1. PAN AP summary of Bt cotton developments in Indonesia October 2001
Compiled by Sarah Hindmarsh (GE Campaign Programme Officer)
Reviewed by: KONPHALINDO (National Consortium For Nature and Forest Conservation In Indonesia) and Riza Tjahadi (PAN Indonesia)
The NGO Coalition for Biosafety and Food Safety (representing six NGOs and supported by another 72) lost its court case on September 27, 2001 against the Indonesian government and PT Monagro Kimia over the planting of Bt cotton in South Sulawesi. The coalition is taking the case to a higher court.
The government will extend the permit to PT Monagro Kimia to continue planting Bt cotton in South Sulawesi next year when the current permit expires. At the beginning of September the Agriculture Minister declared Bt cotton would be planted on a larger scale, and in two more provinces - East and Central Java.
The Bt cotton has succumbed to drought and pest infestations. Farmers have complained about the claims of superior agronomic advantage and performance of the GE cotton crop. On September 13 farmers burnt down their plantations destroying at least three hectares of Bt cotton.
PT Monagro Kimia, a Monsanto subsidiary, started variety trials in 1996 to find a cotton variety for cultivation in Indonesia, specifically in South Sulawesi. In 1998, as part of the regulatory process for the commercialisation of GE crops, glasshouse trials and limited field trials were conducted. In 1999, Bt cotton was approved by the Indonesian government and declared as environmentally safe to be planted in Indonesia.(1) However, PT Monagro Kimia had been distributing Bt cottonseeds since 1998. The company has been conducting field trials since 1998 (2). This is reportedly the first GMO 'field trial' in Indonesia. The amount of land planted to Bt cotton in 2000 was at least 500 hectares.
On February 7, 2001 the Ministry of Agriculture issued Decree No. 107/2001 allowing the limited release of the cottonseed variety Bt DP 5690B as quality seed under the trade name NuCOTN 35B (Bollgard) on plantations in seven regencies (districts) in South Sulawesi (Takalar, Gowa, Bantaeng, Bulukumba, Bone, Soppeng and Wajo).
In 2001 the total area planted to Bt cotton was approximately 4,400 hectares (involving approximately 6,500 farmers) (3).
The use of Bt cotton in South Sulawesi is also being promoted by local government officials. As reported by NGOs, the Bupati (regent or district head) of Bulukumba said he would "instruct" all his colleagues down to village heads on the benefits of Bt cotton for farmers.(4)
The NGO Coalition for Biosafety and Food Safety (representing six NGOs and supported by another 72)(5) took legal action against the degree. The coalition claims the degree was issued hastily, without consideration of the potential implications of using transgenic products; it violated Indonesia's environmental law (23/1997) because no environmental impact assessment was conducted; and the public's right to information and to be involved in decision-making was not upheld. In addition the decree allows for "limited" sales of the cotton yet no restriction on the cultivatable area was outlined. The coalition asserts the Ministry of Agriculture was merely seeking to legitimize past violations by PT Monagro Kimia.(6)
On September 27 the court case was lost by the NGO coalition. The government will extend the permit to PT Monagro Kimia to continue planting Bt cotton in South Sulawesi next year when the current permit expires(7). At the beginning of September the Agriculture Minister declared Bt cotton would be planted on a larger scale, and in two more provinces - East and Central Java (8).
The NGO coalition is taking the case to a higher court (the previous hearing was heard at the district court).
The Bt cotton has succumbed to drought and pest infestations(9). Many farmers have complained about the claims of superior agronomic advantage and performance of the GE cotton crop. Even the government revealed that more than 70 per cent of all the Bt crop locations didn't produce the promised expected yields(10).
On September 13 farmers in the village of Kajang in the Bulukumba regency, about 230 km south of Makassar burnt down their plantations in a show of discontent towards PT Monagro Kimia. At least three hectares were destroyed.(11)
The farmers also demanded an explanation from the South Sulawesi governor as to why he allowed South Sulawesi to become the testing ground for the controversial technology, which they claim turned out to be a failure(12).
In March 2001 a total of 40 tonnes of Bt cottonseed was brought into Indonesia from South Africa. Bt cottonseed has also been brought in from Australia(13).
On April 5 2001 UNISON, an international public sector trade union supported by 1.3 million members expressed their solidarity with the Indonesian Organic Farmers Network in their opposition to the importation of the Bt cottonseed(14).
On April 17, 2001 some 500 farmers and other anti-GE advocates from all over Indonesia rallied on the International Day of Farmer's Struggles Against GMOs, in front of Monsanto and the Ministry of Agriculture in Jakarta. Farmers called for the destruction of the Bt cotton field trial and other GE products in the country, no further releases of Bt cottonseeds by the government and the eviction of Monsanto from the country.
In South Africa a petition by SAFeAGE (South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering), signed by 110 local and international groups and individuals, says the trade in GMOs remains largely unregulated in the developing world - something that should have been addressed by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.(15)
For further information contact:
Secretariat for The NGO Coalition for Biosafety and Food Safety
Tel/ Fax: (62-21) 787 3169
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP)
Tel: (604) 657 0271/ 656 0381
Fax (604) 657 7445
Web site: http:www//poptel.org.uk/panap/
(1)Indonesia now into GM crop production, Philippine Star, August 5, 2001.
(2)Legal battle over biotech products kicks off, The Jakarta Post National News, June 22, 2001, http://www.thejakartapost.com.
(3)Buoyed Monsanto says cotton project to continue, The Jakarta Post National News, September 21, 2001, http://www.thejakartapost.com.
(4)Angry Farmer Burnt Bollgard Cotton: Monsanto' Sponsored Cultivated Area in South Sulawesi, YLKSS Press Release, September 2001.
(5)Some of the NGOs include the National Consortium for Nature and Forest Conservation (Konphalindo), the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Indonesia, the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI), the South Sulawesi Consumers Foundation (YLK Sulawesi Selatan) and the Indonesian Centre for Environmental Law (ICEL).
(6)Angry Farmer Burnt Bollgard Cotton: Monsanto' Sponsored Cultivated Area in South Sulawesi, YLKSS Press Release, September 2001.
(7)Indonesian Govt To Extend Permit For GMO Cotton Planting, Dow Jones Newswires, September 18, 2001.
(8)Buoyed Monsanto says cotton project to continue, The Jakarta Post National News, September 21, 2001, http://www.thejakartapost.com; Konphalindo Press Release, September 27, 2001; Pers com, Riza V. Tjahjadi, October 17, 2001.
(9)Pests attack genetically modified cotton, The Jakarta Post, June 29, 2001, http://www.thejakartapost.com/yesterdaydetail.asp?fileid=20010629.A06; Pros and cons of transgenic cotton continue in S. Sulawesi, The Jakarta Post Features, July 17, 2001; Transgenic cotton irks farmers, The Jakarta Post: National News, September 15, 2001, http://www.thejakartapost.com.
(10)Konphalindo Press Release, September 27, 2001.
(11)Transgenic cotton irks farmers, The Jakarta Post: National News, September 15, 2001, http://www.thejakartapost.com.
(14)Pers com. Riza V. Tjahjadi, April 11, 2001.
(15)GM seed export to East slammed, The Mail and Guardian, April 12, 2001.
2. No investigation yet on Bt cotton: Greenpeace
The Times of India; October 30, 2001
AHMEDABAD: The scandalous sale and cultivation of bt gene variety cotton in Gujarat has much more to it then mere clandestinely growing a seed variety still awaiting legal sanctions. Greenpeace International has expressed serious concern about the hundreds of acres of illegally planted Bt cotton in Gujarat. "Entire episode was ludicrous revealing the inability of the Indian regulatory system to control the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment," it stated. Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner Michelle Chawla feared that '...no proper environmental assessment of the situation was being undertaken'. It was claimed that no assessment, or even investigation of the environmental damage, was made by the team that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had sent. The team comprised the director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur and a scientist from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and only verified if the Bt cotton was sown. Quoting different studies, the environmental watchdog claimed that the third generation of the pest is the most problematic. In southern China farmers have been growing this variety. Now they have to spray pesticide to control third and fourth generation H. armigera, because of the drop in expression levels. The Bollgard varieties being proposed for India are not high-dose, and Indian data shows potential for resistance to develop in as little as 7-8 generations. Some voluntary organisations have made an appeal to the GEAC chairperson A M Gokhale to adopt transparent measures, involving environmental groups, farmers organisations and independent scientists to participate in the regulatory process. They also demanded that laboratory studies should also be conducted to ascertain after how many generations can the Helicoverpa produce high level of Bt tolerance and various reports regarding trials conducted till now should be made public. Greenpeace's scientific advisor Doreen Stabinsky who made a scientific presentation before the GEAC about bt gene cotton said "Data from the US, Australia, China and India confirm that the gene Cry1Ac is not uniformly effective against different populations of Helicoverma armigera, nor are there high-dose events for H. armigera, needed to kill 99 per cent of the population."
It is also feared that G. arboreum, an important relative of cultivated cotton in India, could be affected by gene flow, though the possibility was low. Greenpeace pointed out that some of the large scale Bt cotton field trials, specifically in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, were carried out much later than the sowing season. This was contrary to standard agricultural practice, and the Bt plants did not experience the normal pest load. This cotton variety Bt Bollgard cotton was planned to be introduced in India by Maharashtra based seeds giant Mahyco in collaboration with Monsanto for commercial production across up to potentially 8.5 million hectares.
Factfile on bt gene cotton
An insecticidal toxin gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring soil bacterium and used since early 1960s as a biological pesticide, is cloned and inserted into a crop plant. The plant then produces its own toxin in most, if not all, parts of the plant. The larva when it eats the plant, dies as its digestive system is severely affected. Cotton, corn, and potato engineered with such genes were grown commercially for the first time in 1996.
International seeds giant Monsanto's 'Bollgard' Bt-gene was introduced by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company) into the Indian cotton hybrids.
3. 'Maharashtra should tread cautiously on Bt cotton'
The Times of India, October 31, 2001
The recent discovery of the illegal cultivation of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton over 5,000 acres in Gujarat has set alarm bells ringing among environmental groups which have been waging a major battle against GM foods and foodgrains. Pune-based Kalpavriksh, Greenpeace and Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology have been warning against the introduction of the genetically engineered seeds in Indian agriculture. They oppose it on the grounds that the full impact of these seeds on human and animal health and the ecology are not fully known. The genetically modified Bt cotton developed by the agritech major Monsanto, derives its name from bacillus thuringiensis soil bacterium which protects the cotton crop from the highly destructive bollworm pest. An illegal variety of this crop was cultivated on 5,000 acres in Gujarat which the government has now decided to destroy. Speaking to The Times of India, prominent environmentalist and founder of Kalpavriksh, Ashish Kothari said that the development in Gujarat has a serious bearing on Maharashtra which is one of the major cotton producing states in the country. While agreeing with the decision of the environment ministry's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to destroy the illegal cotton crop to prevent any harmful effects on the ecology, he says the Maharashtra government must adopt a cautionary approach. "State governments, including the one in Maharashtra, need to ascertain whether Bt cotton or other genetically engineered crops are being illegally cultivated by farmers. We are playing with fire without knowing how to handle it," he said. "We still do not know what are the long-term effects of genetically engineered crops on the ecology and on the health of animals and humans. All we are saying is that India should decide on this technology only after understanding the full implications on the agricultural system," he said. The biodiversity expert rejected the pro-Bt cotton lobby's claim that no harmful effects of this technology had been noticed in the United States, China and some other countries where the technology had been introduced in a big way and has consequently hugely boosted the cotton yield.
"As against claims of phenomenal productivity, there are indications that productivity has plateaued, apart from other negative experiences of farmers," Mr Kothari claims.
He said that environmentalists were of the view that the government should give greater emphasis to organic cultivation which too would ensure greater productivity in the long run. He said that while Europe, Sri Lanka and Thailand had banned GM foods, the Organisation of African Unity had emphasised that the technology should be accepted only after thorough testing. Mr Kothari said that opposing biotechnology in agriculture was becoming increasingly difficult due to the liberalisation and globalisation policies and due to support from the United Nations Development Project.