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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  May 2004

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE May 2004

Subject:

India becoming a GM-trashbin

From:

Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 1 May 2004 10:01:17 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (137 lines)

--> If you pass this comment along to others please explain that
Commentaries are a premium sent to Sustainer Donors of Z/ZNet and
that to learn more folks can consult ZNet at http://www.zmag.org

Today's commentary:
http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2004-04/21sharma.cfm

==================================

ZNet Commentary
India becoming a GM-trashbin April 25, 2004
By Devinder Sharma

As the world wakes up to human health and environment nuisance from
the genetically modified (GM) crops, India is fast turning into a
dustbin for the new technology.

In March, Western Australia became the first Australian state to ban
outright planting of GM food crops. Its Premier, Geoff Gallop, said
he did not want to jeopardise his state's canola industry at a time
when international consumer sentiment was opposed to GM crops. Within
a few days of this decision, Victoria imposed a four year moratorium
on the cultivation of GM oilseeds rape to "protect its clean and
green" image. South Australia and Tasmania have already banned GM
crops. Four states imposed a moratorium on growing GM crops in a
space of five days.

In the United States, Mendocino county in California became the
nation's first to ban the raising and keeping of genetically
engineered crops or animals. In March, the hilly state of Vermont, in
a historic decision, voted overwhelmingly to support a bill to hold
biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of
conventional or organic crops by genetically engineered plant
materials. This bill is the first of its kind in the world that aims
to protect a farmer from being sued by the seed companies if his
crops are contaminated with GMO material.

In Britain, the dramatic turnaround by Bayer Crop Science to give up
attempts to commercialize GM maize, have ensured that the country
remains GM free till at least 2008. Despite Tony Blair's blind love
for the industry, a tough GM regulatory regime came in the way of the
adoption of the technology. In Japan, consumer groups announced their
intention to present a petition signed by over 1,000,000 people to
Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister, Bob Speller. The petition calls
for a ban on GE wheat in Canada. Japan is one of the biggest markets
for Canadian wheat.

In April, however, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)
in India approved another Bt cotton variety for the central and
southern regions amidst reports that the go ahead came without
adequate scientific testing. The approval also comes at a time when
the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS) is seeking public comment on petitions from Mycogen
Seeds to deregulate two lines of genetically engineered
insect-resistant cotton. APHIS is seeking public comment on whether
these cotton lines pose a plant pest risk.

Such has been the casual approach to regulating this
most-controversial technology that it has become practically
difficult to keep track of who is the new GEAC chief. They keep on
changing at a pace faster than that expected from musical chairs. At
the same time, while Britain had set in place a tougher regulatory
regime making the companies liable for any environmental mishap,
India continues to ignore the warning. The regulations that the GEAC
had announced at the time of according approval to Bt cotton in 2002
were only aimed at pacifying the media. The GEAC has not been held
accountable for the deliberate attempts to obfuscate the public
opinion in an effort to help the seed industry make a fast buck.

It is a widely accepted fact that the safety regulations, including
the mandatory buffer zone or refuge around the Bt cotton fields, were
not adhered to. Yet the Ministry of Environment and Forests refrained
from penalizing the seed company. Nor did it direct Mahyco-Monsanto
to compensate crop losses that the farmers suffered in the very first
year of planting Bt cotton in 2002-03. That the crop had failed to
yield the desired results was even highlighted in a parliamentary
committee report.

Not all GM decisions are taken in accordance with scientific
principles. While a NGO petition before the Central Vigilance
Commission (CVC) seeking an enquiry into the entire monitoring,
evaluation and approval process was ignored, the US authorities have
launched an investigation into reports of alleged bribing of
Indonesian government officials who approved Bt cotton. Both the US
Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are
examining whether a former consultant to Monsanto made an improper US
$50,000 payment in early 2002.

Monsanto spokeswoman Lori Fisher was quoted as saying: "These are
serious allegations and we will continue to cooperate.'' Reuters
reports that the company is one of the world's leading developers of
genetically modified seeds, but has had trouble getting some of its
biotech crops approved in foreign countries, including a biotech
cotton introduced in Indonesia in 2001. Monsanto closed down the
biotech cotton sales operations in 2003 after two unsuccessful years
that came amid complaints over yields and pricing.

India has meanwhile become a favored destination for the
biotechnology industry that is virtually on the run from the US,
European Union and Australia. In Europe, a 2002 survey showed 61 per
cent of the private sector cancelled R&D as a result of moratorium
actions. With highly critical reports of regulatory mechanism coming
in from respectable independent institutions, the trend in US is also
towards still tougher regulations thereby forcing biotechnology
companies to grow the next generation of GM crops in abandoned mines,
using artificial lighting and air filtration to prevent pollen
movement.

In India on the other hand, besides cotton, genetic engineering
experiments are being conducted on maize, mustard, sugarcane,
sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea, rice, tomato, brinjal, potato, banana,
papaya, cauliflower, oilseeds, castor, soyabean and medicinal plants.
Experiments are also underway on several species of fish. In fact,
such is the desperation that scientists are trying to insert Bt gene
into any crop they can lay their hands on, not knowing whether this
is desirable or not. The mad race for GM experiments is the outcome
of more funding from the biotech companies as well as support from
the World Bank, FAO and the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Politicians see biotechnology as the goose that lays the golden eggs
and are therefore opening up the state treasure chests to subsidise
the sunrise industry. Prime land is being doled out at a throwaway
price.

Interestingly, while the rest of the world is stopping GM research in
its tracks lest it destroys the farm trade opportunities due to
public rejection of the genetically engineered food, Indian Council
for Agricultural Research (ICAR) as well as chief ministers of a
dozen states merrily continue to sow the thorny seeds for
agricultural exports thereby jeopardizing the future of domestic
farming. But then, who cares for the farmers as long as GM research
ensures the livelihood security for a few thousand agricultural
scientists, entrepreneurs and politicians.

  (Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst)

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