ARE REGULATORS FOR REGULATING OR FOR POPULARISING GM CROPS?
Press Release, May 1 2007
Hyderabad/Bathinda, May 1, 2007: Reacting to media reports on several GM regulators in the country themselves claiming huge benefits from GM crops, that too in the name of "trainings on biosafety", Kheti Virasat Mission and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture questioned the role of regulators of GE crops in the country. Are they meant to take objective, scientific and pro-people assessment of the impacts of GE or are they meant to popularize GM crops as though the verdict is already out, the civil society organisations asked. The two groups which are part of the Coalition for GM-Free India also questioned the role of World Bank in such 'biosafety capacity-building' projects, one of which is being implemented by the Ministry of Environment & Forests through the Global Environment Facility.
"It is not clear on what basis are such claims of benefits being made such as pesticide reduction or farmers shifting away from water-guzzling crops like rice (linked to Bt Cotton adoption!) when we know very well that monitoring of GMOs right from field trials stage is almost completely absent/unscientific in this country", said Ms Kavitha Kuruganti, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, based in Hyderabad. She said that given the absence of monitoring (absence of political will as well as capabilities) it had fallen upon civil society groups to take up careful monitoring of the GM experience so far in the country.
"Hundreds of farmers are reporting health problems like skin allergies but the government chooses not to assess such impacts and therefore will always claim that there is no authentic report. A report from Madhya Pradesh by a team of doctors has been submitted to GEAC on this issue - as a member of GEAC how can Dr Ananda Kumar claim that there is no such report from any part of the cotton belt? They said the same thing with impacts on livestock after open grazing on Bt Cotton fields today, the animal husbandry department of Andhra Pradesh state government itself is advising farmers not to graze their animals on Bt Cotton fields suspecting some yet-to-be-identified toxin in the GM plant", she added.
Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab further pointed out "Mr Balachandran, Joint Secretary, MoEF (who claimed yesterday in Chandigarh that Bt Cotton resulted in the focus shifting away from water guzzling crops like rice) is the same person who admitted recently in an international context that India faces a major constraint due to the lack of capacity to effectively implement the Biosafety Protocol.  It is surprising that without setting up effective systems or without actually building capacities related to biosafety assessment and without justifying the source of his claims, he can get so enthusiastic about GM crops", he said. "If adoption is equal to something being 'biosafe', pesticides should also be encouraged by the regulators", he argued.
"It seems that most regulators who are supposed to be independent, scientific and pro-people in their assessment of this particular agricultural technology have already concluded in favour of the technology rather than to take a precautionary approach towards it! We have earlier heard about the Co-Chairperson of Genetic Engineering Approval Committee [the apex regulatory authority] also being on the Board of industry-funded bodies like ISAAA. They do not deserve to be sitting in regulatory posts in such a case. Public funds collected from tax-payers are being spent on popularizing the technology and creating more markets for the companies in the name of 'trainings on biosafety', including with the help of the World Bank. The World Bank should stop such funding", said Kavitha Kuruganti.
For more information, contact: