At the meeting today, referred to in the article below, we understand pro-GM scientists claimed that all the necessary testing has taken place including India Council of Agricultural Research's specified research. Yet the research that the India Council of Agricultural Research has called for would take at least three years and the ICAR only put forward its research specification last year! In other words, approval of Monsanto-Mahyco's (GM) Bt cotton is being pushed forward on a fraudulent basis.
As the article says,"The GM issue now seems ripe for controversy, something the environment ministry officials had hoped to avoid."
Please help make sure they cannot avoid it by petitioning the Indian government in support of Indian farmers' groups and other Indian NGOs.
PETITION THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT - ACT NOW TO STOP MONSANTO!
*latest contact details & example message at the end of this mail*
GM food sprouts new controversy
By Chandrika Mago
The Times of India
18 June 2001
NEW DELHI: The Union environment ministry is in a dilemma. Environmentalists are fuming at what they see as a deliberate government strategy to push through the commercialisation of transgenic cotton without any debate, while the Union agriculture minister has just asked the environment minister to examine issues related not just to genetically-modified (GM) crops but also products.
The GM issue now seems ripe for controversy, something the environment ministry officials had hoped to avoid. Meetings on these issues are scheduled on Monday and Tuesday.
The ministry came into the picture in 1989, when rules, framed under the Environment (Protection) Act, stipulated that the ministry's genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) would have to clear, among other things, all proposals relating to the release of genetically-engineered organisms and products into the environment, including experiment field trials, foodstuff, even ingredients and additives. These rules have never really been tested so far.
Controversy broke out in mid-2000, when the ministry hesitantly made public its decision to permit large- scale field trials of transgenic cotton by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco).
The second complicating issue is a May missive from agriculture minister Nitish Kumar to the environment and health ministers, asking that GEAC extend its worldview to GM products, that it should issue permits, if it gives the clearance, on the basis of biosafety and also that the health ministry provide for the mandatory labelling of GM products.
Kumar may not say so but it seems the apprehensions on GM food and crops and the need, therefore, for risk assessments are being viewed as possible strategies to control imports in the new WTO regime.
What adds fuel to the fire is Greenpeace's claim that some imported food products contain GM ingredients - none of the mandatory permissions have, however, been sought from the GEAC, which has on it experts from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Environment ministry officials wondering whether they have the capability, or the infrastructure, to decide issues of human and food safety, or even those related to environment risk assessment? However, environmentalists are fuming at a more immediate agenda - Mahyco's Bt cotton application. The ministry has called Greenpeace, Mahyco and some farmers for a ``public dialogue'' on Monday. Activists fear it may be just a ``hoax'' to give the clearance on Tuesday. They see a conspiracy in that a biosafety approval meeting is supposedly scheduled for Monday, just ahead of Tuesday's meeting. This could not be confirmed with the health ministry.
Officials are not quite sure what to do if Mahyco does meet the test requirements - and if other departments have approved its application. Where does the role of the environment ministry end, and that of the agriculture ministry begin? Could the Seeds Act be made to apply? These, and other tangled issues, will need careful sorting.
Transgenic cotton has been commercialised in countries like the US, China and Argentina. Field trials on more than 60 transgenic crops have been conducted in 45 countries; the total area worldwide under transgenics in 1999 was 40 million hectare.
CONTACT DETAILS FOR INDIAN GOVERNMENT
Please fax (or email if you have no fax) these people today (see EXAMPLEmessage below)
Your (or your organisation's) own personal message is obviously best but if short of time see example below:
We understand from NGOs in India that there is tremendous pressure on Indian bureaucrats and scientists to approve Mahyco-Monsanto's Bt transgenic cotton for commercialisation.
Many farming and welfare organisations in India have grave concerns about the social and economic impact of genetically modified cotton on the poor. These crops will not benefit small farmers and landless workers but only destroy their jobs and increase the gap between rich and poor. Many also have concerns about the impact of this crop on their environment and on the health of animals eating seed products from these crops.
We agree with the calls from Indian farmers' unions and other NGOs for full public debate, free exchange of information, proper safety research and careful assessment of the socio-economic impact of these crops before any approval is considered. We understand that the India Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has already demanded that such precautions are taken. We support the ICAR's requirements for proper research prior to commercialisation.
The approval should not be rushed through without time to consult farmers or properly assess the potentially disastrous environmental, socio-economic and health impact for India.
We understand an official press release by the Press Information Bureau last year had listed ICAR's concerns and quoted the Ministry oficials as saying that these would be studied. To ignore ICAR's environmental and social concerns would surely constitute a cruel FRAUD on the Indian people.
We understand Agriculture Minister Nitish Kumar said recently that all aspects of the issue would be carefully examined prior to any question of GM cotton cultivation. The important socio-economic, environmental safety and health considerations must not be pushed to one side in the rush to commercialisation.
In a presentation to the GEAC last year, the India Council of Agriculture Research suggested further detailed studies were required, to include:
* nutritional studies on buffaloes and cows
* studies on the development of resistance of other plant pests
* toxicity studies on other animal species like poultry and fish under Indian conditions
* studies on the stability of Cry 1Ac gene;
* studies on gene flow and pollen dispersal and an assessment of the impact of such a migration on non-transgenic cotton
* a report from Indian laboratories to determine Bt seeds do not contain the controversial terminator gene
* a study to generate socio-economic data like the cost of transgenic cottonseed, projected demand, and the area to be covered under transgenic cotton cultivation.
India is a country with a respected reputation for democracy. We encourage you to stand up to bullying by biotechnology corporations, the United States and the World Trade Organisation and to defend the interests of millions of poor farmers and the health of your citizens and your environment. We ask you to listen to these people, to consult widely and to carefully evaluate these crops instead of being forced into a rushed decision that could harm your nation.
Please act cautiously and wisely and do not approve Mahyco-Monsanto's GM cotton without proper evaluation and debate.