Science Minister used GM lobby data
1.Science Minister used GM lobby data to push Bt brinjal
2.Activists voice concerns over Biotech Regulatory Authority Bill
3.Criminal proceedings call for researchers who ignored Biodiversity Act
NOTE: 3 important articles on the battle raging in India over GM crops.
EXTRACT: Another controversial aspect of the Bill, opposed by anti-GM groups, pertains to clinical trials of GMOs and is therefore related to providing the public with "false" or misleading information.
Chapter XIIII of the Bill states that "whoever, himself or by any other person on his behalf, conducts clinical trials with organisms or products”¦shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to ten years and with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees or with both." (item 2)
1.Prithvi used GM lobby data to push Bt brinjal
Dinesh C. Sharma
India Today, February 18 2010
New Delhi - The pro-Bt brinjal view in the ministry of science and technology seems to be on shaky ethical ground.
Investigations reveal that the department's minister Prithviraj Chavan - a vocal supporter of genetically engineered crops - copied and quoted in an official letter material from reports published by a lobbying outfit funded by seed companies including Monsanto and Mahyco.
Monsanto and Mahyco are respectively the patent holders and the Indian distribution rights holders of Bt brinjal.
Chavan lifted paragraph after paragraph in a letter (a copy of which is in Mail Today's possession) that he wrote to his former colleague Dr Anbumani Ramadoss in July 2009, to defend Bt brinjal. Ramadoss had written to the prime minister in February 2009, in his capacity as health minister, raising health concerns about the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops in India. Curiously, Chavan - on behalf of the prime minister - replied in July 2009 when Ramadoss was no more a member of the Union Cabinet.
The four-page letter is accompanied an annexure containing eight pages.
Both the letter and the annexure draw liberally from two 'reports' prepared by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a US-based charity whose aim is to "facilitate transfer and sharing of crop biotechnology applications" in developing countries. The outfit has an active office in New Delhi.
Among the major donors of ISAAA - as listed on its website - are Barwale Foundation (earlier known as Mahyco Research Foundation), Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, Bejo Sheetal Seeds (India), J. K. Organisation, CropLife International, Raasi Seeds Limited, Vibha Agrotech, Cornell University, US Department of Agriculture and USAID. The bulk of Chavan's letter has been lifted verbatim from a report called 'The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India' authored by Bhagirath Choudhary and Kadambini Gaur.
Ironically, amongst the reviewers of this 102-page report is Dr Ananda Kumar, a member of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee - the regulatory body that cleared Bt brinjal in October 2009.
The second paragraph in the letter has been lifted fully - including a reference - from the first report on Bt brinjal.
The key argument advanced in this para is how development of GM crops with traits like "tolerance to drought and salinity, improved nitrogen use efficiency, enhanced yield, quality and nutritional properties", coupled with existing traits, would be "real value addition for India". It also says these crops will help India the challenges of "hunger, poverty, malnutrition and food security in tomorrow's world". This para appears on page 27 of the ISAAA report.
The second page of Chavan's letter talks about how the introduction of Bt cotton has helped Indian farmers.
Material on this page has been copied from page 37 of the ISAAA report in three chunks. One of them reads "Bt technology has a long history of safety, proven efficacy and benefits. Bt brinjal promises to be of great value to Indian farmers." Chavan had reached this conclusion several months ahead of the GEAC's regulatory approval for the commercial release of Bt brinjal - which came only in October 2009.
Chavan has given some new arguments in favour of GM crops. He seems to believe that "biotech crops are environmentally friendly and have contributed significantly to reducing emission of greenhouse gases from agricultural practice". Needless to say, this is what the biotech industry has argued in the ISAAA reports used by Chavan to draft his reply to Ramadoss.
The eight-page annexure to Chavan's letter has been taken entirely from a report called 'Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008', which is also published by ISAAA. The annexure is actually a photocopy of pages 76 to 83 of this report. Chavan's letter says on Page 3 that "biotech crops have also reduced pesticide spraying considerably (publications are attached in Annexure-1)". The "publications" referred to here are nothing but quotations from the president, the prime minister, the finance minister and the agriculture minister (all supporting biotech crops) as well as testimonials of farmers using Bt cotton.
Despite the adoption of Bt cotton by five million farmers, the annexure says, "Anti-biotech groups continue to vigorously campaign against biotech in India, using all means to try and discredit the technology, including filing public interest writ petitions in the Supreme Court contesting the biosafety of biotech products." The farmers' testimonials, annexed to his letter by Chavan, almost read like a commercial for Monsanto, because every farmer quoted there is singing praises for Bollgard-I and Bollgard-II cotton hybrid technologies owned by the American firm. By attaching these testimonials with his letter, Chavan has virtually endorsed claims made about Monsanto's products.
These commercial claims now form a part of official documents in the PMO as Chavan's letter was a piece of communication that is known as DO (demi official) letter in official jargon.
A group of scientists and civil society activists had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the first week of February objecting to the language used in Chavan's letter - as reported in this newspaper on February 11. Despite repeated attempts, Chavan did not respond to queries on Wednesday.
2.Activists voice concerns over Biotech Regulatory Authority Bill
Mahim Pratap Singh
The Hindu, 18 Feb 2010
After vocal protests over the commercial introduction of BT-Brinjal in the country over the last few months, activists fighting against Genetically Modified foods in Madhya Pradesh have now called the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill an effort to stifle anti-GM voices in the country.
The bill, which is likely to be approved by the cabinet next month and tabled for passage in the budget session, will bring about wide ranging changes in the process of regulating the research, transport, import, manufacture and use of GM products in the country.
According to activists, the bill serves to override State-specific concerns by making the proposed authority solely responsible for releasing and controlling GMOs throughout the country and envisages only an advisory role for States.
According to Section 81 of the Bill, the Act will have an over-riding effect (over other State-level acts). Activists allege that this ignores the constitutional powers that State governments have over their Agriculture & Health.
“The State agriculture Minister Dr. Ramakrishna Kusumariya has assured us that the State will speak up against the bill,” said Nilesh Desai of Sampark, an organisation devoted to the promotion of organic agriculture in the State.
Further, the groups have questioned the notion that GMOs are a panacea for India’s hunger problem.
"When one talks of tackling the problem of hunger and the right to food, the concerns of safety should be automatically included in that debate,” said Sachin Jain, State advisor for the Supreme Court Commissioners for Madhya Pradesh.
"Besides, hunger issues pertain not just to the distribution of food but also the control of the community over it. This bill has no provision for public participation, which is a violation of article 23.2 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which India is a signatory," he said.
The protestors, including several anti-GM groups in Madhya Pradesh led by Sampark, have objected to one particular aspect of the bill which states "whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products”¦shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both".
"The Bill seems to have draconian clauses to stifle anti-GM voices in the country and is designed to be a Clearing House for GMO applications rather than to protect the health and environment of people in the country," Dr P.M. Bhargava, Founder-Director of the Hyderabad based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and a vocal critic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) told The Hindu over phone.
Another controversial aspect of the Bill, opposed by anti-GM groups, pertains to clinical trials of GMOs and is therefore related to providing the public with "false" or misleading information.
Chapter XIIII of the Bill states that "whoever, himself or by any other person on his behalf, conducts clinical trials with organisms or products”¦shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to ten years and with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees or with both".
"This is meant to harass civil society groups and scientists who are voicing their concern on this technology," said Dr. Bhargava. "There is no penalty if someone promotes GMOs without safety tests, but there is a penalty if someone wishes to inform the public about the hazards of GMOs. Besides, who is to decide on 'misleading' and on what basis?" he asked.
Activists also argue that in its present form, the Bill pre-supposes a clearing house/facilitator/approver role to applications pertaining to GMOs and have called for a National Biosafety Authority under either the Ministry of Environment and Forests or the Ministry of Health.
According to Kavitha Kuruganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (Hyderabad), "the proposed autonomous regulatory authority should NOT be housed under the Ministry of Science & Technology or more specifically within the Department of Biotechnology, which is the promoter of GMOs in India. This will be a major conflict of interest in itself".
3.UAS faces flak over Bt brinjal
Express News Service, 18 Feb 2010
The environmentalists of the state and scientists of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, are at loggerheads once again. This time, the environmentalists are demanding criminal proceedings against the UAS scientists for ignoring the Biodiversity Act when they were researching Bt brinjal.
In a letter to all members of the biodiversity board and the environment ministry, including Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, the environmentalists have accused UAS, Dharwad and its developing partners Mahyco and Sathguru (a front company of US Agency for International Development”” USAID) of blatantly violating the Biodiversity Act, while Bt brinjal was being developed by them for commercial and environmental release.
An MoU was signed on April 2, 2005 between UAS and its partners for research on Bt brinjal.
They have also referred to the February 9 letter of PM Salimath, principal scientist of the department of biotechnology, UAS, where he has clearly stated that the provisions of the Biodiversity Act do not at all apply to the research and commercial release of Bt brinjal.
Leo F Saldanha of Environment Support Group (ESG) said, "We find his claim to be fundamentally false and a tactic employed to divert attention." He said the Biodiversity Act, enacted in 2002, explicitly prohibits foreigners, NRIs or foreign bodies from research involving access to biological resources of India without the prior approval of National Biodiversity Authority.
He said it was mandatory under Section 18 of the Act for the contracting parties to have approached the NBA for necessary approvals.
Activist Bhargavi S Rao said that while reviewing documents, they had found many instances of access to biological resources of India by many public and private sector bodies, which had blatantly violated the Act. "It is of great concern that these activities also involve research towards commercial release of genetically modified organisms." Saldanha said they were also asking the authorities to investigate if Mahyco had conformed with the Biological Diversity Act while releasing Bt Cotton in the market.