to China’s publicly funded programme in GM, which he says is far ahead of India’s. 1 The moratorium is thus in part intended to give India time to catch up with the TNCs and its neighbour, and the long-term path still points to GMOs. This was not what the local protests against Bt brinjal across India were about. They were against GM crops per se, not simply Monsanto’s version. For the protesters, a strong national biotech programme is not going to shield Indian farmers from corporate profiteering and the other pitfalls of GMOs, as China’s example shows. More