Archive for the 'GM Crops' 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

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New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

by: Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report

Dozens of United States diplomatic cables released in the latest WikiLeaks dump on Wednesday reveal new details of the US effort to push foreign governments to approve  genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont.

The cables further confirm previous Truthout reports on the diplomatic pressure the US has put on Spain and France, two countries with powerful anti-GE crop movements, to speed up their biotech approval process and quell anti-GE sentiment within the European Union (EU).

Several cables describe “biotechnology outreach programs” in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials.

Truthout recently reported on front groups supported by the US government, philanthropic foundations and companies like Monsanto that are working to introduce pro-biotechnology policy initiatives and GE crops in developing African countries, and several cables released this week confirm that American diplomats have promoted biotech agriculture to countries like Tunisia, South Africa and Mozambique.

Cables detail US efforts to influence the biotech policies of developed countries such as Egypt and Turkey, but France continues to stand out as a high-profile target.

In a 2007 cable, the US embassy in Paris reported on a meeting among US diplomats and representatives from Monsanto, DuPont and Dow-Agro-sciences. The companies were concerned about a movement of French farmers, who were vandalizing GE crop farms at the time, and suggested diplomatic angles for speeding up EU approvals of GE Crops.

In 2008 cable describing a “rancorous” debate within the French Parliament over proposed biotech legislation, Craig Stapleton, the former US ambassador to France under the Bush administration, included an update on MON-810, a Monsanto corn variety banned in France.

Stapleton wrote that French officials “expect retaliation via the World Trade Organization” for upholding the ban on MON-810 and stalling the French GE crop approval process. “There is nothing to be gained in France from delaying retaliation,” Stapleton wrote.

Tough regulations and bans on GE crops can deal hefty blows to US exports. About 94 percent of soybeans, 72 percent of corn and 73 percent of the cotton grown in the US now use GE-tolerate herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup, according to the US Agriculture Department.

A 2007 cable, for example, reports that the French ban on MON-810 could cost the US $30 million to $50 million in exports.

In a 2007 cable obtained by Truthout in January, Stapleton threatened “moving to retaliate” against France for banning MON-810. Several other European countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, have also placed bans on MON-810 in recent years. MON-810 is engineered to excrete the Bt toxin, which kills some insect pests.

WRONG BILL BY WRONG PEOPLE FOR WRONG REASONS

BRAI BILL 2011 IS NO BETTER THAN ANTI-PEOPLE, ANTI-NATURE BRAI 2009

August 16th 2011: The BRAI Bill is a blatant attempt to bulldoze through the public resistance and genuine concerns about Genetically Modified crops, and to deny state governments their Constitutional authority over Agriculture and Health, said the Coalition for a GM-Free India in its reaction to the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India  2011 Bill to be introduced in the Parliament tomorrow. The Coalition urged Parliamentarians to object to the very introduction of the Bill in the Parliament tomorrow, stating that ‘it is a wrong bill by the wrong people for the wrong reasons’. The scam-ridden UPA government will only take a further beating in the eyes of the public if it tries to introduce and pass this Bill, warned the Coalition.

“This BRAI mechanism makes the regulatory system even weaker than the existing GEAC mechanism. As the nation remembers, the Bt Brinjal public hearings process saw state governments, farmer organizations, scientists, environmentalists, health experts and rest of civil society come out with huge concerns about GM crops, and the Government through its moratorium decision admitted the failure of GEAC regulatory mechanism and promised to strengthen the regulatory system. How can the same Government bring in a regulatory mechanism which is actually much weaker than GEAC and which overrides the state governments, local governments and public inputs?” demanded the Coalition.

“As we have said all along, regulation of modern biotechnology is not like regulation as in other sectors like telecom, where corrupt politicians and bureaucrats can hope to make money. The fundamental basis of regulation lies in the risks associated with modern biotechnology. Therefore, there should only be one primary mandate or objective to this statute: to prevent risks to the health and safety of people of India, its environment and its biological diversity in particular, from the development, handling, transport, use, transfer and release of any living modified organisms. Given such a mandate, this Bill should be introduced not by the Ministry of Science and Technology but by the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Environment & Forests. The current Bill is objectionable on such fundamental grounds apart from its other failings,” said the Coalition in a press release.

The following are the main objections listed out by the Coalition in response to this Bill:

1.            Wrong Ministry introducing it with wrong objectives: As mentioned above, there should be only one reason why this Bill should be enacted and that should be to uphold the biosafety of the people of India and its environment from the risks of modern biotechnology. If a technology is inherently unsafe, no amount of regulation can make it safer as is the case with the use of Genetic Engineering in our food and farming systems. Given that this statute is trying to replace the current regulatory regime as governed by the EPA’s 1989 Rules which have been expressly formulated to protect health, Nature and environment from the risks of modern biotechnology, there should be a strong, rational reason why the same will not be the objective for BRAI. What new scientific evidence or other evidence has emerged since then that this objective is being changed to also introduce fast-track clearance systems in the name of ‘effective and efficient’ regulatory procedures?

2.            Over-riding state governments’ authority over their agriculture and health: This Bill has a clause in the very first chapter (Section (2)) which seeks to keep the regulatory control in the hands of Union Government, in the name of “public interest”. This is unconstitutional and retrogressive, especially given the recent change in regulatory norms in India, rightfully so for the first time, allowing state governments to have a greater say in the deployment of modern biotechnology especially in the context of field trials/environmental release of GMOs.

3.            Bypassing the citizens’ Right to Information: 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 once again 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. What is the point in incorporating a component of obtaining public feedback through Section 27 (5) if the biosafety data is not put out in the public domain? This is completely objectionable and no political party should support clauses like this.

The same is true to the Oath of Secrecy that the Authority Chair and Members are expected to take in addition to other officials. Why is modern biotechnology and its deployment a secret affair, unless there is something to hide from the public? How can this Authority be trusted to act in the best interest of Indians with such clauses built in?

4.            3-member Authority to decide for all of us?: The Bill essentially proposes that a 3-member Authority, with support from 2 other part-time members will take decisions, even though certain new mechanisms like the Environment Appraisal Panel have been introduced, compared to the last version of the Bill seen in 2010. However, this Authority has been vested with all powers to decide and while it appears that the authority will take recommendations of Risk Assessment Unit and Products Ruling Committee, and has seemingly been rid of conflicting interests by placing restrictions on employment after cessation of office etc. (not before joining the Authority and therefore, nothing to prevent some appointee getting a hefty sum before joining the authority and then clearing applications in the corruption-laden systems all around us; similarly, no such restrictions for the officials in the Biosafety Assessment Units or Product Rulings Committee etc., are missing, even though they would be doing the recommendations that would form the basis of decision-making later on!), the entire authority of decision-making rests with this small group of scientists! There are even clauses which prevent invalidation of the proceedings of the Authority by mere vacancies (sic) etc., in this Bill. When an inter-ministerial body 30-member body like the GEAC, which was also taking biosafety recommendations from a group of scientists called the RCGM and acting accordingly, could be found lacking rigour or independence so often in the past, how can this Biotech Regulatory Authority with its 3 full-time and 2 part-time members be trusted and how can Indians place their faith on them? Further, biotech regulation is not just about biosafety for decisions to be taken based on someone declaring something to be ‘safe’. There are issues related to farmers’ rights, consumers’ rights, trade security, sustainable development etc., all linked to modern biotechnology and its applications.

5.            No Needs Evaluation: One of the fundamental recommendations of the Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology led by Dr.Swaminathan was that “transgenics should be resorted to when other options to achieve the desired objectives are either not available or not feasible.” The BRAI doesn’t talk about any needs evaluation and assessment of alternatives, which was also stressed by the Government in its Bt brinjal moratorium decision – and assumes that all biotechnology and GM crops are a fait accompli.

6.            There are no proposals at all for independent testing which is a great problem witnessed time and again in the current regulatory regime too. Worse, there are proposals of notifying labs under this Act that have not even been accredited!

7.            There are no improvements being made in terms of open air trials not happening before biosafety is thoroughly, independently and democratically assessed. Using quaint terms like ‘environmental release’ for actual commercial cultivation and using other terms like field trials for open air releases even though they are environmental releases too, the proposed Bill has no improvements to suggest to address the serious lacunae with field trials which are making state government after state government reject the possibility of any open air trials taking place in their state.

8.            The Bill has very weak penal clauses (Chapter XII on Offences and Penalties) and in fact does not address liability issues at all: without a liability regime in place, no regulatory regime is complete on this issue. Liability should put the onus of violations on the crop developer primarily and not the users. Further, liability should cover criminal and civil liability as well as redressal/compensation to affected parties like farmers in addition to remediation for damage caused.

9.            It is unacceptable that the Bill has a clause (70) which says that no court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under this Act save on a complaint made by the Authority or any officer or person authorized by it! What is the rationale for this other than to protect offenders? Equally objectionable is Section 77 which prevents civil courts to have jurisdiction on any matter which the Appellate Tribunal under the Act is empowered to determine, wherein there is a bar on any injunction to be granted by any court in respect of any action taken by the Authority.

10.          It is also objectionable that this Act will have an over-riding effect over other laws in force since this Bill is indeed inconsistent with legislations like the Biological Diversity Act.

The above few points are only some of the main objections. There are several other problems with the Bill in terms of the Appellate Authority proposed, in its Inter-Ministerial Governing Board and its role and constitution etc. etc.

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.

Save our onions from seed predators

Dinesh C. Sharma  | August 11, 2011 

An internationally reputed entomologist, Petr Svacha, was arrested and put behind bars in a Darjeeling jail a couple of years ago for allegedly violating the Biodiversity Protection Act 2002. His crime: he was found collecting some moths and insects in forest areas. None of them were endangered species nor was Svacha in a protected forest.

Now contrast this with another case of biopiracy. A multinational seed firm is accused of ‘accessing’ nine local varieties of eggplant and using this plant material to develop a genetically modified brinjal variety – popularly known as bt brinjal.

One of the state biodiversity boards finds prima facie violation of the Act and forwards the complaint to the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) for further action. NBA not only sits on the complaint for over a year, but also processes a fresh application by the same company to ‘access’ indigenous germlines of onions. In one case, a scientist is summarily jailed allegedly for being a biopirate, while in the other no action is taken even after evidence of biopiracy is found against a powerful commercial entity.

These two incidents demonstrate how India has made a sham of its biodiversity regulation.

NBA had to be set up to fulfill obligations after India signed the Convention on Biological Diversity. It took a long time for the authority and state boards to become functional.

Once NBA was set up, it was promptly converted into a convenient parking lot for bureaucrats from agriculture and environment ministries. All its chairmen since 2003 have been serving or retired babus, and members are all joint secretary level officers from different ministries.

One can call it a committee of joint secretaries rather than NBA. Even so-called nonofficial members are also drawn from the same pool. In fact, for the first time NBA will have a Chairman from outside the babudom this week. The problem with these people is that they consider the authority as an extension of the government, and have reduced it to a clearing house of applications from multinationals for accessing India’s biodiversity.

While applications from commercial firms for accessing biological material are processed with alacrity, complaints against them are not handled with the same level of efficiency. The time taken by NBA in dealing with the complaint of biopiracy against Monsanto, which now wants to access onion parental lines, is a case in point.

The Monsanto application for the use of onion plant material for developing commercial grade onion hybrid seeds also raises some fundamental issues.

How do you arrive at value of plant material and who decides this? The company is going to pay Rupees ten lakh to the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research for 25 grams each of Male sterile (A line) and Maintener (B line) of MS 48 and MS 65 as ‘onetime license fee’. Is this the right price for a plant material which would perhaps spin a multi-billion dollar hybrid onion business for Monsanto? Should it be Rs 10 lakh or Rs 100 crore? (the export market alone of Indian onions is in excess of Rs 1000 crore a year).

When hybrids are already being developed in state-funded Directorate of Onion and Garlic Research, should a predatory seed firm be allowed entry at all? All these questions need convincing answers. Onion prices can bring tears in the eyes of politicians at the time of elections and bring down governments.

Hope the issue of biodiversity of onion will be dealt with the same level of gravity.

 

 

 

 

Bihar had already rejected these GM seeds trail by Monsanto

Patna, August 9, 2011: Farmers, freedom fighters and activists of the GM Free Bihar Movement today launched a campaign from the capital city calling for ‘Monsanto, Quit India’, accusing the multinational seed company of playing with the lives of Indian people.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh and Food Security Minister Shayam Razak offered juice to the fasting protesters who had organised a sit-in at the Kargil Chowk to observe the Quit India Movement day as an occasion to highlight the havoc being played with consumers.

Addressing the activists Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh said and we are seriously looking after Monsanto seeds. Anyhow no any trail by any company will be allowed in this state.

Minister Shyam rajak added that this has become a national problem now and we are with this movement, he appreciated.

Further, memorandum to Agri Minister has been handed over there to cancel all agreements of Monsanto like companies.

Thereafter, the protesters marched through the major city cross-sections to hand over a memorandum to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that demanded cancelling all agreements that the Bihar government has with various corporations like Monsanto, Mahyco, Bayer etc., and disallow any genetically modified (GM) crop research or trials inBihar.

The Alliancefor Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) – an informal network of more than 400 organisations around the country — and GM Free Bihar Movement organised the programme to ‘Save Our Food, Farmers and Freedom’.

Most attending the day-long events appeared agitated against what they called corporate aggressions on the Indian food and farming.

GM Free Bihar Movement Secretary Pankaj Bhushan accused Monsanto of adopting notorious means in India for a variety of misdeeds and crimes which he listed as under – polluting natural resources, killing and maiming humans with its products, bribing officials for approvals, falsifying safety reports to show the most dangerous chemicals like dioxin as safe, colluding with regulators through revolving doors between the company and government as also false advertising.

Freedom fighters, social activists and farmers were present in large numbers to take up the symbolic fast against the government’s partnerships with Monsanto and research on GM crops like Golden Rice.

“We are forced to remind everyone on Quit India Day that we are living in times when our freedom is being jeopardized yet again in insidious ways – if we as a nation want to protect our food sovereignty and if we want to retain control on what we grow and what we eat, we need to resist this corporate takeover,” Bhushan said.

“We need to put into place lasting and affordable solutions that are farmer-controlled in our agriculture. Urban consumers should realize that it is not just our farmers who are getting trapped and exploited; consumers should understand that access to safe, diverse and nutritious food for all is also at risk,” he added.

Vidya bhushan Singh, Farmer leader Harit Swaraj, Girinder Nr. Sharma, Prakash bablu and other activists along Bhola and Radha, farmer leaders from Rewa Madhya Prades were also on fast.


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