Posts Tagged 'GM Free India'

Govt betrays the nation : Tables deeply flawed (Biotech Regulatory Authority of India) BRAI Bill:

 

Bill introduced despite trenchant opposition within and outside the Parliament

New Delhi, 23rd April 2013: The Coalition for a GM-Free India expressed deep disappointment at the Government’s action of sneaking in the controversial Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill 2013, in Parliament today (22nd  April, 2013) despite strong opposition from parliamentarians,  scientists, civil society groups and other analysts to this controversial and unacceptable Bill. This Bill, dubbed as a “wrong bill by the wrong people for wrong reasons” in its various versions has been extremely controversial due to provisions facilitating the biotechnology industry at the expense of public good. Further, the Bill’s flawed approach to regulation in trying to create a single window clearing house for products of modern biotechnology, instead of an express mandate to protect and uphold biosafety given the acknowledged risks of modern biotechnology, has been opposed time and again.

“As we have reiterated on numerous occasions, the Bill is steeped in conflict of interest as the Ministry promoting biotechnology is about to house the regulator; it undermines the federal polity of our nation by overriding the authority of state governments, even though Agriculture is a State Subject as per the Indian Constitution. It also attempts to circumvent the right to information and transparency laws and is focussed on creating a three member technocratic, undemocratic and centralised decision making body. As the Bt brinjal moratorium decision shows us, even a more broad-based regulatory body had gone wrong with its decision-making – why can’t the government learn lessons from the past and aspire for a progressive legislation in the interest of Indian citizens and environment, rather than promote corporate interests?” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener of the Coalition.

The problems with this technology particularly in our food and farming systems, where the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are released into the environment are widely known and documented. “The Bill overlooks the ever-increasing evidence on the impacts of GMOs on human health, biodiversity and socioeconomic aspects and lacks any scientific independent, long term assessment to look at the safety as well as the very need of GMOs before their open release.  This bill is anti-farmer and anti-consumer; if passed, it will only result in people losing control over food choices and seed sovereignty. The bill should be withdrawn”, asserted Pankaj Bhushan the Co-Convener of the Coalition.

 The introduction of this Bill at this juncture is all the more shocking and unacceptable, given the following recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture which studied the subject in detail and presented its report to the Parliament in August 2012:

The Government have been for some years now toying with the idea of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority. The Committee feel that regulating biotechnology is too small a focus in the vast canvas of biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health, etc. and a multitude of other such related issues. They have, therefore, already recommended in a previous Chapter setting up of an all encompassing Bio-safety Authority through an Act of Parliament, which is extensively discussed and debated amongst all stakeholders, before acquiring shape of the law. Unless and until such an authority is in place, any further movement in regard to transgenics in agriculture crops will obviously be fraught with unknown consequences. (Section 8.120)

Analysing the lacunae of the existing regulation and studying the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India, the Standing Committee said the following: “In such a situation what the Country needs is not a biotechnology regulatory legislation but an all encompassing umbrella legislation on biosafety which is focused on ensuring the biosafety, biodiversity, human and livestock health, environmental protection and which specifically describes the extent to which biotechnology, including modern biotechnology, fits in the scheme of things without compromising with the safety of any of the elements mentioned above”.

The Coalition for a GM-Free India strongly urges that Parliamentarians cutting across the political spectrum should respond to this retrograde and anti-people bill and prevent the control over our food and seed by a few biotechnology majors.  Discussing the Bill in a limited context of a Standing Committee on Science & Technology would not suffice, given the large potential impact of the issue at hand.

We demand that the government show its sensitivity to the broad based opposition by withdrawing the bill. We urge Parliamentarians to ask forcirculation to elicit  response and understand the importance and need to set up a Joint  Committee in this current instance (ideally headed by the Chairperson of the Agriculture Standing Committee, given its deep links to farmers’ livelihoods, an issue pertaining to the largest number of Indians).

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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.

Agro-view The ecological disaster in GM crops

By Achyut Railkar

THE researcher, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company Mahyco and US biotech Giant Corporation Monsanto (MM) claim that genetically modified (GM) food reduces usage of pesticide during the growth of the output. MM alters DNA by introduction of an extra gene, Cry1Ac for cotton, brinjal or other crops to form GM. The insecticide is derived from a soil bacterium bacillus thuringiensis. The hybrid crop is also called as Bt cotton or Bt brinjal.

After the permission for Bt cotton in the country MM hopes to get consent from the government for Bt brinjal. World Bank and WTO probably pressurise central government to adopt GM crops. MM and other companies try to create property rights in the name of GM crops. The European and many more countries oppose GM food cultivation.

Now after eight years of Bt cotton cultivation covering almost 95 per cent cotton farms in the country, it has run into trouble. Cattle in Punjab and Haryana fell sick after consuming Bt cotton leaves. The cultivators allege that Bt cotton has created allergies and rise in asthma and rash troubles among them.

The Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) had found in 2005 that resistance of Bt cotton goes down after some period. MM’s scientists have detected survival of a type of pink coloured pest known as bollworm while monitoring the 2009 Bt cotton crop in four districts of Gujarat.

MM misinterprets that GM seeds increase the yield. The three year observation of 87 villages indicate that non-Bt cotton seeds had 30 per cent more yield and its cost of production is 40 per cent less. Because of high cost of production on Bt cotton, 32000 farmers had suicidal deaths across the country during the period 2001 to 2005. Only Bt seeds do not offer more yield, it has to spend for power, fertilizers and irrigation also.

The question on everyone’s lips is why is the government so keen to allow US corporations like MM to privatise the basis of our food production based on seed system?

Even more horrifying is that in some cotton growing areas in the country, only GM seed is available for farmers and they are at MM’s mercy. When rising costs of inputs are making agriculture unviable and causing farmer suicides, it is absurd to promote seed replacement. GM seeds are four to five times more expensive than normal certified seeds because GM seed’s price covers MM’s proprietary right charges (PR).

After a period of 3-5 years, all brinjal growing areas will be contaminated and the gene will have crossed over into tomato, potato and other crops and PR would apply. After Bt cotton and Bt brinjal MM would plan to tamper with bhindi, rice and many other crops with the same methods. Once its cultivation becomes widespread, there is no looking back because genes released into the environment cannot be recalled even by God.

But the introduction of GM brinjal has convulsed the government into action. Is brinjal production one of the government’s priorities? There is no crisis in brinjal production; we have more than enough of brinjal. Its agenda probably has been decided by MM. Brinjal has been cultivated in India for the past 4000 years and the area under cultivation is around 500,000 hectares. India produces 9 million tonnes of brinjal every year and the farmers and consumers both are happy as it has innumerable varieties and tastes.

Indian agricultural experts negate Bt cotton’s success story and say gene merely helps to keep pests at bay. GM crops essentially need chemical fertilizers (CF) in abundance and the CF kills the productivity of the land gradually. The unfortunate fact is that farmers ought to buy GM seeds and CF from MM’s representatives, which obviously benefits MM or any other seed supplier by high profits through PR.

Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India’s biotech regulator, cleared Bt Brinjal on October 14, 2009. However there is a lot of opposition after this:

  1. Many activists sent more than 40000 e-mails to Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and Forest (MoEF) accusing him of having sold out to biotech companies. The expert Biologist and Supreme Court appointed observer PM Bhargava commented that GEAC’s decision was pre-decided and farcical.
  2. The Chief Ministers of the 13 states, which have almost over 75 per cent share of brinjal production in the country, officially conveyed to the Centre that they do not want their farmers to grow the Bt brinjal. The opponents also argued that the tests required to dispel fears about adverse consequences on human health had not been done satisfactorily.
  3. During April 2010, NGO Greenpeace held the survey of around 5600 individuals on various socio-economic levels from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Guwahati and Indore. It found that an overwhelming 89 per cent of people believe they have the right to protest against the GM food. The introduction of GM foods has tremendous health effects. It can lead to cancer, allergies, birth defects and disability. Some studies on Bt food have shown lung, kidney and liver damage in lab rats.

The opponents give us a clear indication that we need an impartial and independent agency, which is democratic and transparent, and has a mandate to put people’s health, biosafety, food security and environment before corporate interests.

On February 9, 2010, MoEF imposed a moratorium on the cultivation of BT brinjal after experiencing huge opposition. However the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill (BRAI) takes away the right to say no to GM food. The government should therefore withdraw BRAI Bill as it is termed as blatant subversion of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression.

On the contrary, it shows that the developing countries have benefited in the crops of Organic type of Food (OF). South Brazil has doubled the yields for maize and wheat crop. Mexico has increased production by over 60 per cent. Today New Zealand, Australia, Cuba, European countries, Latin America are leading countries, for growing OF. India is in 4th position which has 3 million hectares of cropland for OF.

OF has self-developing capacity of regenerating seeds, power and manures. It reduces emission of green house gas and can control climatic changes. It preserves all the varieties of the different crops unlike GM food. OF is a win-win proposal. It builds the soil instead of depleting it. It takes the assistance of soil fauna and microbes. It rejects synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and grows safe and nutritious food.

Briton’s Lancaster University and Stock-bridge Technology Centre research shows, if the seeds are kept in jasmonic acid for some period, they develop the power of repelling insects and there is no need of GM foods.

GM crops spell a bleak and grim future for OF. The certifying agencies will refuse to certify OF grown adjacent to GM foods. By killing OF in this manner, we would kill ecologically developed agriculture.

The government’s decision of stopping Bt brinjal cultivation appears temporary and the issue may trigger any time because BRAI Bill is not yet withdrawn by the government. The people therefore have to be alert on the issue of GM food to save the agriculture in the country. We should encourage OF that would preserve ecological balance. Indian scientists should carry out independent biotechnological research and tests to wipe out the danger of GM foods.

 

Bihar rejects field trials of GM crops

Patna, March 4, 2011: Farmers and activists today dared multinational seed company Monsanto to conduct field trials of genetically modified crops in the state, and claimed that Bihar was in fact fit to be declared totally GM free. “Our efforts have bore fruit as Bihar farmers are now aware of the dangers of the genetic foods. No farmer or his field is thus offering to be a lab rat in Bihar,” they told a press conference here. Bharitya Kisan Union representatives even said they will chase away anyone found to be engaged in such trials even clandestinely.

Bihar Farmers Commission Chairman and former Central Minister Upendra Nath Verma said that Bihar is the first state to have banned commercial use of Bt brinjal but the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee of the Central Government had permitted some open air field trials, some insect resistance management trials and seed production plots for GM Maize of Monsanto and GM rice of Bayer at seven places in the country, including two in Bihar – Begusarai and Bhagalpur. “We view it with great concern. When Bt brinjal was not approved by the government for commercial use why did it then allow conducting of trial of Bt maize etc?”

GM Free Bihar Movement’s convenor Pankaj Bhushan termed any such trials as “totally unwarranted, unnecessary, illegal and hazardous” and said he was in constant touch with officials of the state not to allow any such trials. “Such trials pose hazards of biological contamination as well as intentional leakage of seed as has been witnessed in the case of Bt cotton earlier in the country.” “Herbicide-tolerant crops like the GM Maize pose many socio-economic concerns in addition to health and environmental hazards flowing both from the increased use of agri-chemicals in the form of weedicides like glyphosate as well as from the genetic engineering process,” he said.

“Since the Bihar government had responded positively to our efforts against Bt brinjal, we had again approached all concerned by raising valid objections against any possible field trials in the state,” Bhushan said adding the campaign against field trials was bearing fruit.

He also said that herbicide tolerance technology will have irreversible impacts on farmers of the state where the poorest people survive out of employment generated through manual de-weeding in agricultural fields.

Commenting on the anti-farmer behaviour of Monsanto, farmer union leaders pointed out that seed monopolies are building up in Indian agriculture with lax regulatory regimes and seed prices are reaching unprecedented, exorbitant high levels. “Monsanto wants to strengthen their position of monopoly by bringing in GM crops where their seed as well as chemical businesses will thrive. Therefore, we will not allow any such companies to conduct field trials in Bihar. Rather, our government should find it appropriate to declare Bihar a GM Free state.”

It is pertinent to note that GM Free Bihar Movement had played a crucial role in raising awareness among the people in Bihar about Bt brinjal, the first GM food crop to have been considered for commercial cultivation in the country.

Both the Centre and Bihar Government then responded rightly to the constitutional, democratic and scientific voices all around and placed a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal on February 9, 2010.

According to Bhushan, multinationals were still conniving to push GM crops without sufficient research on the human health impacts, unscientific test protocols, absence of independent bio-safety tests, and  conflicting interests of  regulators. Besides, adverse results in experiments were also being masked by the crop developers and ignored by the regulators.

India doesn’t need a Biotech Regulatory Authority but a Biosafety Protection Authority

Reacting to reports on the Cabinet clearance given to the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, members of the Coalition for a GM-Free India strongly reiterated that this Bill should be stopped in its tracks. Repeating that the mandate of this Bill is to set up a clearing house for approving GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in our food and farming, they said that they would step up pressure on the Government of India to discard this ‘wrong bill by the wrong people for the wrong reasons’.

“We believe that any law related to regulation of GM crops/foods should have as its basis the protection of the health and environment of Indians from the risks of biotechnology. In fact, that was the basis of the Environment Protection Act’s 1989 Rules which were the basis for the current regulatory regime in India. If this fundamental shift in the statutory approach to regulation of GMOs is happening now, the Government of India should be able to justify the grounds on which this is happening, especially since more and more evidence is emerging on the adverse impacts of the technology”, said Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

“Increasingly, we are seeing state governments being bypassed in the law and policy formulation related to various aspects of our agriculture even though Agriculture is a state subject as per the Constitution of India. This is being attempted with the Seeds Bill too, and now the BRAI expressly seeks to supercede such constitutional authority vested with state governments. This is simply not acceptable – obviously, if things go wrong tomorrow, it is the state government’s doors that farmers will be first knocking on tomorrow. This is also against the spirit of local self-governance enshrined in the Constitution starting from the Gram Panchayat”, said Nilesh Desai, Beej Swaraj Abhiyan, Madhya Pradesh. The Madhya Pradesh has already fired the first salvo against the Cabinet approval to the Bill and said that it would fight it tooth and nail.

“We do not believe that tinkering with the existing Bill here and there will do – we need this Bill to be scrapped, to be replaced by a comprehensive, people-friendly biosafety protection legislation. There is just no evidence on the scientific or social fronts to support the government’s complacent pro-GM view”, said Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab.

Many analysts see this as the government’s and the biotech industry’s attempts to bring in Bt Brinjal, stuck in a moratorium for now, through the backdoor. The BRAI being housed under the Department of Biotechnology is being objected to strongly in addition to the lack of mechanisms for transparent and democratic functioning for protecting health and environment from the hazardous technology of Genetic Engineering. It is worthwhile to remember here that that the need for an independent and credible regulatory regime was articulated by the 2004 Task Force Report on Agricultural Biotechnology and this report clearly pointed out that the following should be the bottom line for any biotechnology regulatory policy: the safety of the environment, the well being of farming families, the ecological and economic sustainability of farming systems, the health and nutrition security of consumers, safeguarding of home and external trade and the biosecurity of the nation”. These important aspects or cornerstones do not find any place in the proposed Bill sought to be introduced.

BRAI bill – some main objections:

  • Mandate is to approve genetically modified (GM) crops and not to safeguard the health of the citizens or the environment. It will become a smooth single window clearance system for GM crops and also poses a question mark on the moratorium imposed on Bt Brinjal on scientific grounds through democratic processes. The approvals also presume that the safety of a GM crop can be best assessed by the company which stands to benefit from the approval.
  • BRAI sits inside the Ministry of Science and technology creating serious conflict of interest. Dept of Biotechnology – under the Ministry of Science &Technology, has the mandate of promotion of GE crops. DBT funds several GE crop development projects using public funds and is the nodal agency for redirecting funds from foreign governments to GE crop development projects.
  • It will leave the decisions in the hands of a few technocrats and neither elected governments nor public will have any say in decisions on GM crops. The bill proposes a centralised, technocratic decision making authority with no scope for democratic intervention. The apex authority is the BRAI with a chairperson and two members, all scientists with either a biotech or a health background.
  • State governments who are constitutionally mandated to take decisions on agriculture will be superceded by BRAI.
  • Removes BRAI from the purview of the Right to information Act.
  • Created through a non-transparent, non consultative process.

What does the Coalition demand instead?

Any regulatory regime around GMOs should have the primary mandate of protecting health of people and the environment from the risks of modern biotechnology. It should necessarily have the following components as cornerstones of the legislation:

  • Precautionary Principle as the central guiding principle
  • Going in for the GM option only in case other alternatives are missing
  • Separating out very clearly the phases of contained research and deliberate release and distinct regulatory mechanisms for both, in a sequential fashion
  • No conflicting interests to be allowed anywhere in the regulation and decision-making
  • Transparent functioning: information disclosure and public/independent scrutiny
  • Democratic functioning including public participation – even here, data to be put out in the public domain and public participation included before the decision-making process and not just informing after a decision is made
  • Risk assessment – (a) prescribing rigorous, scientific protocols and asking the crop developer to take up studies and then do independent analysis of the dossier supplied by the crop developer and evaluate/review of the same; (b) to also take up independent testing by having all facilities and institutional structures in place for the same and evaluating the results
  • Risk management – including monitoring, reviewing, revoking of approvals
  • Liability – including penal clauses, redressal and remediation
  • Labeling regime for informed choices – this covers traceability and identity preservation requirements
  • Oversight and appellate mechanisms
  • In the case of India, given that it is a federal structure and given that Agriculture is a state subject, special clauses which allow the state governments to form their own regulatory systems and mechanisms
  • On-going Post Market monitoring of every GM crop

Further, the law should be governed by principles like Polluter Pays, Inter-generational equity (a key principle in environmental jurisprudence now which covers conservation of options, conservation of quality and conservation of access, for present and future generations) etc. In countries like Norway, the law also has provisions to answer questions like “Is this ethically and socially justifiable?”, before a GMO is cleared. That would automatically include socio-economic and ethical concerns within the regulatory regime.

Pankaj Bhushan, convener, GM Free Bihar Movement said it is disastrous.


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