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27 June 2012

Safe Food Campaign march on

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Spurred by negative impacts of chemical pesticides and other toxic inputs in our food and farming and advocating a shift towards ecological farming, a safe food mela was organized at a city park in Chennai on June 24. 

It is part a nation wide mobilization campaign to create awareness among the citizens about the ill effects of the pesticides in our food. Many celebrities,’ cine artists, writers, intellectuals, youth turned out in large numbers to endorse the theme India for safe food.
Traditional foods and snacks from organic sources, millet based foods, urban gardening, materials, organic seeds diversity of organic leafy vegetables were at display in the safe food mela.

There were posters all around creating awareness about the ill effects of pesticides. Several organic outlets of the city, organic farmer groups and other safe food enthusiasts took part in the event. A stall on urban gardening, informed on the ills effects of pesticides in our food, and the implications of the genetically modified food.

The Mela showcased various safe food options, tasty organic foods and snacks to buy and eat traditional rice and millet foods, fresh greens and mangoes. People were seen making bee line in all the stalls especially those that were selling food items. 

An important aspect of the campaign was a petition asking the Union Agriculture Minister to take steps towards government support for organic farming and distribution, ensuring wide access to safe foods; banning dangerous pesticides etc. 

A number of personalities, actors, musicians, artists, writers and intellectuals who gathered at the safe food Mela endorsed the petition. The petition can be signed on-line by going to http://indiaforsafefood.in/sendpetition.

India for safe food is a movement for change among Indian farmers, consumers and the government to ensure that all Indians have access to safe food, devoid of toxic substances.
Today Indian agriculture uses hundred of toxic chemicals in large volumes, which end up contaminating water, soil and food. Studies indicate that in India, vegetables, fruits, staple cereals, pulses, meat, milk, eggs, poultry, in addition to drinking water, processed foods, beverages are contaminated with poisonous residues to various degrees. Our export consignments are being rejected for their toxic residues. 

Studies also show that pesticide exposure is correlated with serious health risks including cancer, endocrine disruption, causing gynecological disorders, organ damage, immune system, impairment and so on. 

There is also much that is wrong with regulatory system and approach related to chemical pesticide in the country. There are fundamental ways in which the issue has to be addressed, changes in our technological approach to agriculture as well as our regulatory approach.
We hope to bring about a change collectively, through citizens involvement with India for safe food campaign, explained Dr Sivaraman of Safe Food Alliance. 

Ananthoo, a safe food activist said,”we believe that central government addressing at least four components urgently will ensure safe food for all of us. Appropriate investment in promoting ecological farming- ensuring access to organic food by establishing safe food outlets and using PDS- providing poison free food under various food scheme to pregnant and lactating women and children- banning those pesticides that have been banned in other countries, and known to have chronic and adverse impacts.” 

There is also much that is wrong with the regulatory system and approach related to chemical pesticides in the country. Governments have allowed toxins in farming and food even while there is ample evidence and experience on the ground to show that farming is indeed possible and profitable through ecological methods. 

An example of this is the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture project in Andhra Pradesh, supported by the State government’s rural development department that has managed to wean away lakhs of farmers from chemical pesticides successfully. This shows that even governments can invest and run knowledge intensive eco agriculture programme and bring about large scale change. 

These are together possible only if the agriculture ministry creates at least a level playing field between chemical intensive agriculture and ecological farming. 

“The India for safe food campaign emphasizes that transgenic technology is no solution either and seeks to preempt arguments that project it” so says social activist Ramasubramanian of Samanvaya that vouches for shaping action for better planet. He points that both Bt and Ht (Herbicide Tolerant) have only resulted in more pesticide usage even as they created super pets and super weeds bringing deadly pesticides into use. 

There are several organizations including India for Safe Food that are working to create awareness amongst citizens about the ill-effects of chemical pesticides and other toxins in food. They are reaching out to citizens through educational institutions, welfare associations, consumer organizations, eminent citizens, celebrities and so on. 

This campaign is going to be extended to other cities over the next few weeks and Melas, film-screenings and other events are going to be held in Delhi, Patna Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Mumbai, Kolkata. 

The awareness about safe food is a long drawn out battle and it requires citizen’s involvement to ensure that each of us should have access to safe food.

(More information on this can be at http://indiaforsafefood.in)

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

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