Hamara Beej

Sunday, November 22, 2009

JNU’s Centre for Community Health Warns Against Bt Brinjal Hazards

Press Release

New Delhi, 20/11/2009: Responding to the introduction of Bt Brinjal in the country for public discussion by Jairam Ramesh, the Union Environment Minister, the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health (CSMCH), Jawaharlal Nehru University has sent a letter to the Union Minister saying, “We believe that there are serious issues of safety that are not yet addressed through long term studies. There is some data that these crops could be allergy- inducing, and indeed that they might be mutagenic. It is for these reasons that in the European Union but major countries have a restrictive regulatory regime. Countries in EU have a precautionary approach towards GM crops and major countries like Germany, France, Hungary, Greece etc has a ban on their cultivation.”

CSMCH took cognizance of the reports suggesting that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has decided to approve the environmental release of Bt Brinjal from Monsanto/Mahyco in India which would for all purposes permit the use of transgenic and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and products for edible purposes.

The letter notes that CSMCH is seriously troubled with this move. The letter says, “ First of all, this is entirely unnecessary from a public health perspective, indeed undesirable. The argument that Bt brinjal would not require pesticides is dissembling. There are other, better, pest management methods like non pesticidal management that we need to utilize.”

It refers to “serious methodological flaws in the studies that have been carried out, not to mention ethical ones.”

It takes note of the “profound conflict of interest issues involved in the studies carried out in India. The companies that stand to gain by the introduction of these crops into the market were the sponsors of the studies. This is entirely unacceptable.”

The Prof Mohan Rao, Chairperson, CSMCH says, “There has not been adequate assessment of the ecological consequences of the introduction of this food crop. These concerns regarding the health and environmental risks associated with GM crops are too serious to be disregarded. Given our retailing structure, labeling is impossible in India and contamination is inevitable. Introduction of GM crops would kill the choice of the consumer."

The letter concludes saying that “this policy move is entirely unnecessary, has not been transparent and is potentially injurious to public health. We believe there should be a moratorium on such technologies till their safety both to human beings and the environment is proven.”

PublichealthWatch is a collective of public health researchers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Four years of bitter harvest

Renitha RaveendranTags : amravati district, maharashtra, agriculturePosted: Friday , Nov 20, 2009 at 0011 hrsAmravati:

Since the seeds were first sown in their lands four years ago, farmers of Katpur village in Amravati district have been patiently waiting each season for wonders to happen. Nothing of the sort has happened yet. With huge debts taking the lives of many farmers in the district, and even cattle purportedly dying after feeding on the plants, the 5,000-odd farmers of this Maharashtra village have decided to shun the Bt cotton — once introduced to them by seed companies as “miracle” seeds. Most of them are now growing soyabean. Some have also taken to organic farming.
“We were cheated by the seed companies. We did not get the yield promised by them, not even half of it. And the expenditure involved was so high that we incurred huge debts. We have heard that the government is now planning commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. But we do not want Bt seeds of any crop anymore,” says Sahebrao Yawliker, a farmer.

Bengal puts Bt Brinjal on the backburner

Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay Posted online: Friday , Nov 20, 2009 at 0314 hrs
Kolkata : Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has virtually said no to the commercial production of Bt Brinjal in the state.
In a letter to Union Minister for Forests and Environment Jairam Ramesh, the chief minister spelt out the problems in growing GM brinjal and said that he would consult some of the members of the state’s erstwhile agriculture commission on this matter.
Earlier, in a letter to Bhattacharjee on November 10, Ramesh had sought to know the stand of the state government on the issue.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Centre has approved the commercial production of Bt Brinjal.
The CPM’s farmers’ wing, Krishak Sabha, has already objected to the proposal.
“There are clear reasons to be concerned about commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal. One of the worries is about ‘gene pills’ or the contamination of the land races by the engineered variety. This means that it has potential to threaten bio-diversity, destabilise important ecosystems, and limit the future agricultural possibilities in a region,” the chief minister said in his letter.
The chief minister also raised questions on the impact of GM crops on human health. “There remain vital questions of the impact of GM crops on human health, particularly when genetic engineering introduces the possibilities of physiologic or bio-chemical effects on target varieties. The current generations of available crops also raises concerns linked to pesticide use as BT crops are designed to internally create their own pesticides. While in the short run one may expect some decrease in use of pesticides, in the long run it may not be very effective,” Bhattacharjee said.
He also said that in developed countries people have a choice between GM food and non-GM food. “In the markets of those countries, the GM food is kept aside and people have a choice of not buying them. But in our retail markets people will be left with no choice,” the chief minister said.
Bhattacharjee also raised concerns about the economics of using GM crops in developing countries. “The commercial producers of Bt Brinjal seeds claim that poor farmers will benefit from cultivation of that crop through higher productivity, but in reality it may not be so in the long run. The farmers may not only become dependent on the monopoly supplier for the seeds but also for other inputs as 98 per cent of the world GM seed market is controlled only by a few companies,” the chief minister added.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why the US is so keen to sell Bt brinjal to India

November 19, 2009 12:38 IST
The conversion of Indian farmers from traditional varieties and public hybrids to commercial hybrids and GM seeds could create a market larger than China, notes Bhavdeep Kang

A fortnight ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ] headquarters in Delhi [ Images ] received a visit from a representative of a US-based multinational seed subsidiary. His mission: To convince party opinion-makers that Bt brinjal was as swadeshi as baingan ka bharta and should therefore receive their endorsement.
That American agri-companies have intensified lobbying with Indian political parties is not surprising, for two reasons. First, the Indian government has yet to greenlight the commercialisation of Bt brinjal -- crucial for the future of these 'Bt brand' companies -- even after a thumbs up from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).
Also, the winter session of Parliament is to take up two crucial pieces of legislation: The Seed Bill and the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill. Both will profoundly impact the agri-business environment in India [ Images ] for agri-MNCs, by facilitating market access.
Small wonder US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [ Images ] made it a point to visit the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in July and reiterate her country's commitment to bringing about policy changes in the Indian farm sector that US agri-business would like to see.
Clinton said she favoured a strong intellectual property or patent regime (IPR) to safeguard the ownership of agricultural research, as that would be in 'everyone's interest'. A contention rejected by Indian agri-policy analysts who say it would primarily benefit owners of biotechnology research -- the MNCs who produce 'Bt' seeds, as genetically modified or GM crops have come to be popularly known (patents would ensure that no one else would be allowed to produce or sell these seeds).
Her technology advisor, Nina Federoff, is a strong votary of genetically modified crops, to the extent of being regarded as a spokesperson for US seed multinationals like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont.
In fact, Federoff triumphantly pointed out to a group of US agri-scientists last year that although Europe and Japan [ Images ] were cautious about GM foods, Africa and India were clamouring for them!
The MNCs have the advantage of an unabashedly pro-GM Minister for Agriculture in Sharad Pawar [ Images ]. However, the Bt ball is currently in the court of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh [ Images ], who is under pressure from the public and the scientific community to delay unleashing the Bt blitzkrieg until a consumer protection regime is in place.
The BJP is divided on the issue and its opposition could delay the passage or alter the shape of the pending Bills. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, its mentor, has made no secret of its strong opposition to GM crops.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ] provided the US-based agri-giants with a readymade vehicle for lobbying with Indian policy-makers during his first term in 2006, when he approved the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture.
It was announced with much fanfare during his visit to the USA and evoked a storm of protest at home, mainly from the Left parties and farmers' bodies.
The AKI, as it is known, boasts MNCs (Monsanto, Walmart, Archer Daniels Midland) as official US representatives on its panel. They have set the agenda for the AKI, with development of transgenic strains of rice and wheat forming a major part of the initiative.
Three-quarters of the Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) commitment by India is earmarked for biotechnology products (the US commitment of $8 million for the year 2006 didn't materialise, prompting Pawar to write to the prime minister, seeking his intervention).
A subsequent attempt was made by the US to alter the focus of the AKI from research to policy issues but was scuttled by the Indian bureaucracy.
The AKI was touted as the next logical step in the '50 years of Indo-US cooperation on agriculture' which started with the Green Revolution that opened the doors to US agro-chemical and seed companies. It is part of the much-hyped 'Second Green Revolution', touted by the PM and his agriculture minister as the answer to India's food security concerns.
The fact that this 'revolution' will be based on bio-technology products owned by private corporations had disturbed Indian farmers' bodies, who have described it as a joint US-India effort to promote the interests of bio-technology-driven MNCs.
The AKI worries Indian agri-policy experts because it gives the MNCs access to India's gene-banks, fuelling fears of bio-piracy. Even more, it also gives them an 'in' to India's enormous agricultural research infrastructure, while the ownership of the collaborative research is not yet clear.
Since they have a clear edge in terms of bio-technology research and are pumping out patented Bt seeds, the MNCs want an IPR regime which would give them a hold on the Indian seed market.
The US already has a significant presence in India's agricultural and food sectors, accounting for more than half of the $1 billion organised seed market. Of course, four-fifths of India's farmers do not purchase seeds. They still follow the traditional system of save, exchange and barter. It is this section that the MNCs would like to target.
The conversion of Indian farmers from traditional varieties and public hybrids to commercial hybrids and GM seeds could create a market larger than China. The Seed Bill, 2004, and the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill are the thin end of the wedge.
The NBRA Bill, if it becomes an Act, would demolish a raft of existing bio-safety regulations, which would enable easier access to the Indian markets.
The Seed Bill has been criticised for diluting many provisions of the existing Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, PPVFR, which safeguards the right of Indian farmers to freely save, exchange and barter seeds.
Bhavdeep Kang

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scientist issues warning on introduction of GM crops

PTI Tuesday, November 17, 2009 14:59 IST
Thiruvananthapuram: A senior Agriculture Scientist has cautioned the Centre on introduction of GM crops in the country observing that Indian agriculture was 'so diverse and biodiversity very vast.'

'One has to take into consideration all crucial facts before one jumps onto the GM bandwagon", Food and Agriculture Organisation Consultant K P Prabhakaran Nair said while presenting a paper at a national seminar on 'GM crops and Food Security' here today.
On Biotechnology regulator Genetic Engineering Approval Committee clearing Bt brinjal - country's first genetically modified (GM) food- for commercial use, he said the move evoked mixed reaction from scientists, stake holders and civil society. The verdict was against GM crops, he said.
India faced a similar situation in the early sixties when the 'miracle' wheat seeds were introduced in the country.
It was true that the nation harvested large amounts of food grains but paid a heavy environmental toll in terms of degraded soils, dried aquifiers, polluted groundwater and vanished bio diversity, Nair said.
Industrial agriculture, with high input technology, also did not go well with India's ethos and the country was now seeking a different path based on sustainable agriculture. It was at this time that GM crops have made their appearance, he said.
Indian Biodiversity Forum Chairman S Faizi said genetically modified organisms contain inherent risks to biodiversity and human health. The Seminar was jointly organised by Kerala Biotechnology Commission and Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment

Monday, November 16, 2009

GM Foods opponents castigated remarks by the Union Agriculture Minister of State

Patna,16.11.09. GM Foods opponents here today castigated remarks by the Union Agriculture Minister of State that the country cannot afford to stop the use of genetically modified technology, saying it was “premature” and “unscientific” on the part of a Central Minister to issue such statements.
Minister of State for Agriculture K. V. Thomas had said in New Delhi that India cannot oppose the use of the genetically modified technology as it wants to increase crop yields and manage the present agriculture crisis.
 However, the GM-Free Bihar Abhiyaan, which is spreading awareness in Bihar on the disadvantages of GM Foods, said the central minister’s statement was premature and without any scientific basis.
“The minister should have refrained from such statements when a nation-wide debate is going on genetically modified foods, particularly on the aspects of biosafety, environment and consumer choice,” it said, adding, “There are environmental and economic concerns about the GM technology.”
GM-Free Bihar Abhiyaan Convenor Pankaj Bhushan said there are health concerns also being expressed. The World Health Organization has noted that while theoretical discussions have covered a lot of ground, three key concerns were debated - the GM crops' tendencies to provoke allergic reactions, transfer gene to the intestinal bacteria, and the movement of transfer of genes to conventional crops or related species in the wild.
Even scientists, who support genetic engineering in general, are concerned about a world in which a lot of toxin-carrying genes move around. It could pose not only health risk, but also increase resistance among pests.
When it was introduced in India, Bt cotton was promoted as a wonder product that would save farmers caught in pesticide resistance, low yields and spiralling debts. But in several places that was not the case.
Bhushan said even the approval of Bt Brinjal by Centre’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has drawn a lot of ire.
Even the Muzaffarpur MP Capt. Jai Narayan Nishad, who had been Union Environment and Forests Minister, has written to Bihar CM and the Centre on the issue.

Friday, November 13, 2009

India can't oppose GM tech amid current farm crisis


New Delhi, Nov 13 (PTI) The government today said India cannot oppose the use of the genetically modified technology as it wants to increase crop yields.
"The GM technology cannot be avoided," Minister of State for Agriculture K V Thomas said, adding India cannot oppose the use of technology if it wants to increase yields and manage the present agricultural crisis.
The crop shortage of key foodgrains had led to a rise in prices of some food commodities such as sugar and tur dal this year. In Kerala, tur dal is costing Rs 90-100 a kg and sugar has touched Rs 35 a kg this year, he shared.
The minister noted: "The country need to take scientific and practical steps to improve productivity and bring down cost of production. The GM technology is one way to achieve this.

GM CROPS Where is the science?

The debate in GM plants is deeply suffused by vested interests. In addition to impeding research, companies also exert their influence on review and approval, writes Sujatha Byravan.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops are in the limelight again as the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in India recently permitted commercial cultivation of Bt-brinjal. This brinjal contains the pesticide gene from Bacillus Thuringiensis and has been developed by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech, a joint-venture between Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company and the US seed colossus Monsanto. GEAC is supposedly India's highest regulatory body for genetically engineered plants, but its very name proclaims its charge - to give approval to genetically engineered substances, as opposed to being a disinterested regulatory body.
Given all the confusion regarding GM crops let us recapture a few lessons we have learnt and know for sure in the area of food security and agriculture. Biodiversity is critical to sustainable, healthy agricultural ecosystems; a farmer's ability to control agricultural productivity through ownership of seeds, access to markets and reasonably secure livelihoods is important; and to ensure food security, storage, distribution and purchasing power have to be part of the picture. For instance, India imported lentils recently to tide over its needs. Some agricultural experts suggest that improved storage methods would have made these imports unnecessary.
In essence, we need a systems approach to agriculture and food security instead of viewing them as requiring mere technical fixes. Thus while various technologies and innovations - such as better rural credit systems, improved methods to capture and store rainwater, and development of implements to enable women to work more easily in the fields - will remain crucial to agriculture, these developments must support the critical elements.
Science vs. anti-science?

What has been of particular interest in this and past debates on the subject is the way in which those who oppose GM crops are painted as being against science (see for instance, the editorial in The Hindu on 21 October, 2009 or Starved for Science by R Paarlberg). There is a blatant attempt by GM promoters to polarise the discussion and manufacture a science-vs.-antiscience debate. All those who oppose GM crops are neither anti-science nor luddites. Indeed, many scientists have been, and still are, critical of GM for a number of good reasons. Scientists and scientific academies, including the National Research Council of the US National Academy of Sciences, have expressed serious concerns regarding the scientific rigour of experiments and the impacts of GM crops, especially on biodiversity.
Those who support GM crops generally believe that science and technology can solve most problems, and see crops as requiring tinkering to improve agriculture. It is such short-term and piecemeal thinking that led to the excesses of the Green Revolution causing damage to soils, depletion of ground water and other harms to ecosystems. There are other supporters of GM who continue to believe that private production of goods and services is inherently superior to public ones, even as governments have been bailing out the private sector in the last year! And then there are those who have financial gains to make if the GM industry prospers.
Let me compare the GM debate with the other major scientific debate - global warming. While scientists who work on climate change and global warming rightly embrace the precautionary principle, many who work in the area of GM plant technologies abandon it altogether. A charitable explanation is that this may have to do with differing perceptions of risk in each case. Perhaps global warming is seen as a serious threat to the entire world, and GM crops may not be understood in the same way. Moreover, some benefits have been attributed to these crops by promoters, making it harder for people to reject them.
But while the naysayers of climate change have now been marginalised through more research and data, those who are concerned about GM crops have been silenced through smear campaigns launched against them. Some of the scientists, like Arpad Pusztai, who raised questions regarding the health effects of GM crops, have had their careers turned upside down. In order to learn about the tentacles and might of agribusiness, one must ask Ignacio Chapela from UC Berkeley about his gut-wrenching tenure battle, which followed his publication in Nature on the contamination of wild strains of Mexican maize by GM maize
The mere use of technology does not make an approach scientific, but this is a common fallacy even among scientists. Good science is characterised by transparency and falsifiability. These do not figure in GM. Instead, faith, the antithesis of science, features in a big way. There are few peer-reviewed journal articles on GM crops. When companies make claims about various positive contributions from their engineered crops, their statements cannot be verified or tested independently. Policymakers and even other scientists who work in the same area have to accept the results on faith.
Earlier this year, an anonymous public statement was signed and submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 26 leading scientists, entomologists who work with insects that infect corn. It stated that scientists are unable to conduct independent research on GM crops as patents prevent full access to research materials and the ability to grow and study these plants. As a consequence, the scientists state, the data that the Scientific Advisory Panel of the EPA has available to it is unduly limited. This means the claims of GM proponents cannot be verified independently or indeed be falsified.

GEAC is supposedly India's highest regulatory body for genetically engineered plants, but its very name proclaims its charge - to give approval to genetically engineered substances, as opposed to being a disinterested regulatory body.

There is general agreement among scientists and academics on the adverse effects on biodiversity as a result of cross-pollination from engineered to non-engineered crops. Still, field trials for GM crops in unmarked areas blow caution and engineered pollen to the winds in closely cultivated fields in India.
The potential damage to human health from GM crops has been shown quite clearly in a few animal systems, but perhaps needs further study. There is good peer-reviewed published evidence to show that Bt toxins are both immunogens (a substance that provokes an immune response) and immunoadjuvants (a substance that enhances immune response) for mammals. Moreover, studies have shown that Bt toxins bind to the mammalian small intestine and have effects on its proper functioning. The concerns raised by the use of viral promoters, which are hotspots for genetic recombination, the use of antibiotic resistance genes, and strong gene promoters (sequences that facilitate the transcription of a gene) to ensure that the foreign genes are expressed, have already been highlighted by many scientists.
The science behind genetic engineering of plants is itself outdated as it continues to view a gene as a single self-contained unit of DNA sequence that transfers information linearly to RNA (ribonucleic acid) and then to proteins. It has now become clear that this picture of gene expression is simplistic and incorrect. There is a complex array of interacting factors that influence gene expression. For instance, even sequences of DNA located at a distance from the gene in question can be involved in regulating it as can other cellular and environmental factors. Further, RNA and protein play a far more important role in gene expression than previously believed.
What this implies is that simply introducing a DNA sequence into a plant and expecting a complex trait to be successfully transferred is not justified. This explains why even after decades of experimentation with numerous traits, only a couple of characteristics (the pesticide gene and herbicide tolerance) have been transferred to plants and that too, many would argue, unsuccessfully.
By any means necessary
The truth is that agribusiness has been doing its best to gain control of food security for profit using many different tactics and it is supported from various quarters. While political coercion and economic pressure have been working to open some European markets to a few GM crops, the vast majority of the people and most of the countries in Europe remain doubtful about GM foods. In case of large-scale industrial farms (which receive generous subsidies from public coffers) in the US, GM crops seem to make farms easier to manage.
The conversion of farmers to using engineered crops in other parts of the world may work for a few seasons, but most of them find that pests grow resistant to the Bt gene compelling the application of more chemicals. This is reported to already be happening in the case of Bt cotton in India. The companies are beginning to respond to the problem by inserting more Bt and other pest-resistant genes.
The debate in GM plants is even more deeply suffused by vested interests than that on global warming. In addition to impeding research, companies also exert their influence on review and approval by way of revolving doors between agribusiness and regulators. Furthermore, outright threats came to light in the UK in 2003 when the government decided to hold panels to review GM foods. According to The Guardian"Dr Andrew Stirling, of Sussex University and a member of the Government's GM science review panel, was warned by a leading member of the scientific establishment his career would be ruined unless he stopped questioning the technology's safety. The pro-GM scientist tried to get Stirling removed from a research project by approaching its funders."
Another leading academic reported that he resigned from the science review after fearing that his funding might be withdrawn. "Professor Carlo Leifert, of the University of Newcastle, also felt it was improper that an employee of GM giant Monsanto had been allowed to draft a key chapter on the safety of GM foods for the science review." Individuals from biotechnology companies often occupy key decision-making positions in regulatory agencies. In India conflicts of interest and straightforward charges of corruption have been made in the appointment of GEAC members.
The battle lines are drawn, but not as visibly as they have been in the case of global warming. Developing countries such as India with its large population and huge potential for markets are very attractive to agribusiness. In India where the vast majority of the people still depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and where diverse ecoystems and crop varieties still thrive, control over food security needs to be a top priority that is not be handed over to anyone: corporations, governments or even civil society for that matter.
The state of Orissa has come out and taken a stand against GM crops. Orissa has over 100 varieties of local brinjal and those may be affected by GM contamination. India might be where the fight for control over food security between corporations and farmers now lies.
Although it seems important to demonstrate that the science and alleged benefits of GM crops are untrue we shouldn't have to invest a whole lot of money to show that GM crops don't cause harm. There is enough evidence to show that they do not increase yield consistently, that they are a serious threat to biodiversity, increase the use of chemicals over time and do not benefit consumers or small farm holdings.
Would we invest a lot of effort to counter claims by oil companies such as Exxon who have poured money into research to show that global warming is not taking place? We have enough work to do mitigating and adapting to climate change. Similarly, we need to focus on the challenge at hand-food security in an uncertain future. And we can do that without GM plants by using proven agricultural practices and other innovations that improve food security. 

BT brinjal clearance ignored dissenters?

Nitin Sethi, TNN 11 November 2009, 02:54am IST

NEW DELHI: In what is bound to raise the bar for the government to clear GM brinjal, the Supreme Court appointed observer on the GEAC has written to the environment ministry that his and two other members' dissenting voice was ignored while giving a hasty recommendation for the environmental release of the BT brinjal. 
Pushpa M Bhargava, appointed to the GEAC by the apex court after a case in which the clearance process was challenged, has warned that enormous scientific literature was ignored in a haste to clear the first genetically modified food crop in India.The former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology has pointed out that the 102-page report thick with scientific information was cleared without giving adequate time for its scrutiny. He warns that the committee's report has enormous scientific and technical errors and is inconsistent in parts. 
The final report of the GEAC did not contain any dissenting report. It instead read like a unanimous view of all the members of the committee. Bhargava has said that he was in no doubt that the clearance of BT brinjal was pre-planned and the committee was an eye-wash. 
Bhargava had suggested the postponement of the meeting for a month and suggested a one- or two-day meeting where other experts would also be called for the review. This suggestion, Bhargava said, was ignored in the haste for granting a clean chit to the proposal. He has warned in his missive to the ministry that allowing the release of BT brinjal would be a major national disaster and would open up a Pandora's box. Elsewhere, Bhargava has pointed out that besides him, two other scientists on board had communicated their strong reservations but were ignored. He pointed out that Ramesh Sonti of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, who is a Bhatnagar Prize winner and member of GEAC, was of the opinion that there were fundamental flaws in the technology being cleared. Bhargava had earlier raised objections to the fact that all crucial and necessary tests had not been carried out. Those that were carried out were either done by the company or in the case where the tests were carried out by accredited labs, the company provided selected samples. 
He had also pointed out that GM crops were banned in most parts of the world and were predominant only in the US, CanadaArgentina and Brazil.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

जीएम फूड के खिलाफ चेतना रैली

भास्कर न्यूज l लुधियाना. सुरक्षित एंव जीएम (जेनेटिकली मोडिफाईड) मुक्त भोजन हेतु साझा मोर्चा पंजाब ने जीएम फसलों की खेती करने पर प्रतिबंध लगाने की मांग की है। इसके विरोध में सुरक्षित एवं जीएम मुक्त भोजन हेतु सांझा मंच के बैनर तले शहर की प्रमुख सामाजिक संस्थाओं ने चेतना मार्च निकाला और केंद्र सरकार को बीटी बैंगन की खेती पर रोक लगाने की मांग की।
लोगों ने मोमबत्तियां जलाकर केंद्र सरकार को जगाने की कोशिश की। रैली का नेतृत्व शहीद भगत सिंह के भांजे प्रोफेसर जगमोहन सिंह व शहीद सुखदेव थापर के पौत्र भारत भूषण थापर ने किया। प्रो. जगमोहन सिंह ने कहा कि देश को आजाद कराने में लोगों ने अपनी जान कुर्बान कर दी थी। वहीं अब सरकार ऐसे फैसले लेकर एक बार फिर देश को गुलामी की तरफ धकेल रही है।
बाबा फरीदकोट यूनिवर्सिटी के पूर्व कुलपति डा. एलएस चावला ने कहा कि विज्ञान और तकनीक का विकास नैतिक मूल्यों और सामाजिक सरोकार को ध्यान में रखकर किया जाना चाहिए। उन्होंने कहा कि बीटी बैंगन की देश में कोई जरूरत नहीं है। इसलिए सरकार का इसके उत्पादन के लिए मंजूरी देना सरासर गलत है। उन्होंने कहा कि इससे लोगों के स्वास्थ्य पर बुरा असर पड़ेगा इतना ही नहीं यह अगली पीढ़ी पर भी बुरा असर डाल सकता है।
इस मौके पर इंडियन मेडिकल एसोसिएशन के सदस्य डा. अरुण मित्रा ने बताया कि यह किसी भी तरह से देश और देशवासियों के हित में नहीं है। इस मौके पर जिला बार एसोसिएशन के प्रधान परोपकार सिंह घुम्मन ने कहा कि पंजाब सरकार को चाहिए कि भाजपा शासित राज्यों की तर्ज पर इसकी खेती पर प्रतिबंध लगाया जाए। इस मौके पर संदीप जैन, ओसवाल कैंसर अस्पताल के डा. सतीश जैन, प्रसिद्ध साहित्यकार सुरजीत पातर, अमरजीत ग्रेवाल, प्रदीप कुमार व अन्य उपस्थित थे।

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mahesh Bhatt’s “Poison on the Platter” inaugurated

Mahesh Bhatt’s “Poison on the Platter” was inaugurated at Patna on 7th November 2009 by noted Bhojpuri stars Dines lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’ and Pakhi Hegde.The much talked about film was screened at the Maurya Hotel before a large number of People. The Film targets the bad effects of Genetically Modified Foods & crops and its inauguration marks the launch of state-vide programme by farmers & activists against the BT Brinjal Crop. The timing is significant as the final nod to BT Brinjal is awaiting the Central Government signal. Addressing the audience the Bhojpuri stars said that they were worried over the proposed sale & production of GM Foods & Crops in Bihar in particular.Cine actress Pakhi hedge said she is not going to allow Poisoned Foods at the dining table as she equated GM Foods with Poisonous substances.
Echoing her view, Cine Actor Nirahua said he was very much impressed by the Film “Poison on the Platter” and also said that he was shocked as to how could the Government go ahead with experiments over the dining table.
Convenor, GM Free Bihar Abhiyaan Pankaj Bhushan also addressed the audience and said “GM Crops, BT Brinjal in particular, if allowed would ruin the health and economy of Bihar”.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Frontiers of the future: In-gene-ous modifications

One fertilised human cell divides just 47 times to produce over 100 trillion cells, which make up the remarkable human body. Each cell contains nearly two metres of DNA molecule threads (that's about 20 million km in all). Each DNA molecule has about three billion pairs of four types of molecules called bases. The sequence of these pairs is the genetic code that determines what our body is like. It's the same for all living beings, in different orders of complexity. In a gigantic exercise spread over years, ending 2000, the complete sequence of human DNA (genome) was worked out. Tweak the DNA and you get a different result. That's what happens in nature, which is why there are so many different life forms, surviving by adaptation. But humans have also been altering genetic codes to serve their own ends. Genetically modified (GM) plants, like Bt brinjal or cotton, are examples. The changed gene makes them resistant to some pests and drives up productivity. But protests against ‘Frankenstein food' have kept pace with advances in gene technology. 
Genetic engineering - inserting new genetic sequences into viruses, bacteria, plants and other animals - has seen a worldwide explosion of biotechnology. On the one hand, human genes are studied to locate abnormalities, which cause disorders or make an individual more susceptible to various diseases. Switching that gene off can affect the onset of the disease. Conversely, vaccines use genetic pieces of a deadly microbe, like polio, to trigger the body's immune system and protect itself against attack. 
Recent discoveries show that RNA (ribonucleic acid), the single strand cousin of DNA, plays an important role in making proteins. This has led to an alternative way of tweaking the genetic code, by silencing selected genes with RNA. This has dramatic potential for application in modifying plant genes for beneficial purposes. 
Nobel Prize winner Phillip Sharp, formerly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told TOI-Crest, "Almost all diseases can be described as a product of the normal or abnormal functioning of specific genes. The ability to silence these specific genes by design of small interfering RNAs opens a new approach to the treatment of a vast number of diseases." 
Scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute are working on sequencing and analysis of disease-causing microbes such as anthrax and the mosquito species that carry yellow fever and malaria, and various strains of influenza and corona-virus. This, too, could help in developing new vaccines and treatments.

Monsanto to introduce Bt corn

CH Prashanth Reddy / Chennai/ Hyderabad November 06, 2009, 0:07 IST
Unfazed by the ongoing opposition to the commercialisation of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) brinjal, Monsanto India Limited (MIL), a subsidiary of US-based global biotech food major Monsanto Company, is planning to introduce genetically modified corn in the country by 2012-13.

The proposed corn seed would be embedded with not only Bt but also with the company's 'Roundup ready' technology that would be helpful in management of weeds and insects, MIL’s director- corporate affairs, Gyanendra Shukla, told Business Standard.
Monsanto envisages a good potential for the Bt corn seed business as the corn market in India is continuously growing due to changing food habits, driving the demand for poultry and livestock products. The starch industry, which primarily uses corn as its input, is also rapidly growing.
Today, according to MIL, over 30 user industries in the country produce more than 1,000 products from corn for textiles, paper, medicinal and other allied industries. By 2011-12, the domestic demand for corn is estimated to be over 22 million tonnes. As against this, the country’s corn production in 2008 stood at 19.31 million tonnes.
At present, MIL sells hybrid corn seeds in the country under the brand name Deklab. It has 14 high-yielding hybrids under this brand. The company's total seed sales in 2008-09 increased 5.6 per cent to Rs 231.8 crore from Rs 219.5 crore in 2007-08.
According to Shukla, India with 130 million hectares of land under cultivation is a “very important” market for the $11.3 billion Monsanto Company. In fact, MIL is the only public-listed company of Monsanto outside USA.
The rapid spread of area under cotton cultivation in the country seemed to have made Monsanto confident on the prospects of its Bt corn in India. In 2008, India planted Bt cotton on 7.6 million hectares equivalent to 82 per cent of the total cotton area in the country.
This year, Shukla said, the area under Bt cotton went up to about 9 million hectares comprising 90 per cent of the total cotton area. Now Monsanto was conducting bio-safety trials on next generation Bt cotton technology, which it was hopeful of introducing by 2012.
With regard to other products in the pipeline, he said Monsanto was currently working on a drought-tolerant corn variety, which would be launched first in the US in 2012. Subsequently, the company would come up with similar varieties of soyabean and cotton

Friday, November 6, 2009

Coming soon...designer food at a dining table near you


Your favourite food, vegetable or fruit, may soon come with genes inserted from bacteria, parasites or even scorpion. And the first such genetically modified (GM) food to reach your dining table would be brinjal or eggplant. The recent Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)'s approval of Bt brinjal marks a new trend in India.
This is the first genetically-modified (GM) food item that will be cultivated and consumed on a large scale in the country, pending final approval from the government. This could open up the floodgates for GM foods of all variety to enter the country, offer some new hopes and also raise a lot of concerns.
It has already sparked off a debate on biosafety, environment and consumer choice. Genetically-modified organisms have their DNA altered in a way that does not occur naturally.
The technology is sometimes referred to as "recombinant DNA technology" or "genetic engineering". It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism to another, even between non-related species. For instance, scientists have inserted scorpion and moth genes into canola oilseed plants to make them poisonous to insects feeding on them.
The primary objective of developing GM crops is to improve crop protection through the introduction of resistance against plant diseases caused by insects or viruses or through increased tolerance towards herbicides. "These traits were earlier carried out through conventional plant breeding. But breeding methods are time-consuming and often not very accurate," explains Prof M.S. Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of Green Revolution. "However, with recombinant DNA technology, plants with the desired traits can be produced rapidly and with greater accuracy." Swaminathan is upbeat about isolating genes that make crops withstand drought and introducing them on a large scale.
Insect resistance in crops is achieved by incorporating into the food plant the gene for toxin production from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This toxin is currently used as a conventional insecticide in agriculture. GM crops that permanently produce this toxin are supposed to require lower quantities of insecticides.
Bt is found in nature and produces some crystal proteins which kill insect larvae like the bollworm that attacks cotton, corn borer and shoot borers. The Bt genes responsible for the toxic protein can be transferred into cotton, soya, corn or brinjal - making them produce their own natural pesticides.
Swaminathan explains the science: "Bt genes are lethal only in the acidic environment of an insect gut. They do not get activated in the alkaline environment in humans and other animals that feed on these plants." Seed companies are hyping up genetic modification as the future of food - magic crops that yield better and taste better, fighting pests, droughts, floods and what not. In India, field trials are on for genetically- modified rice, chickpea, groundnut, maize, mustard, okra, pigeon pea, potato, tomato, watermelon, papaya and sorghum. A total of 56 GM plants, including 41 food crops, are in the pipeline for clearance.
There is high-voltage marketing as well. For instance, in the case of cotton, the proponents of the GM route take credit for all the advancements ever since the technology was introduced here. M.K. Sharma, general manager, Mahyco, the company that sells Bt brinjal seeds under licence from the multinational Monsanto, claims the recent increase in cotton production in India is largely due to the introduction of Bt.
During the 2002-2008 period, there has been 150-fold increase in Bt cotton and five million farmers were growing it in the country.
It brought about 31 per cent increase in yield, 40 per cent reduction in pesticide use and Rs 10,000 more earning per hectare, officials say.
Similar projections are being made for Bt brinjal too. Brinjal suffers 50-70 per cent damage due to the fruit and shoot borer. The loss can be pegged at Rs 1,000 crore per annum. Farmers spray pesticides as much as 25 times a year or more. As a solution, the GM variety could more than double the marketable production of brinjal, compared with conventional varieties, proponents of Bt brinjal claim.
Amidst the high-voltage publicity, there are environmental and economic concerns about the GM technology.
Greenpeace has pointed out that in Bt cotton fields there have been instances of farmers developing allergy, cattle deaths and communities losing profits.
The seeds could cost many times the local variety, the crops still suffer from other pests and diseases and in some agro-climatic regions they could just fail, as the group points out. "There are many unanswered questions about biosafety," said Rajesh Krishnan of Greenpeace.
Due to consumer protests and scientific debates on health issues, cultivation and sale of GM food is restricted in several European countries. Other countries mandate clear marking on GM products.
There are health concerns being expressed. The World Health Organization has noted that while theoretical discussions have covered a lot of ground, three key concerns were debated - the GM crops' tendencies to provoke allergic reactions, transfer gene to the intestinal bacteria, and the movement of transfer of genes to conventional crops or related species in the wild. Even scientists, who support genetic engineering in general, are concerned about a world in which a lot of toxin-carrying genes move around. It could pose not only health risk, but also increase resistance among pests.
When it was introduced in India, Bt cotton was promoted as a wonder product that would save farmers caught in pesticide resistance, low yields and spiralling debts. But in several places that was not the case. A three-year assessment of Bt cotton used by scientists Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakhari found that farmers in their study areas were not achieving big yields, as the company had claimed. They found that the pesticide use was not falling either, as secondary pests had taken over the attack.
In turn, the income of non-Bt farmers was often higher than that of Bt farmers. Mahyco, however, has dismissed it as an isolated study.
Amidst the controversy, firm support comes from Prof G. Padmanabhan, former director of the Indian Institute of Science.
He feels the regulatory and biosafety procedures in India are elaborate and foolproof. "Brinjal needs very extensive pest management and Bt brinjal can bring about a change." Padmanabhan said, "I don't say GM technology is without risks. But Bt is one of the safest genes." Now Bt rice is on the horizon too.
But even he advised moderation. "How many Bt products can we have?" he asked. "Scientists should worry about that."

Pesticide banned in 62 countries still used in India

Endosulfan, a deadly pesticide encouraged by India

Bhubaneswar, October 07: Endosulfan is a pesticide belonging to the organochlorine group of pesticides, under the Cyclodiene subgroup. It has been introduced in the 1950’s and in India has become a leading chemical used against pests in agriculture. It is used as an insecticide and also to kill fishes in lakes and rivers. It is not recommended for household use as it is known as a potent poison that can cause harm upon contact, eating food contaminated by it, swallowing, and even inhaling the odour.
The chemical came into spotlight in India when at Kasargad in Kerala it was sprayed aerially and the local population of many villages was exposed to it. What followed was very shocking. It led to physical and mental defects in poor farmers and their families. Studies have shown endosulfan to accumulate in a mother's breast milk and it has been linked to appalling birth deformities, the like of which are still being observed at Kasargad, “Kerala’s Bhopal”.
Such events have occurred across the Globe and 62 countries all over the world have either banned it or restricted its use. Unfortunately India has done nothing to stem the use of this endocrine disruptor which can cause changes at the genetic level. Only in the state of Kerala where the endosulfan tragedy occurred that activists, scientists and doctors have been able to enforce a ban.
The U S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies endosulfan as Category Ib – Highly Hazardous and so does the European Union. Though it is a very great health hazard the WHO calls it only moderately hazardous.
In which crops are endosulfan sprayed? The list is long. It is used in vegetables, fruits, paddy, cotton, cashew, tea, coffee, and tobacco and also timber crops. In the Bolangir district of Orissa this poison is sprayed twice on paddy. It is also being used by farmers in Rayagada. Being a Persistent Organic Pollutant and also a Persistent Toxic Substance it is not easy to remove this poison from the body or from the food crop upon which it is sprayed. The spraying of this pesticide on food crops, particularly paddy, is unpardonable.
Unfortunately India refuses to ban this pesticide and continues to say that it is safe. "The Indian government, a major producer, vigorously opposes any international ban, stymieing efforts by other nations to safeguard human health", writes a report released by the Environmental Justice Foundation in September. India the largest producer of this chemical does not want to disturb the profit it earns by producing and exporting this deadly poison to 70 countries.
Living Farms in Orissa which is opposed against the use of chemical pesticides, calls for an immediate ban on this deadly pesticide. Very recently Pandit Ravishankar has urged, “have some value for life & stop this madness.”. Activists, scientists and doctors round the world areurging the pesticide industry in India to take a decisive role and end the production and use of endosulfan in India, a move which will have global significance.


Genetically Modified (GM) foods are created unnaturally by taking genes from unrelated organisms and inserting them into the cells of our food plants like brinjal, rice, bhindi, tomato, cauliflower, potato etc. The science and technology of Genetic Engineering is imprecise and irreversible and is documented to cause many health and environmental impacts.
In India, the first GM food crop--Bt Brinjal (which is incidentally the first ever such GM vegetable crop with the toxic Bt gene in it, anywhere in the world, to be eaten more or less directly by Indians if approved) -- developed by large profit-seeking agri-business corporations, has been cleared hastily for commercial use by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in a closed-door manner without sound scientific evidence to prove its safety on October 14th 2009. Bt Brinjal has been created to get the brinjal plant to produce a poison inside the plant to kill some pests that attack the crop – the claim is that farmers would not have to spray so much of chemical pesticides in farming with the use of seeds like Bt Brinjal. What is ironical however is that it is the same business players who have made and who continue to make profits out of chemical pesticides that talk about GM seeds today. When chemical pesticides were brought in a few decades ago, they claimed that pesticides will not cause any harm to any organism other than the target pest. However, we now know that this is a lie. Today, they again claim that GM seeds will not harm any organism apart from the target pest – do you want to believe them, knowing that this is in fact an irreversible technology with seeds having their own life and self-propagating ways in nature?
Brinjal has primarily originated in the Indian sub-continent. Nowhere else in the world has a crop been allowed to be genetically modified in its centre of origin and diversity. There are references in classical texts that tell us that brinjal used to be the favorite dish of Lord Krishna, for instance. Brinjal and plants of related species are used extensively in Ayurveda and Siddha and is also documented to have medicinal properties, used for treatment of Diabetes Type B etc. The entry of Bt Brinjal will thus endanger the healing capacity of Indian medicinal systems.
M/s Mahyco, the Indian partner of the world’s largest seed company called Monsanto, has been allowed to develop Bt Brinjal in India on claims of pest tolerance to a set of pests. Monsanto is infamous in the world for its anti-farmer operations, including jailing and suing American farmers for saving their own seed! Now, they are seeking to control the agriculture of this country through the means of GM seeds. In the case of Bt Cotton, the only allowed GM crop in India, Monsanto is reported to have made crores of rupees of profits by charging exorbitant royalties from poor, debt-ridden Indian farmers, many of whom were left with no option but to commit suicide. It is naïve to believe that these companies are acting in our best interests, whatever their stated claims.
The company has been allowed to do open air field trials from 2004 onwards even though biosafety has not been proven till date. In the process of field trials, Mahyco has also been documented with serious violations of biosafety norms under EPA. In 2007, despite massive public resistance, an expert committee set up by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) recommended that Bt Brinjal be allowed for large scale field trials.
Both in terms of academic literature and field level practice, it has been proven time and again that pest management in Brinjal is quite possible, affordable and profitable for farmers through non-chemical and non-GM means and through ecological practices. Despite the fact that Dr Pushpa Bhargava, Supreme Court appointee to the GEAC, recommending that GMOs should be considered only if no other options exist, Bt Brinjal is being projected as a need for the farmers of the country disregarding other safer options.
For assessing the implications of Bt Brinjal, the regulators had asked the crop developer to undertake some testing and to produce data – these tests are not long term, comprehensive in their assessment or independent. Decision-making has been happening only on the basis of company-produced data when it obviously has a vested interest in the matter. Mahyco was asked to perform some toxicity and allergenicity tests for biosafety assessment on the health front (in addition to some tests for environmental biosafety and for assessing the impact of the Bt Brinjal on the target insects). The biosafety data from these tests was made public by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in August 2008 after a protracted struggle under Right to Information Act and in a Supreme Court PIL. The fight for this data has been a typical case of public safety vs. commercial interest, with the company seeking to withhold information from the public.
No independent research or independent analysis has been taken up by any concerned Ministry with their own set of experts with regard to Bt Brinjal. However, after independent scientists from all over the world analysed Mahyco’s Bt Brinjal biosafety data and pointed out to problems and concluded that it is unsafe for consumption, an Expert Committee (EC2) was set up by the GEAC which, after two sittings, claimed that Bt Brinjal is safe and ready for commercial cultivation. As various civil society groups protested against the constitution of the EC2, its mandate, its functioning and its so-called findings, the Minister for Environment & Forests has now announced a democratic and transparent process by which the final decision on Bt Brinjal will be taken by February 2010. If Bt Brinjal is allowed into the country, that will be the end of choice for you. Your right to know what you are eating will be violated. Normal brinjal and Bt Brinjal will look the same by appearance and you will not be able to exercise your informed choice of not eating Bt Brinjal.
For more information, contact: mail.tarafoundation@gmail.com/iamnolabratbihar@gmail.com/9472999999.