NEWS & VIEWS FROM INDIA
1.Stop trials of GM crops, say farmers unions
2.'Study on bollworm attack on Bt cotton vital'
3.Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering
4.Saved from reaping a deadly harvest
NOTE: Great picture from the farmers protest in Haryana that led to the destruction of the Monsanto GM field trial there - scroll down to the end of the article for the bigger version of the image.
1.Stop trials of GM crops, say farmers unions
Business Line, October 22 2012 [shortened]
Hyderabad - Several farmers' leaders in Andhra Pradesh have asked the State Government not to allow GM (genetically modified) crop trials.
Representatives of an all-party farmers' unions have met Agriculture Minister Kanna Lakshminarayana on Sunday evening and requested him not to give permission for the GM field trials in the State.
"You should consider giving permission only after a holistic study," the farmers' leaders had said.
"They also asked the Minister not to give permission for GM trials at all in food crops. The Minister assured them that the Government would take a decision only after discussing the issue with all stakeholders," an official of the Agriculture Ministry said.
Probe into pest attack
Meanwhile, the Government had decided to go for a probe into the reported incidence of sucking pest attack on Bt cotton crop in some parts of the State.
The Agriculture Minister had issued fresh instructions to the officials of Department of Agriculture to order a thorough investigation into the reports.
"The Minister felt that a detailed probe is necessary as biotechnology in cotton has completed a decade in the country," he said.
2."Study on bollworm attack on Bt cotton vital"
The Hindu, October 22 2012
Minister for Agriculture Kanna Lakshminarayana has asked the scientists of the agriculture university to conduct a comprehensive study on the increased intensity of bollworm attack on the Bt cotton crop.
In a meeting conducted with the officials of the Agriculture Department here on Sunday, the Minister said a large number of complaints were coming on the bollworm attack on Bt cotton in the recent weeks. The scientists should be in a position to suggest the farmers about the precautions to be taken from the next season, he said.
Though it was customary to cultivate refuge crop around Bt cotton fields most of the farmers were not following it. It was for the agriculture officials to create better awareness among the farmers to take up such measures to prevent bollworm attacks, the Minister stated.
Commissioner of Agriculture K. Madhusudhana Rao informed the Minister that they had already taken up comprehensive study on the Bt crop in 10 villages in every district. The Minister told the Commissioner to submit a report on the study taken up by the department along with that of the scientists. A delegation of all-party farmers' organisations called on the Minister and requested him not to allow the trials of genetically modified crops in the State to which he promised that a decision would be taken in this regard after talking to all stakeholders.
3.Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering
The Hindu, October 21 2012
Although exaggerated claims of rise of productivity by GM (genetically modified) crops have been made time and again in India and abroad, on closer examination these have been proved time and again to be untrue.
According to a report by eminent scientists comprising the Independent Science Panel, "The consistent finding from independent research and on-farm surveys since 1999 is that GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits of significantly increasing yields or reducing herbicide and pesticide use. GM crops have cost the United States an estimated $12 billion in farm subsidies, lost sales and product recalls due to transgenic contamination...The instability of transgenic lines has plagued the industry from the beginning, and this may be responsible for a string of major crop failures."
In April 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published a report 'Failure to Yield' confirming that "after 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialisation, GM crops have failed to increase yields" and that "traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down".
In a letter written to the Prime Minister of India in 2009, as many as 17 distinguished scientists from the U.S., Canada, Europe and New Zealand pointed out that the claims relating to higher yield and protection of environment made for GM crops are absolutely false. This letter says the following:
"More than 95 per cent of all GM crops are engineered to either synthesise an insecticide (Bt toxin) or to tolerate a broad spectrum herbicide (e.g. Roundup, Liberty) or both."
“To date, there are only four major commercialised GM crops (soya, maize/corn, cotton and canola/oilseed rape) most of which (soya, corn, canola) are used primarily as animal feed. All were commercialised in the late 1990s. Since then, no other commercially viable GM crop application has made it to market, especially due to farmers not accepting other GM crops (such as wheat, potatoes, and rice) for negative economic reasons (lack of buyers, loss of export markets).”
“...The basic problem is that GM as employed in agriculture is conceptually flawed, crude, imprecise and poorly controlled technology, that is incapable of generating plants that contain the required multiple, co-ordinately regulated genes that work in an integrated way to respond to environmental challenges.”
“...GM has not increased yield potential. Yields from GM crops to date have been no better and in the case of GM soya have been consistently lower.”
“...Climate change brings sudden, extreme, and unpredictable changes in weather, which requires that a cropping system be flexible, resilient and as genetically diverse as possible. GM technology offers just the opposite.”
The letter warns India against “the unique risks (of GM crops) to food security, farming systems and bio-safety impacts which are ultimately irreversible.” It adds, “The GM transformation process is highly mutagenic leading to disruptions to host plant genetic structure and function, which in turn leads to disturbances in the biochemistry of the plant. This can lead to novel toxin and allergen production as well as reduced/altered nutrition quality.”
However, a question may be raised — if GM technology is incapable of raising yields in a sustainable way, how has it been possible to make exaggerated claims of a rise in yields at some places in some years in the case of GM crops like Bt cotton?
Dr. Jack Heinemann of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, has a decade-long experience of reviewing safety information from companies on their genetically engineered crops. He writes, “The Bt trait does not increase yield, it just is becoming nearly impossible to source the best varieties without the Bt transgenes.”
He asks, “Where is the data that these same high yield varieties lacking the Bt trait and grown using sustainable techniques such as integrated pest management and agro-ecology perform less than GM varieties?” and answers his own question: “There is none at all to my knowledge, while there is evidence that GM varieties undermine sustainable agriculture.”
In Gujarat, while yields of Bt cotton increased for some years, this was mainly due to the impact of good weather, improvement in water conservation and irrigation as well as more facilities provided for Bt crops.
In the very first year of Bt cotton's commercial cultivation in India (2002-03), Andhra Pradesh’s Agriculture Department concluded a study on 3,709 farmers growing Bt cotton. As many as 71 per cent of them reported low yields with Bt cotton.
In Madhya Pradesh, the average yield of cotton between 1996-2002 (before the introduction of Bt cotton) was 612.7 kg/ha. However, in the six years after the introduction of Bt cotton, average cotton yield was reduced to 518.3 kg/ha. Above all, it needs to be emphasised that any claim of a possible rise in yield of a crop can turn out to be entirely baseless if the safety of the crop is not assured.
The Independent Science Panel have said in its conclusion after examining all aspects of GM crops: “GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns, which if ignored, could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now.”
Contrary to claims by seed companies, GM crops actually give lower yield, disturbs the plants’ genetic structure and do not assure safety, according to a section of scientists
4.Saved from reaping a deadly harvest
Shri Vijay Jawandhia
Former President & Founder Member, Maharashtra Shetkari Sanghatna and Former President, Kisan Co-ordination Committee
There have been several attempts to undermine the irrefutable evidence against Genetically Modified Crops presented by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture by labelling it as the work of 'green activists'. This 450 page report was the outcome of a two and a half year study prepared by 31 MPs from diverse political parties – both ruling and opposition, left and right wing, who normally do not agree with each other!
It is therefore a unanimous and landmark refutation of the false propaganda that has been fed to the press, public and policy makers all these years by the GM seed manufacturers, their sponsored NGOs, PR agencies, and 'farmer leaders'. To say it was prepared by 'green activists' is an insult to their work.
The Parliamentary Committee has recorded the public consultations it held, considered thousands of pages of depositions, including those of leading Indian scientists, and cited highly reputed studies such as the International Assessment of Agricultural Science & Technology for Development (IAASTD Report) commissioned by the World Bank, FAO, WHO, GEF and several UN agencies and conducted by 400 outstanding scientists from across the world. The IAASTD Report did not find that GM crops are the answer for global agriculture, poverty and hunger and highlighted that traditional agricultural practices can provide superior yields and incomes than high input corporate agriculture – of which costly, patented, genetically engineered seeds are a prime example.
The Parliamentary Committee not only exposed the falsehoods of the pro GM propaganda but rightly castigated the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee for regulatory failures that put Indian consumers, farmers, biodiversity and national seed sovereignity at risk. Its recommendations of a cessation of all open air field trials should be immediately implemented until a new and publicly debated bio-safety regulatory process is in place. Let our Govt play its role now to protect Indian citizens and not foreign corporates and their Indian partners.
Does GM increase yield?
The propaganda that Genetically Modified food is the only way to increase yield is refuted by a number of independent studies eg the Union of Concerned Scientists did a 13 year study of GM crop yields aptly entitled Failure to Yield. In India cotton production has increased because the area under cotton has increased, at the expense of food crops, due to Govt policies. Cotton yields have increased when irrigation increased, as in Gujerat. Initial increases due to boll worm control have been followed by increases in bollworm resistance, and in the increase of secondary pests. Area under Bt cotton has increased because these are now the only seeds that are available in the market.
These are not indicators of the success of Bt cotton but indicators of why farmer indebtedness has increased, and why desperate farmers are leaving the failed gamble of Bt cotton for soya in Vidarbha. As a farmer, and honorary worker for farmer organizations since over 40 years, I can say that yield is a product of many factors – quality of seeds, soil, nutrition, water and climate - and there is no gene which magically increases intrinsic yield. About 99% of GM seeds transfer only two traits – a ‘toxin producing’ gene (such as Bt) which leads every cell of the plant to produce an insecticide which cannot ever be washed away, or a 'herbicide tolerant' gene which enables a crop to withstand a weedicide – usually produced by the same GM seed company!
Let us not for a moment think that companies like Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Dow and their Indian licencees have the interest of the Indian farmer at heart. When their seeds fail do they compensate them or point to small print on the seed packets regarding timely watering, pest epidemics, refugia etc which can never be ensured by small rainfed farmers ? Hybrid Bt cotton has contributed to GM seed company’s profits, but farmers and the nation are dangerously losing self reliance in seed production. There are over 70 GM crops awaiting clearance – which would be a monumental disaster for Indian consumers and farmers, making no sustainable increase in yield and undoubtedly increasing the national shame of being a global leader in farmer indebtedness and suicides.
Is GM the answer for our food requirements?
Are costly, patented, unre-usable GM seeds needed to meet our food requirements? The farmers of our country have proved that they are more than capable of producing enough food to feed our growing population. The overflowing godowns of wheat and rice – which are neither GM nor even hybrid seeds – demonstrate what happens when farmers are given irrigation and price support. As on 1st June 2012 we had over 800 lakh tonnes of surplus food grain. Yield is not our problem. Our problem is that much of this food grain is eaten by rodents or simply rots, is stolen from centralized godowns by the powerful for profit, while the poor starve.
Instead of shifting to a technology that makes highly questionable claims of providing higher yields, the focus should shift to build food storage and small food processing facilities at the village level, to improve food distribution and minimize spoilage, loss of produce in transport and theft of centrally procured food grain. We need ensure better prices to farmers and not to middlemen or foreign retail giants who seek to replace them.
Poverty and malnutrition needs a different approach. Those who produce our food cannot afford to buy it, and Dr M S Swaminathan who chaired the National Farmers Commission rightly pointed out that the focus of agricultural policy now needs to shift to securing farmer incomes and not to production.
GM has benefitted the seed companies, and perhaps a very small number of well off irrigated farmers and not the 80% of our farmers who are small and marginal and the 65% of our farmlands which are rainfed. The members of the Parliamentary Committee indeed visited the famers of Vidarbha and their report correctly and poignantly states that the "villagers implored upon the Committee to voice their request to the concerned central authorities to ban farming of Hybrid BT Cotton in the country".
All Indians as consumers need safe food . We are asked to put aside our ‘baseless fears of GM crops”. On what grounds are these fears ‘baseless’? A number of studies are emerging on the detrimental health impacts of GM crops which give sufficient ‘base’ to consumer fears. The US population is now demanding labelling based on reports from doctors who have found a number of illnesses linked to GM. Reportedly Monsanto , the leading GM manufacturer, does not supply GM food in its own canteen. Yet Indian consumers are being fed GM cotton seed oil which is mixed into our edible oil, without labelling.
Global position on GM Crops
GM crops are being produced in only 29 nations across the world, butonly 6 countries account for 95% of all GM crops grown : USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada and China. Significantly China has now started proceeding with extreme caution and has less area under GM crops compared to India. Many countries have rejected or are strictly regulating genetically modified crops with heavy penalties and strict labeling laws , and one must congratulate our Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture for sounding a timely warning to stall the UPA Govt's headlong drive towards GM food in response to corporate sponsored 'educational visits', research funding and other incentives to our agricultural establishment.
If GM is such a successful, farmer friendly technology, it is pertinent to ask why the US cotton farmers have to be given an annual subsidy of US Dollars 4.6 billion, and why our taxpayers money has to be spent on loan write offs which have increased astronomically after the arrival of Bt cotton in Vidarbha?