Monsanto trying to keep safety data secret in India
2.GM brinjals, boon or a curse?
NOTE: This move by Monsanto - item 1 - is clearly intended to thwart India's Central Information Commission which has ordered Mahyco - Monsanto's Indian subsidiary, to disclose data under the Right to Information Act. Item 2 shows the desperate need for transparency and proper public scrutiny.
EXTRACT: "All Bt cotton seeds as well as the data for GM utilisation in India should be withdrawn. We have been trusting Monsanto (a multinational corporation) till now, which is absurd as no verification of its tests have been done so far." - PM Bhargava, India's leading molecular scientist(item 2)
1. Monsanto suggests provision for maintaining data confidentiality
ASHOK B SHARMA
Financial Express, June 9 2008
New Delhi - The seed multinational, Monsanto has suggested inclusion of the provision for maintaining data confidentiality in the draft National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill-2008.
Monsanto India's manager of regulatory affairs, Devraj Arya said : "It is a good thing to have a single window clearance of genetically modified (GM) products, but the new law should ensure data confidentiality. This is absolutely necessary in the IPR regime and we cannot afford to stand the risk of making such sensitive data public."
The department of biotechnology (DBT) has drafted a Bill, which would allow setting up of a autonomous National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) as a single window clearance for GM products.
Recently, Greenpeace India had asked Mahyco, which has developed Bt brinjal with technology sourced from Monsanto, to reveal some biosafety data. The Central Information Commission had ordered Mahyco to disclose the data, which was refused by Mahyco under the Right to Information Act and went with an appeal before the Delhi High Court.
The proposed Bill, if passed by the Parliament, would take away the provisions of regulation of GM products from some existing laws like the rules for manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms, genetically engineered organisms or cells, 1989 issued under Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Food Safety and Standards Act, Drugs and Cosmetic Act, Drugs and Cosmetic (Amendment) Bill-2007, Seed Bill-2004, draft Plant Quarantine Bill, National Biological Diversity Act and Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ Rights Act.
In a consultation session on the draft Bill convened on Friday, the member of Parliament, Sharad Joshi criticised setting up of the NBRA. He said : "The government sets up an authority only to rehabilitate retired government officials as its chairman and members."
Noted activist, Vandana Shiva of Navdanya criticised the move to place NBRA under the promoter agency, DBT and said the position of the existing regulator, GEAC under the environment ministry was better.
Though the draft Bill has proposed an inter-ministerial advisory body, its decisions are not binding for NBRA. The Union government can intervene only on policy matters. NBRA would also usurp the powers of the state governments by setting up its own state bodies.
2. GM brinjals, boon or a curse?
DNA, June 10 2008
As India gears up to launch its first GM vegetable by January next year, debate hots up on whether such produce is healthy and desirable. Eklavya Atray clears the soil
Is genetically modified food the solution to food shortages and their soaring prices? As India inches closer to producing its first genetically modified vegetable, Bt brinjal, probably as early as January next year, debate is raging among experts, and violent protests are fast building up.
The Bt brinjal has the same Cry1Ac gene from Bacillus Thuringiensis as cotton. The gene is supposed to make the plant tolerant to the Shoot and Fruit Borer insect which attacks it throughout its life cycle. India's yield-loss due to these insects is estimated to be about $221 million (Rs900 crores).
Earlier this year, on January 25, the supreme court issued a notice to the Union government on a public suit, seeking annulment of the government’s order that exempts genetically modified foods and crops from mandatory laboratory tests. The bench made recommendations for appointment of two eminent scientists including PM Bhargava to allay the fear of the petitioner that the government might be playing into the hands of multinationals.
PM Bhargava is country's leading molecular scientist who founded the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and is now a special invitee to the GEAC (genetic engineering approval committee) set up by the ministry of environment and forests as an inter-ministerial body to oversee the contentious issue. The supreme court invited Bhargava to help bring transparency to the process of allowing field trials of GM food.
Says Bhargava, "All Bt cotton seeds as well as the data for GM utilisation in India should be withdrawn. We have been trusting Monsanto (a multinational corporation) till now, which is absurd as no verification of its tests have been done so far." According to him, "The government should set up its own testing facility so that Monsanto knows that we can verify the tests it has conducted."
MK Sharma, managing director, Mahyco Monsanto disagrees as he states, "The tests have been conducted on animals like chicken, rats, rabbits etc by not only us but many other independent companies and research centers."
Bhargava, however, is not convinced, and also comments on the GEAC by saying, "I am surprised by the action of the GEAC. How could they allow these GM activities to take place without conducting proper tests first." A member of the GEAC who does not wish to be named told DNA, "These views are Bhargava’s alone. We have applied our own expertise in the matter."
Other activists who have played a major role in the GM issue in India echo Bhargava's views. They point to the 'Warangal incident' in which more than 2,000 sheep died after grazing on a Bt cotton field for seven days.
India is not the only country where GM activists are demanding a ban on GM products. Hungary became the first country in eastern Europe to ban GM crops when it illegalised the planting of Monsanto’s MON 810 maize in January 2005. French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced on January 11 that his country would invoke an EU safeguard clause enabling it to suspend the marketing and cultivation on its territory of even a GM crop that has EU-wide authorization. The decision came after France's 'Provisional High Authority on GM Organisms' presented its report. The Scottish government in November 2007 also made an unprecedented intervention in Brussels to try and help ban genetically modified (GM) crops throughout Europe. There has been an effective moratorium on GM crops in the European Union, with none approved for cultivation since 1998. The activists in India have very similar ideas.
"GM brinjal should be banned. The country's health is at risk which cannot be allowed," says Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. He also adds, "Many parts of Europe have banned GM foods because of severe health and environmental issues." According to him, all GM activities should be stopped at once.
Kavita Karungati from Coalition for GM Free India is another expert who opposes GM brinjal. According to her, "It poses great damage to our health. Many civil right groups and farmers also oppose Bt brinjal." She also adds, "Brinjal shortage is not an issue in the country and it should remain like that."
Monsanto's Sharma however defends Bt brinjal by saying, "It's a known fact that most of these experts oppose this new technology. A normal farmer sprays pesticide at least 50 to 80 times in the whole lifecycle of a brinjal crop so you can imagine how much pesticide a normal person who eats brinjal has to swallow. Bt brinjal is a new technology which only harms some pests and not humans by any means." According to him, “The reality is that the farmers need Bt crops.”
Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign, which plays an active part in the GM issue, counters Monsanto's argument. "Bt brinjal should not be launched in the country as the Bt toxin gene produces poison and when it can harm pests, where's the proof that it won't be harmful to humans," she questions, adding, "It should not be produced at the moment as we really don't have adequate testing material."
Rajesh Krishnan of Greenpeace echoes the opinion. "GM activities are not at all good for India," he says, adding, "Farmers end up using a cocktail of pesticides as secondary pests increase. Also, these GM activities only help the companies and not the farmers or the consumers."