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The Global Politics of FoodEngineering Crops in a Needy World
STORY : Engineering Crops in a Needy World
By John Biewen

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Among his many press interviews and public speeches in the past year, Prakash flew to New Delhi in August for a debate with Vandana Shiva on Indian national television—on a show called "Crossfire." Shiva is a former physics professor and one of India's most outspoken opponents of GM crops. In their debate, Prakash and Shiva clashed repeatedly on the safety of GM crops and the foods produced from those crops. Prakash pointed to the thousands of field trials done by companies seeking regulatory approval for GM crops, and to reports by eight National Academies of Science (or their equivalents) arguing that GM crops are safe. Shiva replied that she didn't trust the sources of those assurances.

If you ask Shiva, Prakash is shilling for powerful foreigners. He returns the accusation. At her office in New Delhi, Shiva points out that Prakash is an adviser to the US Department of Agriculture; he travels the world speaking at US government expense. The pro-biotech camp is using "humanitarian" GM scientists as a Trojan horse, Shiva insists—especially Prakash and another high-profile crop geneticist from the developing world, Kenya's Florence Wambugu.

"It's a hoax," Shiva says. "Now these are suddenly brown skins and black skins like us, so they're suddenly supposed to be speaking for the Third World."

Poor Indian farmers don't need genetically modified crops—or, for that matter, the chemicals and "high-yielding" seeds that came with the Green Revolution, Shiva argues. They could feed themselves and their country using traditional, mixed-crop, chemical-free methods, she insists. "When you have an agriculture of that kind, the poorest people, who are rural people ... don't go hungry. They have diversity of healthy, nutritious crops for the market."

That argument keeps Shiva busy on the global lecture circuit; she's well known among green, anti-corporate groups in the West. C.S. Prakash argues bitterly that Shiva's fans and financial backers in rich countries owe their abundance to the tools of modern agriculture. They may think they have the luxury to reject those tools, he says, but Indian farmers don't.

"There is nothing more insulting to the poor than glorifying poverty," says Prakash. "And it just flies so well in terms of the Western audience with their [guilt], with their affluence, when someone from the Third World comes and says, 'Hey, no, we want to stay like this. This is, you know, our old way of doing it! We want to be poor, we want to be backward.' And I think it's absurd. And so if you talk to any farmer in India—and go ask them this question. They are not against any technology."

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