Archive for the 'Bt Brinjal' Category

GM Free Bihar Movement Rejects BRAI Bill

Patna, October 16, 2011: The GM Free Bihar Movement today rejected the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill as anti-people and anti-nature, saying that the Bihar Government should also pitch in immediately to stall the Bill before it becomes a law.

Activists, Consumers, Students & Farmers are raising their voice against BRAI BIll on World Food Day

At a dharna held at the Kargil Chowk, farmers and activists also started a signature campaign against the Bill which they said denied State Governments their authority over Agriculture and Health, which are primarily state subjects.

They felt that besides other failings, there is urgent need to review the Bill before its introduction to the Parliament so that the interests of farmers could be protected and that the Bill should be introduced not by the Ministry of Science and Technology but by the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Environment & Forests.

The speakers at the protest also attacked the Bill for its attempts to bypass the citizens’ Right to Information, as they said, “This Bill, through Section 28, expressly seeks to classify some information as Confidential Commercial Information and leaves it to the discretion of officials of the Authority to share or not share this information.”

“This is regressive, given that the Bt brinjal controversy saw express Supreme Court orders to the regulators asking them to put out all the biosafety data in the public domain,” said Rekha Modi, a Senior Activist from Bihar. She further said that the Bill has very weak penal clauses and does not address liability issues at all.

“The bill will affect our farmers, it will hit our villages. But even then it does not provide for consultation with people at our panchayat levels which is most shocking,” said Pankaj Bhushan, the coordinator of the GM Free Bihar Movement.

Bhushan said Indian farmers have lakhs of varieties of crops developed through their knowledge that will be under threat if the bill in present form becomes law. “That is what we are protesting because we want our farmers, our nature to be protected for they are our real wealth with which we are born,” he added.

Even the noted agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan recently criticised the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (Brai) bill, saying it is against the spirit of Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi and decentralised governance.

The GM Free Bihar Movement also pointed to a recent press release issued by Senior National Advisory Council Member & associated with The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) Ms. Aruna Roy, who too criticized the BRAI Bill for total lack of transparency and being an antidote to RTI.

Activist & member GM Free Bihar Movement, Prakash Bablu said The BRAI Bill is also a regrettable attempt to curtail spaces for people’s participation and democratic oversight in decisions that could affect the lives of the entire population of our country.

The fact that this Bill has been listed for introduction in Parliament with no discussion of its contents in the public domain is an indication of the intent to push this bill through without discussion and debate, said Kanchan Bala, Activist from Patna.

Social Worker Archna Sharma said this bill will end our choice of food in near future.

Pankaj Bhushan

Convener, GM Free Bihar Movement

National Co Convener, Alliance for Sustainable & Holitic Agriculture (ASHA)

9472999999

kisanswarajpankaj@gmail.com

GM crops by back door

By Basudev Acharya

 

Apart from issues related to seed monopoly and rural livelihood, there are serious biosafety concerns the world over.

Across the world, there is huge controversy around the introduction of genetically modified/engineered (GM/GE) crops. On one hand there are a few biotech crop developers and scientists recommending the use of GM technology as solution for food security and on other there are concerns about its impact on human health, environment and socioeconomy.

Added to that is the unpredictability and irreversibility of genetic engineering and the uncontrollability of GM crops once let out in the environment. One of the major concerns about GM crops is that they only serve the purpose of multinational seed giants. All GM technologies come along with Intellectual Property Rights and patent tags of multinational seed companies which would ensure their monopolies as has happened in the case of Bt cotton, the only GM crop commercially cultivated in India.

While there were 619 varieties of Bt cotton approved for release until Aug 2009 in the country, 514 of them are owned by Monsanto, the US multinational seed giant, which also holds a global monopoly in the total seed sales of Bt cotton.

One has already seen how Monsanto has armtwisted the state governments in India to increase the cotton seed prices this season. Bt Brinjal, the first GM food crop to have reached commercialisation stage in our country, also had a Cry 1Ac gene owned by Monsanto and licenced to Mahyco for developing Bt Brinjal. There is a threat of GM crops becoming the tool for control of the seed and thereby the agriculture sector by multinational seed corporations.

Apart from issues related to seed monopoly and rural livelihood, there are serious biosafety concerns being debated world over. Different studies have consistently indicated the possible ill-effects of GMs on health and environment. There is a clear need for an independent report on various effects of GM crops, including long term studies and chronic toxicity studies. Biosafety concerns must be addressed before any open air release of GM crops including field trials.

It is in this context that one should look at the growing debate on GM crops in India. The crisis in Indian agriculture needs no further statement, but to attribute it to just technology lag and promote technofixes, like GM crops, as the only solution to it is not only myopic but also criminal and this is precisely what the Indian government seems to be doing.

The debate in India on GE crops started with Bt cotton, the only commercially approved GE crop in the country (March, 2002) and had become loud and visible around the approval of Bt Brinjal.

During public consultations organised by the Union ministry of environment and forests last year on Bt Brinjal, there were concerns raised by farmers, civil society, and health and environment experts against GM crops and also against the existing regulatory system in the country, the government then rolled back the approval validating these concerns.

Field trials
While Bt Brinjal is under moratorium, numerous GM crops are being released in to the open fields in the name of field trials, which could lead to contamination of our regular crop varieties by these GM crops whose biosafety is yet to be ascertained. Efforts are also on by GM crop developers like Monsanto to push herbicide tolerant corn and cotton in India. Field trials of these crops have been happening and are expected to come up for commercialisation soon.

Recommendations submitted by the Swaminathan Task Force on Agri-Biotechnology, whose report was accepted by the government in 2004, clearly stated that India should  adopt  such technologies as genetic engineering only where alternatives do not exist. It also categorically rejected technologies that would be detrimental to agriculture labour like the herbicide tolerant crops.

To top it all the government is proposing a new regulatory system for GM crops called the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) which is supposed to be tabled in the monsoon session. From what one has seen of the media leaked versions of its drafts, BRAI is going to lower the bar for approvals of GM crops. The problems with the proposed bill starts with the grave conflict of interest where the regulator is proposed to be located in the ministry of science and technology which also has the mandate  to promote GM crops in the country.

The last version seen in the media paints the picture of a centralised technocratic body with pretty much no role for the elected representatives of the people of this country. It did not have longterm biosafety assessments and also maintains the current system of letting the GM crop developer do the biosafety assessment.

It also proposed to circumvent the Right to Information Act, 2005, and went even to the extent of proposing imprisonment and fines for those opposing GM crops without scientific evidence. Thus the BRAI that government plans to put in place, at its onset looks like a non transparent, unquestionable authority.

Given that the existing regulatory system is defunct, what needs to be immediately done is stopping the release of any GM crop in to our environment be it for commercialisation or for research. We should not fail to ask fundamental questions like whether there is a need for this technology and whether safer and sustainable alternatives exist for a proposed product.

This is what the existing and proposed regulatory systems for GM crops fail to do in India and the fact is that for any GM crop that is being developed in any part of the word right now, there exists ecological alternatives which are economically and socially sustainable.

(The writer is the chairman of parliament’s standing committee on agriculture)

 

 

 

Legal action against two firms in BT brinjal case

NEW DELHI: The BT brinjal case just got murkier.Government’s National Biodiversity Authority has decided to take legal action against Mayhco and Monsanto for using Indian varieties of the vegetable without mandatory permissions.

The authority, meant to govern use of Indian genetic resources by business and research groups, decided in its meeting in June to initiate legal action against the companies and their collaborators for violating the Biodiversity Conservation Act and using the genetic material from India without the mandatory permissions from either the state or central board authorised to permit such work.

The last meeting of NBA recorded, “A background note besides legal opinion on Bt brinjal on the alleged violation by the Mahyco/Monsanto, and their collaborators for accessing and using the local brinjal varieties for development of Bt brinjal without prior approval of the competent authorities was discussed and it was decided that the NBA may proceed legally against Mahyco/Monsanto, and all others concerned to take the issue to its logical conclusion.”

The move comes after a Bangalore-based NGO, Environment Support Group, filed a case before the state authority – Karnataka Biodiversity Board — against the companies and consortium of research organizations for using the Indian varieties without mandatory clearances.

Environment Support Group complained to the Karnataka Biodiversity Board on February 15, 2011. The state authority investigated the matter and in May 2011 reported to the national board that six local varieties had been used for development of Bt Brinjal without permissions. Mayhco and its collaborator, the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, defended themselves before the state authority for not seeking permissions stating that the project did not involve profit making or transfer of genetic resources.

Under the Biodiversity Act, violations of this nature can attract up to three years of imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh penalty.

GM Free Bihar asks crop developers to quit Bt brinjal expert group

“No one can be judge in his own case”

April 25th 2011, Patna: Ahead of a crucial meeting of a newly-constituted Expert Group to review Bt Brinjal, the GM-Free Bihar Movement has asked the members of the panel to recuse themselves from decision making as their presence was in conflict of interest. It also cited latest evidence on the toxicity and inadequate biosafety assessment of Bt brinjal, urging the government to reject the Bt brinjal biosafety dossier in toto.

Bihar had become the first state to say no to genetically modified brinjal, a stand that had led the Centre to declare a moratorium on its commercial release in January 2010. Recently also, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had taken strong exceptions to field trials of Bt Maize. But if the expert group meeting goes ahead, it will be for the first time that an official review of the controversial crop would happen on April 27.

“We would like this so-called ‘expert group’ to look at the very need for Bt brinjal given that many alternatives exist to chemical pesticides without having to resort to genetically modified crops, which is also a hazardous technology, even as it is unpredictable and irreversible,” said Pankaj Bhushan, Convener of the GM-Free Bihar Movement. “We don’t want genetically modified crops in Bihar, We don’t want Bt Brinjal or Bt Maize in Bihar. Bihar’s agriculture policy is also clear about this, After all it will affect our food and farmers,” he said.

He said Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh too had pointed this out in his moratorium decision note, saying that “clearly, Bt technology is not the only route for reducing pesticide use…..The advantage of NPM (non-pesticide management) is that it eliminates chemical pesticide use completely whereas Bt technology only reduces the pesticide spray, albeit substantially”. Civil society groups have time and again provided evidence from within the NARS (national agricultural research system) in addition to evidence from farmers’ fields that scores of safe, affordable and eco-friendly alternatives exist to both pesticides and GM crops for pest management in agriculture, Bhushan said.

He said that the constitution of the Expert Group is a matter of concern for his Coalition for a GM-Free India that is spearheading the campaign across the country in the larger interest of the people. “Despite the huge concern expressed at the prevalence of conflicting interests in our regulatory decision-making during the nation-wide debate last year, it appears that no lessons are being drawn. The new ‘expert group’ of 16 members has at least 5 members associated with GM crop development and it is not clear why they were included in this panel,” Bhushan wondered.

He said that latest scientific evidence on GM crops from world-over is pointing to environmental and health risks indeed being a reality with GMOs. A recent scientific review pointed out that favorable findings on GM crops from scientific papers were usually from studies of GM crop developers themselves while independent studies are still sorely missing. As far as the views of state governments and their opposition to Bt brinjal is concerned, nothing has changed since the time the moratorium was imposed, he added.


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