US may push GM agenda after nuclear deal
NEWS FROM INDIA
1.US may push agri, defence agenda after N-deal: scientist
2.India's suicide-prone farmers go back to basics
3.Precaution is the key
4.Shun GM seeds, experts urge farmers
5.GEAC should address health and environmental concerns
6.Dismantling Democracy, Science And The Public Interest
7.After deal, CPI(M) now ups ante on bio bill
8.No Basmati, no Katarni: Rice contamination certain, unless we stop it!
1.US may push agri, defence agenda after N-deal: scientist
Press Trust of India, July 14 2008
Bangalore - An eminent scientist has expressed fear that after the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, Washington may try to push its agricultural agenda and defence sales to New Delhi.
Past president of Indian Nuclear Society and former Director of Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research Dr Placid Rodriguez said the deal comes under the whole gamut of strategic alliance covering defence, space, nuclear and agriculture.
"My greatest reservation (about the deal) is that the strategic alliance between India and the US is going into agriculture because in the other three sectors (defence, space and nuclear) we are strong and we can go independently and we will go," Rodriguez told PTI here.
"Our agricultural universities, state universities, ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) laboratories -- they will be completely overwhelmed by giants like Monsanto whose resources are plenty and whose motivation is only monopoly," he said.
After Bt. Cotton, now genetically modified brinjal is going to be brought in, Rodriguez said, adding, "we don't know what's next". "Even European Commission has not accepted genetically modified food and we are not examining all the consequences".
The former President and Honorary Secretary of Indian National Academy of Engineering said another "lubricant" (for the US to sign the deal with India) behind the 123 agreement is the "large possibility of defence sales (in India}".
2.India's suicide-prone farmers go back to basics
Deutsche Presse-Argentur, July 15 2008
New Delhi - India is in the grip of its worst agrarian crisis, witnessing unprecedented farmer suicides, at the rate of one death on the farm every 30 minutes.
The rising costs of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers have pushed peasants into mounting debts, and led untold thousands of them to commit suicide by drinking the same pesticides that created their liabilities.
India which has 600 million people engaged in agriculture and allied activities, ushered its green revolution in the late 1960s. It was apparent two decades later that chemical-intensive farming had resulted in increased costs of cultivation and far-reaching environmental damages.
The loss of topsoil, a drastic decline in soil fertility and water tables owing to the use of fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified crops, should have made a compelling case for scientists and policy makers to restructure Indian agriculture.
Instead, impoverished farmers plunged deeper into debt through trade distortions brought on by the country's economic reforms and the plummeting price of produce seen in the past 15 years.
By the government's own admission, over 100,000 farmers committed suicide in the last decade in the four states of western Maharashtra, central Madhya Pradesh and southern Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
But some farmers are now escaping the debt trap by returning to traditional low-cost farming, enriching the soil with farmyard manure or compost, using indigenous seeds and returning to biological pesticides such as nee tree oil and cow urine.
In Andhra Pradesh 300,000 farmers are reaping increased yields and earning better incomes without genetically modified GM seeds and chemical pesticides, and using local pest management techniques.
'Farmers who mortgaged their Ramachandrapuram village recovered the entire land by repaying the debts, merely by stopping use of pesticides,' food and trade analyst Devinder Sharma said.
'Over the last three years, over 700,000 acres in the state have turned pesticide-free or organic. The programme is going strong, aiming to cover 1.2 million acres this year and 2.5 million acres in two years.'
There is evidence of such success in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, notorious for an estimated 30,000 suicides over the last decade.
About 11,000 farmers, including the worst-hit cotton growers from five villages, have pledged to practice chemical-free ecological farming under an initiative by Navdanya, an organization that pioneered the organic food movement in India.
An organic cotton project by textile manufacturer Arvind in 33 villages in Vidarbha's Akola district claims there have been no suicides in the area since farmers started avoiding chemicals and using indigenous seeds last year.
Not counting farmers in several parts of India who never shifted from traditional agriculture, an estimated 1 million farmers are estimated to have reverted to traditional techniques over the past years, some 200,000 in the last five years.
But agriculture experts contend that the solution is not as simple as going back to the basics.
One expert, KSRK Murthy, argued that organic agriculture cannot guarantee the high productivity assured by synthetic fertilizers that is necessary to feed the growing population.
Murthy said crop yields in organic farms ere up to 50 per cent less, and required big quantities of organic manure and more land under cultivation, to produce the same amount of food.
But Navdanya founder Vandana Shiva said that argument ignores the true hidden costs of industrial agriculture.
'Traditional farming seems expensive because there is a 1-trillion-rupee government subsidy for chemical fertilizers. Our experience has shown that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming,' Shiva said.
The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, which carried out a recent study in Vidarbha, suggested to the Indian government explore organic farming for debt-ridden farmers.
Shiva, who also chairs the independent International Committee for the Future of Food and Agriculture, said organic farming raises consumer awareness of both food quality and the link between climate change and agriculture.
'Industrial farming and unnecessary global trade in food is responsible for up to 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Organic farming contributes to mitigation and adaptation to climate change,' she said.
'Such farming can help small farmers survive, increase farm productivity, repair decades of environmental damage and lead to better food security. When chemical farming has led to a total collapse, traditional and organic farming is the solution, the way of the future.'
3.Precaution is the key
Editorial, The Hindu, July 15 2008
Unlike traditional breeding techniques, whereby hybrids are produced by transferring genes within varieties belonging to the same species, genetically modified crops involve transfer of genes across species. Thus in the case of Bt cotton, a gene of a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), is inserted into cotton varieties to give them resistance against bollworm pests. If changes in a single or a few bases in the DNA can turn a normal cell into a c ancerous one in humans and animals, biosafety studies for allergenicity and toxicity of the transgenic plants on humans and animals who consume or come into contact with them, must therefore be thoroughly examined. Six years after the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) permitted the commercial cultivation of Bt cotton in India, there is no dedicated laboratory to verify the samples and validate the biosafety results provided by companies. The GEAC, unlike its counterparts in various countries where GM crops are cultivated,
has "supported the suggestion" of setting up such an independent laboratory, as the minutes of the 85th committee meeting held in May indicate. The GEAC would do well also to insist on chronic toxicity testing in animals. This is essential as acute testing may not reveal long-term effects, and unlike drug trials, no trials on humans are ever conducted using GM crops.
If animal toxicity testing is strict in the case of drugs, the requirements for a genetically modified crop should be as stringent. Drugs can be recalled from the market when found to cause harm. But corrective measures are very difficult, if not impossible, in the case of GM plants once they are released into the environment. This underlines the need to build a system and a culture of independent verification. Precaution should be the watchword. The first step in this direction is to strengthen the current system and involve State agricultural universities in participating actively in the monitoring and evaluation of field trials. The current practice of relying solely on companies to provide samples for testing is unsatisfactory. Instead, the universities involved in monitoring the trials must be authorised to collect samples for the independent laboratory. Another good practice will be to make the full results of the study available for public access, as in the case of drug trials
The enlightened policy approach will be to encourage research in laboratories and put on hold approvals for field trials until these measures are in place. The experience of European countries has shown that public apprehensions about GM crops must not be taken lightly by those who think they know better.
4.Shun GM seeds, experts urge farmers
The Hindu, 13 July 2008 [shortened]
CUDDALORE: Agriculture scientist and president of Indian Organic Farmers’ Association, G. Nammalwar, has called upon the farmers to shun genetically modified (GM) seeds being marketed by multinational companies, and continue to raise traditional crops.
Mr. Nammalwar was addressing a seminar on 'Save our rice campaign,' and 'Impact of GM technology,' jointly organised here on Saturday by the Federation of Consumer Organisations ”” Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry (FEDCOT), the Consumer Research Education Action Training and Empowerment Trust (CREATE) and Thanal, Kerala.
He cited the instance of the farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, who succumbed to aggressive marketing strategies of MNCs to take to Bt cotton cultivation, incurring heavy losses that led to suicides.
In Tamil Nadu, too, a section of farmers in Salem and Dharmapuri districts had sown GM seeds with high expectations of getting a bumper yield of 15 quintals of cotton an acre, but were gravely disappointed by getting less than a quintal of crop per acre.
Only on the intervention of the Agriculture Department did the companies concerned compensate the farmers. Farmers who were raising these crops might be in for disappointment, besides exposing their fortunes and the health of the consumers to risks. No laboratories were equipped to test GM products. The Indian Medical Association had also joined in the campaign against the GM technology, Mr. Nammalwar added.
5.GEAC should address health and environmental concerns
Krishan Bir Chaudhary
Financial Express, July 14 2008
The government must clarify why it is setting up the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA), replacing the existing regulator Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) which is already acting as a single window clearance for biotech products. If the government feels that the GEAC is incompetent and inefficient, it should bring it to the public knowledge.
The Supreme Court, in the course of hearing a writ petition seeking a moratorium on GM crops, had ordered some improvements for introducing transparency in the functioning of GEAC. The government had always defended the functioning of GEAC in the Supreme Court. Has it got any moral right now to say that GEAC is not functioning well and needs to be replaced by NBRA?
The fact is that the GEAC, without caring for any biosafety norms and transparency, has been very fast in the approval of GM crops with a view to benefit the multinational seed companies. Since 2002, GEAC approved over 175 Bt cotton hybrids, five events and one Bt cotton variety. It has conducted field trials of Bt brinjal, Bt okra, GM mustard, Bt cabbage, GM tomato, GM groundnut and GM potato.
The functioning of GEAC has been questioned by many independent scientists, like the founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Pushpa Mittra Bhargava. He called for a total review of India’s experience with Bt cotton, including how Bt technology was brought into the country. He has also sought a two to three years moratorium on GM crops, unless and until proper independent studies are done on biosafety like pollen flow, seed germination, soil microbial activity, toxicity, allergenicity, DNA finger printing, proteomics analysis, and reproductive interferences.
At the global level, independent scientists like Arpad Pusztai have questioned the safety of GM food. Pusztai has pointed out by saying “Well-designed studies, though few in number, show potentially worrisome biological effects of GM food, which the regulators have largely ignored." In India, there were reports of sheep mortality on account of grazing over Bt cotton fields in Andhra Pradesh, which the GEAC did not consider with seriousness.
There are reported cases of illegal imports of hazardous GM food, which are not approved in the country and the government has remained a mute spectator. Illegal imports of GM food are in violation of the Rules, 1989 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The annual amendments to the Foreign Trade Policy made in April 2006 said unlabelled GM food import would attract penal action under Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992. But this is not implemented in absence of guidelines.
The panel of experts and stakeholders headed by the additional director-general of National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Shiv Lal had recommended mandatory labeling of GM food, irrespective of the threshold level. But the recommendations were not implemented either by the health ministry or GEAC. Rather, the GEAC allowed free imports of oil extracted from GM soybeans without any labeling, tests and restrictions.
The plan to set up NBRA is largely based on the recommendations of the two panels headed by MS Swaminathan and RA Mashelkar. The suggestions made and apprehensions raised by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in its paper Regulatory Regime for Genetically Modified Foods : The Way Ahead have not been considered.
Monsanto is charging a high technology fee, which has raised the prices of Bt cotton seeds and the issue is subjudice before the MRTP Act. There are fears that pollen flow from GM crops to non-GM crops may cause problems for farmers, who may be asked to pay high technology fee for their own seeds as had been the case with the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser. Indian farmers, in many areas have suffered heavy losses on account of failure of Bt cotton. States like Kerala and Uttarakhand have banned GM crops and the Centre, through the NBRA, is planning to override states governments’ power to regulate agriculture.
The government should make GEAC more accountable to address health and environmental concerns, rather than set up NBRA.
The writer is president, Bharatiya Krishak Samaj...
6.Dismantling Democracy, Science And The Public Interest
By Vandana Shiva
Z Mag, 14 July 2008
Dismantling Democracy, Science and the Public Interest to put GMO's on Fast Track: The Proposed National Biotechlogy Regulatory Authorigy (NBRA) and National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill, 2008
July 12, 2008 -- Genetically Engineered Organisms (GMOs) are transgenic organisms made by introducing genes across species boundaries. Thus Bt. Cotton, or Bt. Rice or Bt. Brinjal has genes for a toxin taken from a soil bacteria and put into the food crop. In addition, GMO's use anti-biotic resistance markets, viral promoters and cancer genes as vectors. These new genes can have risks for public health and the environment. Ensuring safety in the context of genetically engineered organisms is referred to as Biosafety.
India has one of the most sophisticated Laws of Biosafety in the world. The "Rules for the Manufacture, Use / Import / Export and storage of Hazardous micro-organisms / genetically engineered organisms or cells", 1989, notified under the Enviornmental Portection Act, 1986 is science based public interest oriented legislation created long before the commercialization of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and crops and long before the International Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity came into force.
The genetic engineering industry, in particular Monsanto, which controls 95% of all GM seeds sold worldwide, first tried to by pass India's Biosafety Law when it started field trials without approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the statutory body for Biosafety regulation. The rules clearly state -
9(i) Deliberate or unintentional release of genetically engineered organisms / hazardous microorganisms or including, deliberate release for the purpose of experiment shall not be allowed.
Note : Deliberate release shall mean any intentional transfer of genetically engineered organisms / hazardous micro-organisms or cells to the environment or nature, irrespective of the way in which it is done.
Field trials of GMO's are clearly a deliberate release.
That is why when Monsanto - Mahyco started field trials of Bt. Cotton in 1997-98, without approval of the GEAC we initiated a case in the Supreme Court of India to challenge the illegal trials. As a result commercialization of Bt. Cotton was delayed upto 2002.
The sequence of events, which took place in implementing the illegal trials in India, can be briefly outlined as:
*24th April 1998 Mahyco files to Department of Biotechnology for field trials
*May 1998 Joint venture between Mahyco and Monsanto formed
*13th July 1998 Letter of Intent issued by DBT without involving Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).
*15th July 1998 Mahyco agrees to conditions in letter of intent.
*27th July 1998 Impugned permission by DBT for trials at 25 locations granted.
*5th August 1998 Permission for second set of trials at 15 locations granted
*6th January 1999 PIL filed by Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology in the Supreme Court of India
*8th February 1999 RCGM expresses satisfaction over the trial results at 40 locations.
*12th April 1999 RCGM directs Mahyco to submit application for trials at 10 locations before Monitoring and Evaluation Committee
*25th May 1999 Revised proposal to RCGM submitted by Mahyco.
*June-Nov 1999 Permission granted for different trial fields
*Oct-Nov 1999 Field visits
*May 2000 Mahyco's letter to GEAC seeking approval for "release for large scale commercial field trials and hybrid seed production of indigenously developed Bt cotton hybrids".'
*July 2000 GEAC clears for large-scale field trials on 85 hectares and seed production on 150 hectares and notifies through press release.
*October 2000 RFSTE filed an application for amendment in the petition challenging the fresh GEAC clearance.
*GEAC orders uprooting of "Navbharat-15", which was found to contain transgenic Bt.
*26.03.2002 32nd Meeting of the GEAC was held to examine the issue of commercial release of Bt Cotton. Members of GEAC from ICHR, Health Ministry, Commerce Ministry, CSIR, ICAR did not attend the meeting. Inspite of the absence of important members of the GEAC, approval was granted to three out of four of Monsanto - Mahyco's transgenic hybrids.
*05.04.2002 Formal approval granted to mach-12, Mach - 162 and Mach 184 by A.M. Gokhale, Chair of GEAC. Order of 05.04.2002 is a conditional clearance valid for three years. The stipulated conditions/restrictions are a clear implied admission on the part of the government that the tests are far from complete. In effect, the commercialisation was an experiment. Monsanto-Mahyco had been asked to gather further data and submit annual reports on the resistance that the insects develop over a period of time to GM seeds and to conduct studies on resistance to bollworm, susceptibility tests, and tests for cross pollination.
*02.03.2005 In March, RFSTE releases results of continued failure of Bt Cotton, especially in Andhra Pradesh.
*GEAC rejects renewal of the 3 Bt Cotton varieties planted in the Southern States. However, other Bt varieties are cleared in Northern States.
In any case the Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) does not have the authority to approve field trials. According to the "Rules". The RCGM "shall function in the Department of Biotechnology to monitor the safety related aspects in respect of on-going research projects and activities involving genetically engineered organisms / hazardous microorganisms". Clearly RCGM is not an approving authority. The industry has repeatedly used the RCGM and the Biotechnology Department to subvert India's Biosafety Laws. Now that citizens have used this law effectively, industry is trying to have it dismantled.
The latest attempt at Biosafety Deregulation by the Biotechnology Department is to float the proposal for a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority and a National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill, 2008. As the proposal states "DBT is considering to promulgate new legislation National Biotechnology Regulatory Act (NBR Act).
The false argument being used is that biotechnology regulation is currently spread over multiple acts. This is not true. There is only one Act, the Rules for GMO's under the EPA, regulating GMO's in all fields. It is also being argued that the NBRA will promote public confidence. The public will not and cannot have confidence in an industry driven, centralized, undemocratic, unaccountable law and institution floated by the agency which is a biotechnology promoting agency, and has done everything in the last decade to undermine citizens rights and the public interest. This is a direct attempt to replace India's excellent Biosafety Law with industry friendly legislation, and to replace the GEAC as a Biosafety Regulation Authority with the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority to promote biotechnology, not biosafety.
The National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill refers to "consolidation of regulatory policies, rules and services under a single biotechnology authority". There is already a single biosafety authority for all biotechnology approvals - the GEAC. It needs strengthening, not substitution and dismantling. Further, the proposal authority, like the GEAC is restricted to modern biotechnology or genetic engineering, defined as "the application of in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant direct injection of nucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.
The proposed authority undermines the regulatory role of diverse ministries and the rights of states and districts. The GEAC consists of members from different ministries, agencies and departments, as well as expert members who are heads of Agricultural Research, Medical Research, Scientific and Industrial Research, D.G Health Services, Directorate of Plant Protection, Chairman Pollution Control Board. The existing law allows creates State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC), District Level Committee (DLC). In the proposed authority, the statutory bodies role of diverse ministries has been replaced by an Inter-Ministerial Advisory Board, with no authority, but only to promote Central Government Cooperation. The checks and balances, and the decentralized institutions reflecting our federal, democratic structure that are part of the existing law are being destroyed to make it easy for industry to get approvals. As the proposed law states 6(3). "The Inter-ministrial Advisory
Board and the National Biotechnology Advisory Council will have no authority to intervene on product specific decisions made by the NBRA."
Both the different Ministries, diverse agencies and the States have thus been robbed of decision making powers which is vital to the functioning of democratic structures in the public interest.
The functions of the proposed Authority totally overlap with the functions of CEAC. Thus this is a proposal to displace GEAC. The Authority also proposes to displace the Ministry of Environment as the nodal agency for international negotiations for regulating the risks of genetic engineering.
Instead of a multi-ministerial committee, all powers for decision making are proposed to be concentrated in one individual, the chairperson, who will be a biotechnologist, with skills in genetic engineering but no skills or expertise in Biosafety.
The proposed authority is thus centralized, individualistic biased in favour of genetic engineering and hence will lend itself to easy influence of the genetic engineering industry.
The Bill clearly states that the following laws will stand repealed when the Bill becomes an Act. Among the Acts mentioned are -
Rules for the manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms, genetically engineered organisms or cells, 1989 issued under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. To be amended to exclude genetically engineered organisms or cells from the mandate / scope of the Rules. Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 Section 13(3)(c) : The Scientific Panel may be established for genetically modified foods. Genetically modified organisms to be taken out of the mandate of FSSA. Section 22(2) : The definition of genetically engineered or modified food to be amended to exclude foods and food ingredients composed of or containing genetically modified or genetically engineered organisms. Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 8th Amendment : The definition of recombinant drug to include all therapeutic proteins derived from recombinant organisms, but exclude recombinant biologics (eg. DNA vaccines, gene therapy products etc) The Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Bill, 2007 To exclude clinical
trials, pre commercial safety assessment, product approval and post release monitoring of recombinant biologics. The Seed Bill, 2004 : Section 15 on Special provision for registration of transgenic varieties: In clause 1 Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to be replaced with National Biotechnology Regulatory Act. Proposed Plant Quarantine Bill (a) Section 6(2)(o): Regulating the import of transgenic materials, to be modified as "regulating the import of transgenic material subject to the approval of the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority".
In other words, all safety regulation for health and environment will be demolished in one fell swoop if the National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill is passed and the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority is established.
The existing Biosafety Law needs to be upheld. It is an excellent Law. Weakness in implementation needs strengthening of institutions and processes. Not the dismantling of a good Law and its replacement by a centralized, biased Law which is good for industry but a disaster for citizens right to heath and environmental safely.
7.After deal, CPI(M) now ups ante on bio bill
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Daily News & Analysis, July 12 2008
KOLKATA: The CPI(M) is planning a multi-pronged attack on the Union government. It will oppose tooth and nail certain bills the Centre proposes to get cleared in parliament shortly. The CPI(M)’s first and most important target is the national biotechnology regulatory bill, 2008. It will also oppose the formation of the national biotechnology regulatory authority.
While the party’s peasants wing, Krishak Sabha, will launch a national campaign against the bill, the party will also field renowned biotechnologists and agriculture scientists in its awareness programmes.
Krishak Sabha state secretary Shamar Baora said they will not oppose the bill as a whole but will surely object to the clause pertaining to “genetically-modified agriculture products”.
“We have consulted a number of biotechnologists and agriculture scientists and all of them are of the opinion that the proposal for genetically-modified agricultural products encouraged in the bill will have multiple adverse effects,” he said.
According to Baora, if the bill is cleared production of genetically-modified agriculture products would become legal in India.
“It is clear that this proposal is mooted to benefit multinational food processing companies. It will harm the interests of small and marginal farmers.”
The CPI(M) will highlight how the Union government was hurrying to get the bill cleared keeping parliament in the dark on its details.
Opposing the formation of the national biotechnology regulatory authority, Baora said its formation was totally unwarranted since the Union government was not providing enough funds to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research.
7.No Basmati, no Katarni: Rice contamination certain, unless we stop it!
MyNews, 13 July 2008
Someone said, "Monsanto invented the pig." Very soon we will learn, right here in India and Asia, that US and European seeds multinational corporations "invented” rice. And soon we shall be paying up front royalty to these companies for eating rice. Hold your breath; that situation is upon us.
I pose this question to you before you read further: What would you do to a company that claims it "invented rice" and wants its pound of flesh because you, Sirs and Madams, eat rice?
India is a rice country. Rice has been our staple for thousands of years. A French scientist had once said India has 200,000 varieties of rice. Other environmentalists say 100,000. Does it matter? In the traditional rice producing regions I found that the taste and shape of rice often differed from village to village. Not any more. Post green revolution, the varieties available in the market for commercial sowing has dropped to about fifty what must surely be called the greatest destruction of genetic diversity in any food crop anywhere in the world.
Forty years ago when my mother cooked basmati rice, a gentle aroma would pervade the entire home. Not any more. Under Green revolution rice slowly hybridized into a commodity and now produced in large mechanized farms with heavy doses of fertilizers and pesticides. Bayer CropScience, a German company, genetically modified rice seeds. This gene revolution genie is now out of the bottle and no one knows how many rice varieties are contaminated. No one really knows how much of this engineered poison has already entered our food chain. And that has happened without proper biosafety studies.
Rice belongs to the Oryza specie. Lay persons like me were told that rice is self pollinating with little or no chance of pollen drift and contamination of neighbour's rice field. However, RiceTech, a US-based hybrid seeds company, has documented that "wind assisted rice pollens can move over 600 feet." [APHIS Workshop, September 13-15, 2004; Abstract] If genetically engineered rice is planted amidst non-genetically modified rice, there is every chance that non-genetically modified rice will be contaminated and this is what happened in the United States of America.
US Rice gets contaminated
Bayer CropScience (the German multinational seeds company) conducted field trials of LL601 (better known as Liberty Link 601) from 1999 to 2001 in Louisiana. It then dropped the project and did not seek US Government permission to market it. In 2006, widespread contamination of US long-grain rice with LL601 trait was reported.
Covering the event, Rick Weiss, the Washington Post staff writer, reported, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating how the variety escaped from test plots into farmers''' fields, where it was quietly amplified for years until its discovery. The seeds and plants of LL601 look virtually identical to those of the popular conventional variety with which they had become mixed, said Steve Linscombe, director of Louisiana State University's rice research station in Crowley”¦”¦.. The day the contamination was announced in August, Bayer asked the government to approve the variety."
On 5th October 2007, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) concluded its genetically engineered rice investigation. Investigators had hoped to identify how each GE rice line entered the commercial rice supply, but the exact mechanism for introduction could not be determined in either instance. (Source: USDA, Press Release, www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usdahome?contentidonly=trueandcontentid/2007/10/0284/xml )
However, it could not pinpoint how engineered rice seeds could contaminate over such a large area. Speculation was rife: some said mislabeling, others said human error, yet others said containers got mixed up.
On 24th November, 2006 the USDA granted marketing approval of genetically-engineered Liberty Link 601 of Bayer CropScience. (GE) rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports, first announced three months ago. The controversial decision was taken despite the insistence of Bayer CropScience that it had dropped plans to commercialize the variety five years ago.
"With this decision, USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesn't matter if you're negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we'll bail you out," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "In effect, USDA is sanctioning an 'approval-by-contamination' policy that can only increase the likelihood of untested genetically engineered crops entering the food supply in the future, and further erode trust in the wholesomeness of U.S. food overseas," he added.
Naturally, Bayer CropScience welcomed the decision of USDA. "The deregulation confirms the preliminary decision of USDA, published on September 8, 2006, that LLRICE601 does not pose any environmental concerns and should no longer be regulated."
Oh yes, it does, Mr. Bayer. That is why US rice consignments were returned or destroyed at Rotterdam port”¦.and another, and another”¦.and another.
Is India vulnerable?
You bet it is. In January I received a set of documents from an Agriculture University in West Bengal that illegal genetically modified Bhindi (Okra) has been planted. In March I was told in Jhansi that poor farmers were offered lucrative deals to plant "special seed" of all sorts of vegetables including green chilly.
Who knows at how many places illegal genetically engineered rice have been planted?
Only when contamination will be discovered at the port of landing of Indian rice exporters that India will wake up to the destruction of its 10,000 years of heritage”¦THE RICE.
Following on from the US example, it is not too far fetched to say that our favourite staple rice will be owned by one of the five or six seeds multinationals”¦.because they "invented" it! Who will be the first to contaminate our rice is at best a guess.
But IT WILL BE CONTAMINATED. THEY ARE TOO DETERMINED TO OWN OUR FOOD.
Neither the Congress Party, nor BJP, nor CPM nor CPI, nor RSP, nor SP, nor Shiv Sena”¦none has the guts or the political will to oppose the fraud of these multinational corporations. They have all been silenced.
"Who cares if GMO seeds don't provide any of the benefits that were promised? Certainly not the seed companies. Perhaps benefits to the people of the world were never the point. Perhaps the point was to get those first GMO crops in the ground -- promise them the moon! -- and then allow nature to take its course and contaminate the rest of the planet with patented pollen. The intellectual property lawsuits will come along in good time." (Source: 2005 was a very good year for the biotech food industry; Peter Montague; Rachel's Democracy & Health News #837, Jan-2006).