Friday, January 12, 2007

The GM sequence

Recent developments related to GM technology in India.

(Most of what you see below comes from news items or is extracted from press releases by environment groups lobbying for stringent norms to control, if not ban, GM crops)

February, 2006

Recent ruling by WTO panel upholding the complaints of USA and other countries on Europe's precautionary approach to GMOs as illegal under WTO trade rules. Centre for Sustainable Agriculture reacts by saying that this ruling seriously undermines the sovereignty of nation-states in deciding upon appropriate environmental and food safety.

Widespread criticism, especially from Europe, on the incapability of WTO to rule on issues like genetic modification, allegations of non-transparent functioning, and disputes about whether trade agreements should supercede international environmental agreements like the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol .

[A complaint had been filed by the USA and other nations like Canada, Argentina, Mexico and Egypt, in May 2003, in the WTO, as the Biosafety Protocol began shaping up. Europe was charged with imposing a defacto ban on GM products, in violation of trade rules. On September 11, 2003, the Cartagena Protocol came into effect, with fifty countries including India ratifying the protocol]

'Civil society groups' (activists) prepared a critique based on monitoring of GM crops in five states in India. They allege - "Even though we have been assured of a presentation slot in this [February] GEAC meeting, we have now been told that we will be called for the meeting in March and that our representation would be discussed in this meeting, without us!"

They also point out the absolute failure of regulation: "unapproved GM soy imports continue to surge in India in violation of EPA rules... gross irregularities in the field trials of Bollgard II and Fusion Bt Cotton... this failure of regulation is now being carried into food crop field trials too, as the case of GM Okra demonstrates."

July 2006

Mahyco seed company granted permission on July 11 by the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under the Department of Biotechnology to conduct multi-location limited field trials in GM paddy (rice).

July, 2006

A fact-finding team reports on 'Sheep mortality after feeding on Bt cotton leaves in Warangal dist' by ANTHRA, (AP Goatherds and Shepherds' Union and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture) generates debate on the biosafety of the bt cotton. GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee), governments and the companies and their 'advisors/consultants' discount the report.

The team later sent a letter to the GEAC protesting the objectionable manner in which it conducted its investigations. The letter was based on the activists' access to the postmortem register and on the findings of the Veterinary Biological Research Institute, Hyderabad. According to them, "The reports clearly indicate that there seems to be many different possibilities about how Bt Cotton grazing could have affected the animals in a manner that was not witnessed in those years when animals were grazed on non-Bt Cotton...the correlation and tentative diagnosis (was) drawn by the veterinary department official, connecting Bt-cotton grazing with the poisoning symptoms... the postem mortem records in the warangal dist hospital are tampered to show that pesticides were responsible while the investigations by CSA shows that the farmers/shepherds have not reported any such spraying of pesticides on the cotton fields prior to feeding.... Reports from VBRI and agriculture/veterinary university raise newer issues - that nitrates/nitrates were found in excessive levels in the plants. This could possibly have a connection with the higher use of chemical fertilisers on Bt Cotton and subsequent accumulation of nitrates in the plant. What is clear however is that the GEAC and other regulators governing our biosafety regime do not even know what to test for during so-called biosafety testing before approvals are provided."

September 2006

An Independent Expert Commitee, on Bt Brinjal, submits full report, wherein it found that research guidelines evolved by DBT (department of biotechnology), related to biosafety assessment of transgenic crops, have not been adhered to by the developers of Bt Brinjal.

"The Committee notes that with the existing data, "it is not possible to arrive at any meaningful conclusions regarding the safety of the product" or "its efficacy".... some tests as laid down by the DBT were not taken up in the safety evaluation or test protocols were not as per the specifications laid down in the guidelines.... Bt Brinjal is not compared with the best agronomic and pest management practices available nor have trials been taken up for at least three years."
October, 2006

Village Eenabavi in Warangal district declared itself GM-Free on October 11 th, 2006. Supported by organizations like CROPS, Centre for World Solidarity and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, this small village in the heartland of farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh is into its third year of chemical-free agriculture and is proving to the world that food security can indeed be secured without any chemical or GM solutions.

The farmers took an oath to remain GM-Free and organic. They grow a variety of crops without the use of chemicals including paddy, chilli, vegetables, cotton, tobacco, maize etc. The village is also experimenting with the System of Rice Intensification [SRI]. A Farmer Resource Centre, run by the farmers of Eenabavi, was also inaugurated.

October-November, 2006

Irate members of the Bharathiya Kisan Union (BKU), under the leadership of Mr Rakesh Tikait, uprooted and burnt a trial field of genetically modified (GM) rice of the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO) near Karnal in Haryana, followed by similar burning of Bt rice fields in Tamil Nadu, by The Tamil Nadu Farmers Association.

November, 2006

After the Uttar Pradesh government, the Chattisgarh state government orders an inquiry into a Bt Rice trial, near Raipur. State officials were not informed about the trial even though the company is required to inform the local panchayat, the concerned authorities in the district and the state administration.

"State agriculture minister Mr Nankiram Kawar visited the Bt Rice trial plot in the field of a farmer called Jagdishlal Arora in Purara village close to Raipur city (a village that has been annexed into the city) after receiving reports from media and activists that trial has been conducted without information to state authorities and worse, that crop remains have been allowed to lie around including some grain, without being destroyed as per biosafety guidelines. He ordered the immediate destruction of the remaining crop in the field by burning."

This trial happened at a distance of only around one kilometer from the world's richest collection of rice germplasm, at the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vidyalaya, the state agriculture university.

Trials for GM rice are against the Cartagena biosafety framework, given that India is a Centre of Origin and diversity for rice.

The team visiting the trial at the behest of the DBT also found Bt Okra on a plot next to the Bt Rice plot. It had already been harvested and the Bt Rice plot was in mid-harvest. The local Councillor had no information about the trial, nor did the district authorities in the agriculture department. They were told about the trial only towards the end of the season, when the Department of Biotechnology in the Government of India asked them to be part of A monitoring team to visit the plot.

The state agriculture department claims that the state government has not given permission to the trial and that the regulatory institutions, as laid down under the Environment Protection Act, have not been set up in the state of Chattisgarh.

December 23rd 2006 - National Farmers' Day -

Tamil Nadu farmers and traders (of seeds) join hands to reject genetic engineering in agriculture. A seminar attended by more than 1200 farmers, a rally through the city of Thanjavur (known as the Rice Bowl of South India) and a public meeting where major political parties called a halt to GM crop experimentation and cultivation.

The seminar welcomed the decision of Tamil Nadu state government to bring in a legislation to ban all GM crop trials...

January 2007

Bt Cotton companies go to town with the news that India has touched record cotton production this year with 250 lakh bales, an increase from 244 lakh bales last year. They also claimed that the increase was thanks to the use of Bt.

The claim is contested by newspapers (some said that production in 2006-07 was lower than previous years and that such false claims were being used to artificially depress prices for farmers). The Coalition for GM-Free India rejected the claims by the Bt lobby and sent forth this data -
"Growth in Indian cotton production has fluctuated even before the introduction of Bt Cotton... For instance, Indian cotton productivity showed a growth of 10.8% over the previous year, in 2001-02, when no Bt Cotton was allowed in the country. In the year 2003-04, when Bt Cotton cultivation constituted a mere 1.3% of the total cotton extent (total land under cotton), the highest increase in productivity - upto 26.3% - was seen. If increasing Bt Cotton cultivation leads to increases in productivity, there should be a steady increase in the growth rate of production and yields per hectare, given that Bt Cotton area increased 2.6 times more than previous years. Bt Cotton is projected to be around 40% of all cotton cultivation in the country in 2006-07, up from around 15% in the earlier year, (but) production has increased by only 2%, to touch 250 lakh bales from 244 lakh bales last year. This clearly shows that the reasons for increases in production and productivity, if any, should be looked for elsewhere."

January 2007

Bt Cotton tragedy strikes Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu
Dharmapuri farmers, after the total failure of Bt cotton planted this year, petitioned the Collector asking for action against the seed company. About 4000 acres are affected. The farmers plan to go to the Consumers' Court.

January 2007

According to Agencyfaqs:

"JWT, Mumbai, has won the creative duties for two products belonging to the agriculture based biotechnology company, Monsanto India. These are Bollgard 1 and Bollgard 2, two varieties of biotechnological cotton seeds. Executives from Monsanto India have confirmed this development, although they were unwilling to comment any further. No comments were withstanding from JWT executives....
For the record, Monsanto's work in India began over 50 years ago. The company applies innovation and technology to help farmers around the globe produce healthier foods, better animal feeds and more fiber, while also reducing agriculture’s impact on environment. High-yield crop varieties and hybrid crops such as corn, sunflower and cotton are vital crops that the company wishes to develop. Monsanto, through its field operations, agricultural production knowledge and search for new agricultural solutions and technologies, seeks to develop, communicate and provide sustainable solutions to Indian farmers.However, in 2005, there were some controversies around the Monsanto ads, when NGO Greenpeace and its local partner, Pasumai Thaayagam (Green Motherland), had filed a complaint with the ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) against a print campaign by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech, alleging it to be misleading. In the ad, a farmer poses in front of a tractor, with the copy explaining to other farmers that if a farmer sows Bt cotton, he will be able to afford assets such as a tractor or a lorry. Allegedly, the farmer who posed was misinformed as to what his picture would be used for."

Food for thought:

"Trials conducted in UK reveal that the cultivation of GE organisms has been found to damage the wildlife. Reports are available from different countries on the threat of contamination of indigenous varieties. Throughout the world, consumer preferences are against GE in food – only 21 countries across the world have approved the planting of GM crops, almost 15 years of their initial development. Even this consists of only traits of insect and herbicide resistance in four main crops – cotton, soybean, maize and canola. 94% of the World GE crops are grown in just four countries (USA, Argentina, Canada and China). 91% of GE seed is made and owned by one company called Monsanto. 27 of 30 EU top retailers have a non-GE policy throughout the EU... no GM crop in the world which has contributed to increase in crop productivity. Evidence is in fact to the contrary, showing that yields of GM crops are actually lower than conventional crops." (From GM Watch)


Anonymous said...

Hi Ann...
Need I comment on somebody "senior" (literally) to me??
Finally, I too have joined d "blogging brigade" n hav been reading ur blog regularly. I really want you to visit my blog too and keep commenting, Ide appreciate it. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Contentious as it gets. The debate is warming up. I was with a couple of friends from the US recently and groups there are demanding changes in labeling and packaging law to state if raw-material used was GM (say wheat) – in a country where I am told 90% + of wheat is of GM origin is makes for the minimum that people should know (or for that matter in country where it may constitute just 2%).

Annie Zaidi said...

nibs: love, will visit. cannot promise commenting because it's not what I do best. and of course you can comment on anything, regardless of how senior I am.
rajesh: there are laws across europe. it's not that hard to do in India either. question is, do we care enough to?

ARUL said...

'Save India from genetically modified rice!'

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2007-03-04 09:30:21 (

From Karnal to Coimbatore, genetically modified (GM) crops are becoming a matter of great concern for Indians worried about safety as well as loss of biodiversity.

Various groups in Tamil Nadu, such as Pasumai Thayagam, an NGO supported by the PMK party, Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) and Socio Education Trust, are protesting against GM crops.

They have the support of Greenpeace India, Care Earth, Eco-Science Research Foundation, Tamil Nadu Farmers' Technology Organisation, Erode District Organic Farmers' Association and several others that have launched a week-long campaign for a Tamil Nadu free of GM crops.

CASA is the official arm of 24 Orthodox and Protestant churches in India with 57 years of humanitarian aid experience. It has a vast following in southern India.

The PMK too has a sizeable following across the state, especially among the farming and trading communities in northern Tamil Nadu.

A Pasumai Thayagam official said Friday: 'Tamil Nadu must be kept free of all genetically modified crops.'

'Rice is Tamil Nadu's main crop and Monsanto (a major producer of GM seeds) is now trying to capture this crop,' a PMK leader said.
Quoting a popular Tamil proverb 'If you sow one kind of seed, you reap only one kind of harvest' the PMK leader said: 'Research in England has shown that Bt crops yield less, need more pesticide, are bio-pollutants and poisonous.' He alleged that Bt cotton leaves have killed goats.

The protesters demanded that Tamil Nadu farmers suffering losses from the cultivation of Bt cotton should be compensated.

They noted that seeds for one acre of Bt cotton cultivation cost as much as Rs. 1,250 and that Tamil Nadu farmers would have to pay such large sums for seeds if they cultivated genetically engineered (GE) rice.

On Nov 10, more than 200 farmers led by the Tamil Nadu Farmers' Association (TNFA) and the Tamil Nadu Agriculture Protection Group, destroyed crops in a rice field in Coimbatore district where field trials of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) rice by the controversial company Mahyco were in progress.
The protest came barely two weeks after agitating farmers burnt down a GE basmati rice trial field in Karnal, Haryana.

'Genetically engineered seeds are detrimental to sustainable agriculture and food security and harmful to people and the environment. We will agitate to prevent GE seeds from being used in the state,' said V. Duraimanickam, general secretary of the Communist Party of India-affiliated TNFA.

'We will not allow a Vidarbha to happen in Tamil Nadu,' added TNFA president K. Chellamuthu, in a reference to the large number of farmers who have committed suicide in that part of Maharashtra following failed crops.

In 2005, Bt rice field trials were conducted in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. In 2006, trials were carried out in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

'They just want to destroy the traditional varieties of seeds and promote the sale of hybrid varieties developed by foreign companies,' said Chellamuthu.

Greenpeace India, supporting the campaign, noted that rice has been the staple diet for man for 10,000 years and is cultivated in 113 countries. Ninety percent of rice is grown in Asian countries.

'Biotech giants like Beyer have let loose untested and potentially harmful strains of GE rice into the environment,' said a Greenpeace spokesperson.

Vietnam and Thailand recently rejected GE rice completely. Greenpeace India today called upon Indian rice exporters (world's third largest) to press for a ban on GE rice 'to stop flooding vulnerable markets with GE rice'.

'If India is serious about protecting at least its export, it needs to put some serious laws in place and stop field trials of GE crops now,' the group said.

The 'Save the Rice' campaign from March 2-9 will comprise street corner meetings and hall meetings at different venues across the state.

Experts like Sulthan Ahmed Ismail and Ranjit Daniels spoke on the dangers of introducing GM crops to India at a time when most of Europe has opposed them on its shelves, even blocking imports from the US.

- Papri Sri Raman

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