Yesterday while India's Supreme Court was sitting the ISAAA, who everyone from Reuters down describe as a biotech industry lobby, were launching their annual report on GMOs - not in India, the chosen site for press conferences in recent years, but at a press conference in the Philippines.

Presumably even the ISAAA and their boardroom backers blanched at the idea of having a leading Indian GM regulator centre stage at their annual hype-fest at exactly the moment that the Government of India was telling the Supreme Court its apex regulatory body was quite untainted by vested interests.

Here's our comment on what happened at last year's press conference.


GM regulator openly propagandises for GM crops (19 Jan 2007)

Back in October the Times of India reported that a leading Indian GM regulator was simultaneously 'a director of an international network funded by biotech majors such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont'. (GM regulator on panel funded by biotech majors)

At the centre of the controversy over conflict-of-interest was Charudatta Mayee, the co-chairman of India's apex GM regulatory body - the GEAC, who the Times of India pointed out was also on the board of directors of ISAAA - the controversial GM propaganda and 'technology transfer' outfit whose high-profile board members, past and present, include Monsanto's Robert Fraley, Wally Beversdorf of Syngenta, and Gabrielle Persley, Executive Director of the AusBiotech Alliance.

If that weren't bad enough, yesterday Mayee went one better by taking a leading role in the PR promotion of one of ISAAA's controversial annual reports. These reports are renowned for inflating and distorting the figures on GM crop acceptance around the world. Mayee not only contributed to the ISAAA press release but also took an active part in promoting GM crops at the ISAAA's press conference, even doing his best to bat away 'a pointed question on farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra allegedly due to the failure of Bt cotton'.

At the time of the Times of India revelations, Mayee was said to be considering his position. If Mayee has not already resigned as co-chairman of the GEAC, then he must now go immediately. For a regulator to be working hand in glove with a biotech industry front organisation in this way is an absolute scandal, even in a country where GM governance is riddled not only with conflicts of interest but outright corruption.

Equally scandalous, though, is the content of what Mayee had to say, and also ISAAA's carefully calculated PR exploitation of India as an exemplar of the benefits of GM crops. One reason that Vidarbha - the main cotton growing belt of Maharashtra - came up at the ISAAA's press conference is not just that Vidarbha has been so horrifically scarred by farmer suicides but because the sudden escalation in suicides has tallied exactly with Bt cotton adoption.

It's important to understand that Maharashtra is the Indian state where farmers have bought into a bigger acreage of Bt cotton than anywhere else in the country. And they have bought into it not because of Bt cotton's demonstrable benefits but because of a massive PR campaign claiming Bt cotton means bumper returns. And what Mayee and ISAAA were doing with their press release and news conference in Delhi was - yet again - feeding that devastating campaign of hype.

At the press conference Mayee tried to dismiss the embarrassing issue of the spiralling suicides by claiming 'there was a good performance of Bt cotton in other parts of the country'. But we only have Mayee's word for that whereas the latest official overview of 'Farmers' suicides in Maharashtra' - from the office of the Divisional Commissioner - reports that Bt cotton 'yields have been unstable' and 'the net return has often been negative.' It goes on to say that, 'Bt cotton has not paid good returns' in the conditions under which 97% of Maharashtra's cotton is grown. Yet Bt cotton has been relentlessly hyped to farmers there. (New Bt cotton disaster in Maharashtra)

More generally, Mayee tried to claim that Bt cotton has boosted India's overall cotton output, but these type of productivity claims have already been effectively demolished as nonsense with the help of ISAAA's (and USDA's) own data!

What is particularly unsavoury is the way that Mayee and ISAAA sought to reinforce their hyping of Bt cotton by deploying 'Ravinder Brar, a widowed mother of two and biotech cotton farmer' to sing Bt cotton's praises. This is not the first time this 'widowed mother of two' has been used in this way. Earlier this year the industry flew Ravinder Brar to its BIO 2006 jamboree, where they presented her to former president Bill Clinton, amongst others.

The terrible irony of the biotech industry selecting a 'widowed mother' as the face of GM crops in India will not have been lost on those who've witnessed the devastation wrought there by the industry's murderous campaign of hype.