thanks to Robert Vint (see reply to address) for this
SARI Project Mail SAMANVAYA Food Updates, May 2001
In This Issue:
- Feature: "Fire In The Cotton Fields" A first hand review of the Bt Cotton in Karnataka by Keya Acharya
- SHORT NEWS CLIPS
- GREENPEACE INDIA PETITION AGAINST GMOs
- EVENTS & ANNOUNCEMENTS
- SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION
"What we have built up slowly and surely will collapse with new GM seeds," said Laxmi Begari of the Deccan Society. The Guardian editorialized, "The John Innes Centre should think about holding its next meeting at theHQ of the Deccan Development Society, which would love to play host. The scientists might raise their eyebrows at what has been achieved there in 10 years of 'sustainable' farming. The DDS works with more than 80 of the world's poorest villages on some of the most degraded soils in India. In 10 years they have massively increased their yields and incomes using updated traditional methods."
This is how much biotech's poster children have been costing: "The Biotechnology Industry Association spent $7.5 million to tout the potential benefits of bio-engineered products, using bio-engineered rice as a leading example." Put that cost (just in the US) together with the huge development costs of a crop like 'golden rice', and all the time and political commitment put into backing it (from Clinton down). Then imagine that same financial clout and political will invested into actually solving problems like VAD with the low-cost means already to hand. And judge the obscenity of what is going on. Feeding or fooling the world?
"THE HOPE OF THE INDUSTRY IS THAT OVER TIME THE MARKET IS SO FLOODED [WITH GM] THAT THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, YOU JUST SORT OF SURRENDER." - Don Westfall, vice-president, Promar International
Fire In The Cotton Fields
By Keya Acharya from the CAAM News Bulletin - 15
Noted environmental journalist, Keya Acharya looks into the much-discussed Bt cotton field trials being undertaken in Karnataka. The curious contradiction between the government and Monsanto-Mahyco combine professing willingness to share information on the positive impacts of Bt technology on the one hand, and their perceptions of confidentiality on the other, has bedevilled the entire issue of Bt cotton in India. What is of significance is that there are very successful trials (12 quintals/ acre yield) of non Bt, indigenous hybrid varieties being conducted at UAS, that are less susceptible to pests because of their indigenous strength, she observes.
India is in the midst of a transgenic debate in academic circles, and in a consuming controversy about it in the field. And all this at a time when Indian agriculture is in crisis anyway with a glut of produce that has no marketing infrastructure to ensure a competent price to the small farmer. In academic and administrative circles, authorities speak with enthusiasm of the need to keep up with the latest in technology abroad, which they view is the new world of transgenics, or the transference of alien genes into food crops, supposedly for better yields and disease-resistance.
The most visible proponent of this belief is the State of Karnataka. Anxious to keep up with its progressive ‘IT image’, it would now like to link this field up with biotechnology, another area where it has pioneered. " We want to make Bangalore the Biotech destination of Asia", said Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman of Karnataka’s Biotechnology Task Force.
The State’s and indeed the country’s official enthusiasm over Bt cotton has to be viewed within this perspective of keeping up with the latest. In April 1998, the Indian seed company Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company) in collaboration with the multinational Monsanto (which owns 26% equity in Mahyco, bought at 24 times the paid-up value) was given permission to conduct small trials of Bt cotton (100g per trial) by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and its Department of Biotechnology (DBT) at 7 sites countrywide, including Karnataka. "We have a built-in level of mechanical checks to prevent import of unwanted materials", said DBT Secretary Manju Sharma in defence at the consequent uproar on Bt cotton, at a Transgenic Conference in December 1998, at UAS, Bangalore.
The matter went underground till July 2000 when DBT allowed Mahyco to conduct large-scale field trials, including seed-production at 40 sites in six States totalling 235 ha. Dr. Sharma says research findings of the previous small trials are "totally confidential data" submitted to the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the MoEF), but that they draw a ‘clear inference’ that Bt is safe.
This curious contradiction between the government and Monsanto-Mahyco combine professing willingness to share information on the positive impacts of Bt technology on the one hand, and their perceptions of confidentiality on the other, has bedevilled the entire issue of Bt cotton in India. According to the Karnataka Agriculture Commission (KAC) Report, the main findings of Mahyco’s research submission (which could relate to Dr. Sharma’s version of ‘built-in level of mechanical checks’) on its previous small trials, to RCGM (Review Committee on Genetic Pollution) on 12.2.2000 are:
* Incorporation of Bt gene holds promise in cotton crop by controlling bollworm and reducing insecticide needs that are environmentally unsafe
* Specific experiments indicate Bt hybrids are superior to non-Bt counterparts in terms of boll worm infestation
* Control of bollworm through Bt hybrids did not influence behaviour of the pest in adjacent non-Bt plots.
* Bt recorded higher yields
* Bt could be an important part of IPM(Integrated Pest Management) RCGM, on the strength of these findings, allowed Mahyco (letter of 4.5.2000) to approach the GEAC for further steps. Thereafter Mahyco approached GoK (govt. of Karnataka) for permission, (ref.no. TNS/MKJ/MMB/561/00). This letter was referred to the Karnataka Agriculture Commission on 7.8.2000 for examination and submitting of views.
The KAC convened concerned scientists from the two State Agricultural Universities (UAS) who said "The seminar dispelled the apprehension that all biotechnology is the same as ‘terminator technology’ (KAC Report 2000), and ‘okayed’ Bt cotton trials, stating that the state agricultural universities needed to be involved.
The status in the field shows that both the UASs in Dharwad and Bangalore have not been given permission to get involved in Mahyco’s field trials which are currently being conducted without independent assessment. As per Mahyco’s records, there are currently nine sites at farmers’ fields in Bellary, Davangere, Koppal, Raichur and Shimoga Districts. These sites belong to: Subba Reddy (Annapurneswari Camp, Odatti Post, Bellary), V. Hanumantha Rao (Bowring Camp, Siddamanahalli Post, Bellary), Tippe Rudra Gowda (Kammarchedu, Bellary), D. Ravindra Babu (Laxmi Nagar Camp, Soma Samudra Post, Bellary), K. Karibasappa (Kumaranahalli, Harihar, Davangere), Ningappa Angadi (Ojanahalli, Koppal), M. Gopal Reddy (Bagyanagar Camp, Sindhanur Raichur), Ramalinga Reddy (Ariginmara Camp, Ariginmara Post, Sindhanur,Raichur), Shivappa (Puradal Post, Shimoga) All the plots were sown between September 4 - 17, 2000, well past the planting season of June. Personal visits to these sites found these records somewhat inaccurate as a number of farmers had not opted for trials due to the delay in planting.
Two others whose names were not listed have Bt trials on their fields. Additionally, there are 14, and not nine sites, in total. All plots are of 10 ‘guntas’, or one-fourth of an acre, pieced into three segments, with Bt being sandwiched between two non-Bt plots of presumably the same varieties of seeds. There are no boards delineating seed variety, or genotype or any other details. The overall status of the plants in these trials is poor. Plants are stunted due to late sowing, show heavy infestation of whitefly and aphids while some plots have bollworm infestation. In all the Bt fields visited (including the two farmers whose names are not on Mahyco’s records), non-Bt plants in the trial-plots were of better quality. Bt germination in most plots is poorer than non-Bt.
Of equal significance is that hybrid cotton in all the four cotton districts of Karnataka, show an estimated average yield (10-15 quintals/acre) that is higher than what will currently be harvested from Bt plots ( estimated at 5-6 quintals/acre by experienced cotton-farmer Shivaramma Reddy of Bellary).
The reason for this could very well be due to delayed planting however. What stands out in this confusion though, is that hybrid plants were far healthier.
There is, in addition to Mahyco’s field trials, an independent trial being conducted at UAS, Dharwad, under an Indian Council of Agricultural Research World Bank project. Bt Seeds for the project were given by Mahyco and were of the following varieties:
MECH 12 Bt and Non-Bt
MECH 162 Bt and Non-Bt
MECH 184 Bt and Non-Bt
These trials too were sown late. They showed poor germination of Bt varieties, with the non-Bt ones being definitely healthier but the latter more susceptible to aphids.
Dr. BM Khadi, Senior Scientist in charge of the trials said he would not be able to get the correct picture from these trials because one whole pest-load, and a very crucial one in the month of August, had been missed out due to the delay in availability of seeds.
What is of significance is that there are very successful trials (12 quintals/ acre yield) of non Bt, indigenous hybrid varieties being conducted at UAS, that are less susceptible to pests because of their indigenous strength. (Karnataka’s cotton history has shown hybrids of foreign parentage given to tremendous bollworm infestation) The problem as Khadi agreed, is their unsuccessful dissemination to farmers in the field.
The ‘Extension’ wing of the government’s Agriculture Department in Karnataka, as in the rest of the country, is a failure.
Some of these varieties are DHH 11, DHB 105 and ‘Sahana’. The indigenous variety’ Arboreum herbaceum’ with built-in bollworm resistance needed no spraying at all and yielded 5-6 quintals/acre. The message then is clear: that hybrid varieties are capable of producing equal, if not better r esults than Bt.
Though farmers in the entire cotton belt are not averse to trying out the seed again in the next season many questions arise. Farmers say they will know its environmental impacts within 2-3 cropping seasons and change the seed if necessary, but the freedom of choice gets limited when Bt appears to be entering the State (and the country) through a private monopoly. With the current situation of exploitation, especially in Raichur in the cotton trade, and the small-farmer’s tendency to listen to seed/pesticide/fertiliser companies, Mahyco’s monopoly could well be a virtual reality that makes Chief Minister SM Krishna’a argument of the farmer’s personal choice as a ‘fundamental right’ seem unrealistic. Moreover, copious amounts of cotton, without a competent marketing infrastructure will not help the farmer. There will continue to be more suicides and dumped cotton.
And, finally, the current manner of conducting and the indifferent condition of the field trials raise immediate doubts on their efficacy for coming to any concrete conclusion of the impacts of Bt into both Karnataka, and India.
Under GEAC’s terms for granting of field trials, Mahyco had been asked to undertake the foll:
a) nutritional studies in buffaloes and cows to determine whether transgenic cotton seed as well as cotton-seed oil had any effect on animal health, milk-production and quality vis a vis the health of people;
b) insect-resistance studies on other plant-pests;
c) toxicity studies on other animal species such as poultry, fish etc. under Indian conditions;
d) to generate data on the stability of the CRY 1 Ac gene;
e) to undertake fresh studies on gene flow/pollen and the assessment of impact on such migration on non-transgenic cotton;
f) to get authentic report from an Indian lab that Bt seeds do not contain Terminator gene to reassure the public and NGOs;
g) to make available socio-economic data like costs of transgenic cotton, projected demand and the area to be covered under cultivation. GEAC also said it would "rigorously monitor" the field trials for the next one year (from announcement of trial permission in July 2000) and that the Monitoring cum Evaluation Committee (MEC) set up by DBT would continue to monitor large-scale field trials with the possible exception of f) which became public after the flurry of controversy surrounding BT cotton in India in late 1998, the status of other studies meant to be conducted are not known.
Neither the government nor Mahyco is transparent.
Personal visit to Bellary, Koppal, Raichur, Shimoga, Harihar, Dharwad and Davangere, studying cotton, and visiting the Mahyco-Bt cotton fields. January 2001.
Under assignment for Gemini News Service. Also on a research assignment for Greenpeace India on the status of cotton-trials in the field in Karnataka.
Personal talks with Farmers at all of these districts, with agricultural officers, with the Dir. of Agriculture at Shimoga, with representatives of Monsanto at these places, with pesticide representatives and with Monsanto’s R&D Head, Dr. Manjunath at IISc, Bangalore.
Also interview with Dr. TN Prakash of UAS (Agricultural Economics ) who is the only person on the KAC who had serious objections to the inadequate study of risk assessments at bringing Bt into Karnataka and commercialising it so soon.
Interview with Kiran Mazumdar Shaw , Chairman Biotechnology Task Force, Karnataka. She thinks that the earlier tests have already proved its safety and that biotechnology is one sector of science which is extremely careful of risks.
Source: CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE AGRICULTURAL MEDIA (CAAM)
1. Concerns arise about safety of GM foods
The Economic Times, India Wednesday Apr 18 2001
THE INDUSTRY may be very optimistic about biotech but there is a flip side, specially in agri-biotech. Genetically modified food, for instance, has triggered a wave of apprehension the world-over and consumers are increasingly wary of the composition of biotech food. In this context transparency is very essential as safety of food is of concern to the consumer, said Central Food Technological Research Institute director Prof V Prakash.
"The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act needs to be revisited in the biotech era," he said. Agri-biotech could also emerge as a big sector with increasing pressure to create more food using lesser resources. Today, the country is the second-largest food producer of food after China. Though genetically modified food have not yet hit the market, Prof Prakash believes that in less than five years a lot of GM food products will be available off the shelves.
And while ensuring safety of the product is the greatest challenge for the food industry, packaging is also likely to emerge as contentious issue.
"It will be imperative for food producers to label their products comprehensively," Prof Prakash said. The ground rules on labelling of biotech foods is that the consumer should be provided complete information about the products. "If the product contains anything that has allergens, that is substances that could potentially trigger an allergic reaction in the body, it must be mentioned clearly on the label," he added.
2. After Bt cotton... Monsanto to plant soyabean
Harish Damodaran, Hindu Business Line, NEW DELHI, May 1
AFTER obtaining approval for conducting large-scale field trials of its controversial Bt or `Bollgard' cotton, Monsanto is now seeking to introduce its equally high-profile `Roundup-resistant' transgenic soyabean into the country.
According to highly-placed sources in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the US-based life sciences major has already been granted permission to import certain lines of its genetically-engineered soyabean for testing under controlled laboratory-level conditions.
Monsanto had originally sought the approval of the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to import 23 lines. After an initial screening of the company's application, the RCGM gave an in-principle nod, subject to the lines receiving the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources' (NBPGR) quarantine clearance. The NBPGR is understood to have completed the quarantine tests and it has approved the import of a few of the 23 lines, while rejecting the case for the other lines that were found to harbour certain exotic pathogens.
``Monsanto has been allowed to import the lines for testing under controlled glasshouse/greenhouse environment'', the sources told Business Line.
3. Bush names Monsanto executive for senior EPA job
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
May 2, 2001
WASHINGTON - An executive with Monsanto Co , a leading developer of biotech foods, has been nominated for the second-ranking job at the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House said yesterday. Linda Fisher, who worked for the EPA for 10 years before heading Monsanto's Washington lobbying office, was nominated for the post of deputy administrator. Fisher also served on a U.S. Agriculture Department advisory committee on biotech foods.
4. "Researchers have announced "the first case of human germline genetic modification resulting in normal healthy children." Specifically, the researchers transplanted ooplasm from donor eggs into the eggs of women whose infertility was due to ooplasmic defects. One side effect of those transplants was the transfer of mitochondria, introducing new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) into the eggs. This news should gladden all who welcome new children into the world. And it should trouble those committed to transparent public conversation about the prospect of using "reprogenetic" technologies to shape future children." So began an editorial in the April 20 issue of Science magazine .
- Read an analytical report on this news at www.isis.org
STOP GMOs - GreenPeace India Campaign
The following letter is from Michelle Chawla, Greenpeace India anti GE-campaigner:
Global opposition to gentically modified crops and food increases and moves from Europe to Asia - Thaliand is the first Asian country to ban the release of gentically engineered crops into the environment, and halt ongoing field trials of Monsanto's GM cotton and corn.
India, however, continues to promote and push for GM crops like Bt cotton and Vitamin A Rice, that too in a most surreptitious manner. To put it mildly, the entire episode with Monsanto's Bt cotton, has been dubious. Controversies and illegalities surrounding the permissions as well as the field tests were exposed in 1998, bringing the field trials to a halt. Despite this and the fact that a Supreme Court court case challenging the field trials was ongoing, permission was once again granted to conduct large scale field trials in July 2000.
Visits to the second round of field trials (in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka) reveal that the tests are being conducted in an completely haphazard and undemocratic manner. Yet, results based on tests like these will be used to commercialise Bt Cotton.
No information about any of the field tests or laboratory results has been made public.
In an attempt to counter the looming danger of commercialisation, we have drafted a petition to be submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Please endorse this petition by stating your name or the name of your organisation and address. And return to this email address.
You could also issue a separate statement which we can add while submitting the petition to the MoEF.
Greenpeace, J-15 Saket, New Delhi -17
Tel. No - 011 6962932/6536716, Mobile (0) 9820182304
MEMORANDUM TO THE MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND FORESTS
KEEP OUR AGRICULTURE FREE FROM GENETIC MODIFICATION
We are writing as individuals and civil society organisations concerned about the entry of genetically modified crops into India and the danger they pose to the environment and to farmers.
We would like to point out that there is growing evidence that genetically engineered crops pose serious dangers to ecosystems, with the potential to threaten biodiversity, wildlife and truly sustainable forms of agriculture.
On grounds of environment and health safety concerns, there has been opposition and rejection of genetically modified crops and food worldwide.
The European Union has imposed a de facto moratorium on the commercial release of any genetically engineered crop. Recently, Thailand took the lead to protect its environment, biodiversity and farmers from genetic pollution and banned the release of any genetically engineered crops into the environment. The decision has also halted approvals of ongoing field trials of genetically altered cotton and corn. With this, Thailand becomes the first Asian nation to ban genetically modified crops.
Meanwhile, India continues to uphold the belief that gene- modified seeds will be beneficial and has even permitted large scale field testing and seed production of Bt cotton in July 2000, on the basis of ‘confidential’ results of the first round of illegal field tests conducted in 1998. No information regarding the second round of field trials has been made public but evidence reveals that field tests are being conducted unscientifically and haphazardly.
[The same variety of gene-altered cotton has been rejected by the European Union on grounds of environmental and health safety]
We are extremely anxious that commercial approval for Bt cotton will be hastily granted without sufficient information or foresight and believe that such a move would not only lead to destruction of agricultural biodiversity but cause devastation to our small farmer based agrarian economy.
Additionally, there has been no public debate to discuss the concerns of Indian farmers with regard to transgenic species, nor has there been an attempt within the Government to understand the far-reaching implications of introducing genetically modified varieties of seeds into the country. Given the existing body of evidence and India's commitment to implementing the precautionary principle, we urge the Ministry to follow Thailand’s example and reject the approval of any Genetically Modified crops.
* The findings of the 1998 field trials, and laboratory experiments conducted by Monsanto-Mahyco, which formed the basis of the July 2000 permission to conduct large scale field tests be made public.
* Information pertaining to the second round of field tests location, number of sites, institutions responsible for supervision be made public.
* The Government of India take a stance to ban the introduction of GM crops and products and initiate a sincere public debate aimed at better appreciating the threats of genetically engineered crops.
Copies to the:
1. Department of Biotechnology
2. Ministry of Health
Web sites you may be interested in:
SAMANVAYA Food Updates can be found in
1. New Website Announcement: The official website of Dr. Vandana Shiva - information on the actvities of RFSTE, Navadanya and Diverse Women for Diversity at www.vshiva.net
2. CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE AGRICULTURAL MEDIA (CAAM) - a web resource for the Indian farmers written by farmers at www.farmedia.org
EVENTS & ANNOUNCEMENTS:
2."Anna Panchayat" - A Public Hearing on Hunger, Food Rights & Food Security, May 30th & 31st 2001, Auditorium, Rajendra Prasad Bhavan, New Delhi Millions of Indians are going hungry while tonnes of food grains are rotting in godowns. How has the food security of a nation of one billion been dismantled so fast and so efficiently? As a result of World Trade Organisation rules and economic reform policies, the food security system of the country is being rapidly undermined - at the level of production and distribution, the most recent expression of which is the budget of 2001-02.
If we have to defend our food rights we need to stop violations of peoples food rights. Together we must shape our food distribution systems, defend our food sovereignty and food security. The Anna Panchayat is one such endeavour to search for alternatives. At the hearing the issues to be discussed will include:
Crisis of Procurement and Public Distribution
Collapse of Farm Prices and Rising Food Prices
The implications of the removal of Quantitative Restrictions
The implications of 2001-2002 budget and EXIM Policy
The Government of India's position in the Review of the W.T.O. Agreement on Agriculture Proposals for decentralised food distribution systems and the role and potential of State Governments
Strategies for building Food Democracy and Food Sovereignty
JOIN THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST HUNGER, Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Ecology
A-60 Hauz Khas, New Delhi - 110 016
SAMANVAYA - IndiaTogether Special Report on Golden Rice - A gift we can live without SAMANVAYA has partnered with the web portal Indiatogether.org to come out a comprehensive set of materials analysing the Vitamin A deficiency scene in India and the introduction of Golden Rice as a solution to overcome this problem. These are available in parts at http://www.indiatogether.org/reports/goldenrice.htm
The entire set of these materials are available in the printed form with SAMANVAYA, please write to us if you are interested.
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