Posts Tagged 'Monsanto'

8th August – Delhi Chalo!

8th August – Delhi Chalo!

IF the BRAI Bill is IN, safe food is OUT. Moreover it will also facilitate the takeover of our food and farming by multinational agri-business corporations like Monsanto. This BRAI Bill has been dubbed as Indias Monsanto Promotion and Protection Act by many. This Bill could mean an end to Choices, for farmers and consumers.
This is about our Food, our Farmers and our Freedom. Remember how citizen action threw out the unwanted and unsafe Bt brinjal in 2009-2010. We can do it again!
 

BT cotton behind farmer suicides?

  • March 28, 2012
  • By Rashme Sehgal
  • Correspondent
  • New Delhi

Despite having unleashed more than 780 Bt cotton hybrids in India during the last decade, yields have turned stagnant and farmer suicides in the cotton belt are multiplying.

In fact, although Bt cotton now covers more than 90 per cent of the total cotton growing area in the country, yields in the last five years have gone up marginally from 470 kg per ha to 481 kg per ha though input costs have increased several fold, warned member NGOs of the Coalition for GM-Free India.
Crop failure is also being attributed to the increasing number of pests found to be attacking Bt cotton hybrids. The result is that state government estimates in Andhra Pradesh show that 34 lakh acres out of the 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during the kharif 2011 season faced crop failure with almost 21 lakh farmers having lost around `3071 crores.
The situation is no better in Maharashtra where Bt cotton farmers have already lost over `10,000 crores due to crop failure. Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign warns, “The crisis is so acute in Maharashtra that 209 farmers committed suicide in the Vidarbha cotton growing belt region in 2011.’’
Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti told this reporter that when Bt cotton was first introduced in 2002, seed companies had promised it would be bollworm resistant. But today, new pests have emerged.
Dr Sahai concurs, “Indian conditions are different from the West. We are a tropical country with a variety of pests which have been found to be adversely affecting this cotton crop.”
But at the village level, farmers continue to buy Bt cotton because the only credit available to them from seed agents is for Bt seeds against other traditional varieties.
“Seed agents are offered higher commission for Bt cotton rather than for traditional seeds,’’ Dr Sahai added.

Scientists warn EPA on Monsanto corn rootworm

By Carey Gillam

Sat Mar 10, 2012 2:16am IST

(Reuters) – A group of plant scientists is warning federal regulators that action is needed to mitigate a growing problem with biotech corn that is losing its resistance to plant-damaging pests.

The stakes are high – corn production is critical for food, animal feed and ethanol production, and farmers have increasingly been relying on corn that has been genetically modified to be toxic to corn rootworm pests.

“This is not something that is a surprise… but it is something that needs to be addressed,” said Joseph Spencer, a corn entomologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, part of the University of Illinois.

Spencer is one of 22 academic corn experts who sent a letter dated March 5 to the Environmental Protection Agency telling regulators they are worried about long-term corn production prospects because of the failure of the genetic modifications in corn aimed at protection from rootworm.

Monsanto introduced its corn rootworm protected products, which contain a protein referred to as “Cry3Bb1,” in 2003 and they have proved popular with farmers in key growing areas around the country. Biotech corn sales are a key growth driver of sales at Monsanto.

The corn rootworm product is supposed to reduce the need to put insecticides into the soil, essentially making the corn plants toxic to the worms that try to feed on their roots.

But plant scientists have recently found evidence that the genetic modification is losing its effectiveness, making the plants vulnerable to rootworm damage and potentially significant production losses.

The scientists said in their letter to EPA that the situation should be acted upon “carefully, but with a sense of some urgency.”

As concerns have mounted over the last year that Monsanto’s rootworm-protected products were losing their effectiveness, Monsanto has said the problem is small and has said the products continue to provide corn farmers with “strong protection against this damaging pest.”

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, has recommended growers rotate the corn with its biotech soybeans, use another of its biotech corn products and use insecticides to try to address the problem.

“Rootworm performance inquiries in 2011 were isolated to less than 0.2 percent of the acres planted with Monsanto rootworm-traited corn hybrids,” said Danielle Stuart, a Monsanto spokeswoman. “In all of these cases, Monsanto is working very closely with the farmer and has provided best management practices for the upcoming season on each of these fields. “

The problems with insect resistance have been reported in parts of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Continuing to plant a failing technology only increases the resistance development risk, the scientists said in their letter. Moreover, they say, the rootworm-protected BT corn is being planted in areas that have no need for it, often because there are few alternative seed options. Scarcity of non-BT corn seed is a concern, they said.

Using insecticides along with the biotech corn as Monsanto has advised is not a good approach, according to the scientists, because it elevates production costs for farmers and masks the extent and severity of the building insect resistance.

“Recommendations to apply insecticides to protect transgenic Bt corn rootworm corn strikes us as a clear admission that the Cry3Bb1 toxin is no longer providing control adequate to protect yield,” the scientists wrote.

“When insecticides overlay transgenic technology, the economic and environmental advantages of rootworm-protected corn quickly disappear,” the scientists wrote.

EPA Office of Pesticide Programs Director Steven Bradbury, who the letter was addressed to, could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting By Carey Gillam;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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

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.

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.

 

 

 

 


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