Statement with multiple signatories from farmer organisations in India offended by Indian farmers being falsely accused of piracy by the BBC's Pallab Ghosh.

* Indian farmers are not pirates Monsanto is a polluter
*Suspect reporting from BBC's Pallab Ghosh
*India's GM Seed Piracy - Pallab Ghosh
Indian farmers are not pirates Monsanto is a polluter

We are appalled and outraged at the news item "India's GM Seed Piracy" by Pallab Ghosh, in BBC News (enclosed) on June 17, which suggests that seed sold by an Indian company Navbharat Seeds, is "pirated" from Monsanto by farmers of Gujarat. This rumor about piracy is initiated by Monsanto whose Bt. cotton has totally failed throughout the length and breath of the country and to divert attention of the public and policy makers from the failure of its genetically engineered Bt. cotton seeds, Monsanto is trying to focus on the outstanding success as unjust and illegal of an indigenously bred cotton variety.

Monsanto started its field trials in India illegally in 1998 for which the company has been taken to court by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) for violating Indian Environmental Protection Act and the Rules. In 1999 an indigenous seed company, Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd. of Gujarat had already brought a bollworm resistant variety "Navbharat-151" to the market, long before Monsanto's Bt. cotton seed was commercially available to farmers in 2002. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Government of India has recognised that Navbharat-151 was already in the market in 1999, while Monsanto's Bt. cotton varieties were still at illegal trial stage.

Pallab Ghosh's claim that the farmers of Gujarat are producing pirated seed by cross-fertilizing of Monsanto's Bollgard plant with local cotton is therefore totally false. To label seeds sold in Gujarat as "illegal" and "pirated" is part of Monsanto's unethical PR campaign to control India's seed supply. Since Navbharat-151 is a good seed produced conventionally and not through genetic engineering, to refer to it as illegal is also wrong because as a conventional variety, it has gone through all the regulation, and since it is not genetically engineered, it does not need the clearance of the regulating agency, GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) of the Government of India.

In 2001, Monsanto claimed to have found Bt. gene in some fields of Navbharat-151 seeds. Since Navbharat-151 seeds have been produced much before the commercialization of Monsanto's Bt. cotton, the only way through which Bt. gene could have got into Navbharat-151 is through cross-pollination and genetic pollution unless of course Monsanto itself illegally provided Bt. cotton to Navbharat Seeds before 1999.

Navbharat-151 seed is popular in Gujarat because it has done well in the face of drought and bollworm attacks while Monsanto's Bt. cotton "Bollgard" has failed in all states where it has been commercialized. Clearly Navbharat-151 is not identical to the Bt. cotton of Monsanto. No farmer in Gujarat is running after Monsanto's Bt. cotton but are rather running after Navbharat-151. Only the media falsely equates these two entirely different varieties. The real issue is about how Bt. gene got into an indigenously bred variety. If they entered unintentionally, as claimed by Navbharat Seeds Company, it is a clear case of genetic pollution for which Monsanto should be held liable.

The case of Gujarat is therefore not a case of piracy by Gujarati farmers but of bio-pollution and genetic pollution by Monsanto. For this Monsanto has to pay compensation to Indian farmers.

There is no question of "legalizing seed piracy" as reported by Pallab Ghosh quoting Lalshankar Upadhyay who is an unknown entity and not known to the Gujarati farmers.

Both the rumors about piracy and the pseudo demand to legalize the falsely claimed piracy are basically results of Monsanto's propaganda and public relations as a strategy to claim royalty from Gujarat farmers as they are trying in the case of Brazilian farmers after spreading the rumor about illegal planting of GM Soya and then putting pressure on Brazilian government to recognise it as legal.

Monsanto's track record on criminalizing farmers has already been established in the case of Percy Schmeiser whose canola [OSR] field was polluted by the Monsanto's GM canola and Monsanto then claimed $200,000 Canadian dollars as a fine for its "theft" of intellectual property rights. Percy case is being reviewed in the Supreme Court of Canada. He is one among 1500 North American farmers sued or threatened in similar ways by Monsanto.

To understand what is happening in Gujarat and how legally produced, legally sold and legally utilized indigenous seed variety 'Navbharat-151' by Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd., is being projected by Monsanto as illegal and a product of seed piracy, one needs to look at what is happening in Brazil and what happened in Canada with Percy in the context of seed monopolies and extorting royalties from farmers.

We as farmer organisations of India object to Indian farmers being falsely accused of piracy.

Since 1991 the Indian farmers movement has been fighting for seed sovereignty and farmers rights and we will not allow corporations like Monsanto to pollute our seeds, pollute our reputation and criminalise us.

Dated: 20th June 2003

Sign by:

§ Mr. Kunwarji Bhai Jadav, All India President, Bhartiya Kissan Sangh (Leader of Gujarat Farmers)
§ Mr. K.C. Basvaraju, Vice-President, Karnataka State Farmers Association (KRRS)
§ Dr. Vandana Shiva, President, Navdanya (a movement of organic farmers)
§ Mr. Atul Kumar Anjan, General Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha (4, Windsor Place)
§ Mr. Krishan Bir Chaudhury, Executive Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj
§ Mr. N. K. Shukla, Joint Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha (4 Ashok Road)
§ Mr. Bir Singh Mehto, Member of Parliament and General Secretary, Agragami Kisan Sabha
§ Mr. Rohtas Rathee, Coordinator, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Haryana)
§ Mr. Babu Singh Arya, President, Dehat Morch
§ Mr. Ch. Rishipal Ambavat, National President, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ambavat)
§ Dr. Sunilam, Member of M.P. Assembly and President, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti

Forwarded by:     
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE)
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Suspect reporting from BBC's Pallab Ghosh

"The farmers here like genetic modification." That was the opening sentence of a BBC report this week about GM cotton from its science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, in the Indian state of Gujarat.  Nowhere in the report did Ghosh mention that the performance of Monsanto's GM cotton in Gujarat had been so disappointing that a six-member panel set up by the state government concluded 'it is unfit for cultivation and should be banned in the State'.

Just a week earlier Pallab Ghosh waxed lyrical about the GM "protato". His report for the BBC claimed it was "expected to be approved in India within six months".  But the Indian press has directly contradicted Ghosh's report report: " request has so far been received from developers for field trials or commercialisation of GM potato and... it cannot be approved in the current year."

In fact, the key claim in Ghosh's report - about the protato's ability to counter malnutrition - had already been exposed as fraudulent in the Indian press 3 months ago, in March. (GM Potato Cannot Solve Malnutrition Problems : Experts

So why did the BBC not check out any of the claims that formed the basis of a story run as headline news in the UK, and which was picked up around the world? 

The answer would seem to lie with Pallab Ghosh, whose story hung purely upon the discredited claims of the Indian bureaucrat Manju Sharma and claims about the potential of GM crops by the chief executive of Dupont in India, Dr Balvinder Singh Khalsi.

This is not the first time that Ghosh has launched a story of value to the GM lobby which fell seriously below the normal standards of BBC journalism.  It was Ghosh who was behind the BBC reports that the British Medical Association was reviewing its position on GM.  Ghosh's claims again hit the headlines but the BMA issued a press release the same day which clearly showed the story had not even been checked with them.  The BMA labelled parts of Ghosh's report "wrong" and "totally incorrect".

Stories where the central facts appear to have been subjected to so little critical scrutiny might seem surprising from someone who is the current Chairman of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), a group of 800 science journalists and communication specialists in the UK. In that role Ghosh has commented critically, in evidence given before the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, on the standard of reporting to be found even in science journals.

Ghosh has also reported critically on Dr Arpad Pusztai's work but Pusztai has said of Ghosh's coverage: "[he] came up to Aberdeen after the RS [Royal Society] and the Science and Technology Committee's sitting [in 1999] and he was all smiles and extremely accommodating but when the interview went out on the BBC he twisted everything out of context.  So much so that I decided not to have anything more to do with the BBC."

One interesting point about Ghosh's role at the ABSW is that it brings him into close contact with the ASBW's President, Dame Bridget Ogilvie. Dame Bridget is on the advisory board of the highly controversial pro-GM lobby group Sense about Science.

Dame Bridget was also a co-signatory to a letter attacking the BMA's position on GM crops authored by the equally controversial GM supporter, Sir Peter Lachmann FRS, who has been accused by the editor of the Lancet of trying to intimidate him out of publishing Pusztai's research.

Both Sense about Science and Lachmann featured in Ghosh's BMA report. This over-cosy relationship with the science establishment and its lobbyists, together with a taste for GM fairytales, amongst certain UK science correspondents - notably, Ghosh at the BBC, Henderson at The Times, Connor at The Independent and Coghlin at New Scientist, and others - risk damaging the reputation of the whole profession.
India's GM Seed Piracy
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News,
June 17, 2003

The farmers here like genetic modification (GM). In fact, they like it so much they are illegally cross-breeding Monsanto's insect-resistant cotton with local plants to create their own GM varieties. A BBC investigation has confirmed widespread use of pirate seeds.

Our Delhi correspondent, Geeta Pandey, and I went to the town of Mansa, which is the centre of the trade, to see if we could track down some of the illegal material. The market town is in the agricultural heart of Gujarat; it is in the wild west of India with its own set of rules and its own set of values. Last year, Gujarat was one of first Indian states to grow Monsanto's novel cotton crop.

Local requirements. The plant contains genetic material taken from a bacterium. The modification makes the cotton plant's tissues lethal to insect pests, including the economically damaging bollworm. But farmers here claim to have been using their own illegal versions of this so-called BT Bollgard for several years. And it is thought that a half of all the GM seed now sold in the state is pirated.

As we walked along the bustling high street, we came across a stall belting out the latest indie hits - no doubt the usual pirate copies. This is very much the chaotic Indian way: pirate tapes, pirate designer clothes and now pirate GM seeds.

We continued on until we came to one of the many seed shops in Mansa. Geeta applied her charm and persuaded the manager to bring out some of the pirated seed, supposedly "bought from a nearby stall". The seed is made from cross-fertilising the Bollgard plant with local cotton varieties more suited to the unique Gujarat climate - or so it is claimed.

Old ways, new ways. The pirate seed was half the price of the Monsanto product - and as the shop owner became less coy, he explained how last year the illegal varieties had done better than the US agro-giant's original version. He said he had begun planting illegal seed himself and took us off to see his two-hectare (five acres) farm.

As we walked along the fields, one of the manager's friends told us there were now several illegal varieties containing the bacterium gene. The fields around us had become an unregulated, open-air laboratory for genetic engineering. Eventually, we arrived at the manager's small plot. The seed had just begun to sprout and to be frank it looked less healthy than the official Monsanto crop planted in a neighbouring field. But as he emphasised to us, his seed was cheaper and he was a poor farmer.

The leader of the Gujarat farmers, Lalshankar Upadhyay, is pressing the state government to legalise seed piracy. As far as he is concerned, farmers have been creating their own varieties to suit their needs for centuries. It is just that now they are doing it with GM. We asked him if he could take us to the man who is alleged to have started seed piracy in India - DB Desay. He has become known as the "Robin Hood of GM".

Unforeseen consequences. We followed Mr. Upadhyay's car as it hurtled along at 100 kilometres per hour to an unknown location. We met Mr. Desay, who said he was not able to give an interview for legal reasons - but he did serve us a very pleasant cup of tea.

I asked him if he liked being called a Robin Hood. "I don't know," he said. "All these legal problems I have..." I interjected: "But you are popular." He replied: "No one can doubt that." And he laughed.

The trade in illegal seed has become a major issue of concern for Monsanto. The company's director of communication here, Ranjana Smetcheck, said it feared unregulated GM planting could lead to crop failures. Monsanto's Indian partner has now lodged an official complaint with the Gujarat government, asking it to clamp down on seed piracy.