Environment Forum

from India Insight:

Why let a debate determine the fate of GM foods?

Students hold a mock funeral procession against genetically modified brinjal crop in Chandigarh January 28, 2010. REUTERS/Ajay VermaThere's nothing Indians like better than a good debate.

So when Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced last month that he would hold public debates to decide the commercial fate of genetically modified brinjal (eggplant), there were hopes these would provide a chance for all stakeholders to be heard.

But the debates, in seven cities including Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, were chaotic, nothing more than acrimonious shouting matches between environmental activists and scientists, who say they were not given a fair chance to voice their opinion.

One scientist said he had his hand raised for more than half an hour, but was not allowed to speak. Another said he was told he could make a presentation, but was again not allowed to. Others were not even permitted to enter the premises.

So are townhalls such as these the best way to discuss matters of serious scientific weight?

Sure, the decision affects farmers who grow brinjal and people who cook it in their homes everyday. And a decision to let them speak is a laudable one.

High and dry on the California farm

At lunchtime in California’s San Joaquin Valley, farmers meet up at Jack’s Prime Time Restaurant, where they can get a good, honest meal … just what one expects from an establishment smack dab in the middle of the most productive farming region in the world.

But the mood at Jack’s is decidely somber. A few days earlier, the farmers in these parts were told not to expect any federally supplied water this year due to a third year of drought and low levels in the reservoirs.  Without water, they can’t plant their lettuce and tomatoes, and they may lose parts of their precious almond and pistachio orchards.  All this land flourished with water brought from hundreds of miles away, snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada.

In reporting for our series on water scarcity in the U.S. West, I was amazed that the top farming region in the nation had not prepared itself better to deal with Mother Nature’s fickle ways with water. But many here feel they would have avoided this predicament were it not for the ”man-made drought” –  new regulations to save endangered fish species by sharply restricting water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And there’s a lot of anger at environmentalists who want more water for wildlife habitat and less for farming.

The world’s most costly cows?

A Cow stands in her pen at the ‘Internationale Gruene Woche/International Green Week (IGW)’ fair in Berlin January 17, 2008. REUTERS/Johannes Eisele

Farm subsidies in many rich countries are high but the Norwegian $16-a-day cows have to be among the most astronomical examples.

The problem is that Norway wants farmers in the Arctic county of Finnmark to produce milk — but since it’s so cold for much of the year the herds have to live in heated barns and food has to be trucked in.

That’s clearly bad economics and far worse for the environment than cows grazing outside on grass.

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