The approval of GMOs for open field trials by India's new environment minister is anti-science, anti-people, anti-farmer, and anti-democracy, writes Vandana Shiva.
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt called Veerappa Moily a "corporate mole".
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1. Indian government approval for poison-producing plants (GMOS) - Vandana Shiva
2. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt calls Veerappa Moily a "corporate mole"
1. Indian government approval for poison-producing plants (GMOs)
Anti-science, anti-farmer, anti-democracy, and anti-peoples' seed and food sovereignty
By Dr Vandana Shiva, 28 Feb 2014
[slightly shortened and edited by GMWatch]
Mr Moily, India’s Oil Minister, who is also India’s new Environment Minister, did what he was appointed to do - approve field trials of 200 GMOs, of wheat,rice, canola (mustard), cotton produced by companies like Monsanto, Mahyco, Bayer, BASF in one fell swoop. This blind and blanket approval is anti-science, anti-people, anti-farmer, and anti-democracy. It is a threat to our seed freedom and food freedom.
Most approvals granted by Mr. Moily are for GMOs which are Bt crops or HT (herbicide tolerant) crops. Bt crops are engineered with a gene from the soil organism, Bacillus thurengesis, to produce a toxin in the plant to control the bollworm. Monsanto's Bt cotton (trade name Bollgard) and Bt baingan [brinjal/eggplant] are examples of such Bt crops. Herbicide Tolerant plants introduce a toxic gene to make the plant tolerant to the companies' propriety herbicide. In the case of Monsanto, the HT crops are Roundup Ready soya, corn, and cotton. Since crops with genes for producing bt toxin and herbicide resistant genes produce poisons, in lay language we could call these poison-producing plants. That is why they need to be assessed for biosafety which means health and environmental safety in the context of GMOs. It is only when such safety can be guaranteed through lab and greenhouse tests should we allow open field trials which are precursors to commercialization.
Subverting India’s Biosafety
The Rules for Biosafety in India are contained in the 1989 RULES FOR THE MANUFACTURE, USE, IMPORT, EXPORT, AND STORAGE OF HAZARDOUS MICRO ORGANISMS, GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS, OR CELLS (notified under the EP Act, 1986)
Two Environment Ministers have been removed because they were implementing these rules in letter and spirit.
* Jairam Ramesh was removed as Environment Minister after he put a moratorium on GM eggplant, the BT Brinjal, after listening to scientists, farmers, citizens in 7 public hearings organized across the country. The public hearings on Bt Baigan [brinjal/eggplant] were the highest expression of science and democracy.
* Jayanthi Natrajan was removed because she was upholding the Biosafety laws and she refused to sign on the dotted line with the Agriculture Minister, Shri Sharad Pawar, to allow GMO field trials in a joint affadavit to the Supreme Court in the GMO case.
Moily’s approvals violate all the scientific principles of Biosafety and Food Security. They are also sub judice, since the Supreme Court is hearing the matter.
Jayanti Natrajan was trying to ensure she does not do anything to undermine the independence of the judiciary. And this is why she was replaced by Moily, to bulldoze approvals before a robust Biosafety framework framework is evolved, just a few months before the elections.
The Government has also been trying its best to totally undo the Biosafety rules , and replace them with industry-friendly deregulation law drafted as the BRAI (Biotechnogy Regulatory Authority of India). This law could not be passed by Parliament because of protests from citizens and Parliamentarians.
Since the Government, under pressure of the Biotech Industry, failed to change the law, it changed Environment Ministers, and is now trying to subvert the legal process.
While the approvals have been given the name of science, the decision is against the science of Biosafety. Moily says safety will be ensured. Sharad Pawar says protocols will be followed.
But there are no detailed protocols evolved that cover all dimensions of the ecological, health, and socio-economic impact of GMOs. It was precisely to evolve such protocols and strengthen India’s Biosafety regulatory process that the Supreme court has appointed a Technical Expert Committee. The TEC recommended a 10 year moratorium on GMO approvals till scientifically robust protocols, independent and competent institutions to assess risks, and a strong regulatory system, was evolved.
They also recommended that there be no GMOs in crops of which we are the centre of Diversity such as rice, brinjal, banana. Since India’s farms are tiny, with 80% less than 2 ha, the TEC also recommended no use of herbicide tolerant crops, since HT crops destroy everything green, and would destroy the food, fodder, and medicinal plants on our small farms, threatening the livelihoods and food and nutritional security of the majority of India’s citizens.
Open Field Trials are not about scientific research, they are about commerce
The GMO approvals, the Minister says, are for scientific research and cannot be stopped. But scientific research is done in laboratories and greenhouses, not through a deliberate release of GMOs in the open environment. The open field trials are a precursor to the commercialisation of GMOs. This is borne out by the fact that Monsanto’s shares have surged by 77% as soon as Moily’s decision was announced.
And as in the case of Monsanto’s illegal Bt cotton trials, biotech corporations can multiply the GMO seed and spread GMOs commercially.
Open field trials are not needed for the enhancement of scientific research on Biosafety. On the contrary, open field trials have a proven track record of introducing hazards for soil organisms, pollinators, and causing socio-economic harm to farmers through genetic contamination.
There are 2 aspects of Biosafety - Health and Environmental Safety.
All tests on health impacts required for biosafety are done in labs. Open field trials are not a methodology for assessing toxicity, carcinogenicity, etc. Hence more lab research on health and safety aspects of GMOs should be done by scientific bodies and scientists independent of the biotech industries. This is how all assessment is done across the world. French scientists did a 2 year lab study on health and safety aspects of GMOs. This did not need the cultivation of GMOs in France. In fact France has a GMO ban. A ban on cultivation is not a block to research. Lab research has not been stopped the Supreme Court, or by the 2 Environment Ministers who were removed. One put commercialization on hold. The other put field trials on hold. This is not the blocking of research.
Environment impacts of GMOs include impact on soil organisms, on pollinators, on genetic contamination of non–GMO crops and wild relatives. Toxic impacts of GMOS on soil organisms can be carried out in greenhouses and laboratories. Navdanya’s research on the impact of Bt cotton and soil organisms has shown 22% decline of soil micro-organisms and degenerating soil health.
EFFECT OF Bt-TRANSGENIC COTTON ON SOIL BIOLOGICAL HEALTH
Jagadish C. Tarafdar, Indira Rathore and Vandana Shiva
Applied Biological Research 14(1): 00-00, 2012
Such impacts need to be assessed under Greenhouse conditions and not through a deliberate release in the open environment, since once a deliberate release takes place, there is no recall. For example a GMO Klebsiella Planticola [bacterium] was designed to convert straw into alchohol. If it had been released as an open field trial, it would have destroyed all crops. Dr Elaine Ingham at the University of Oregon did the comparision of the GMO and non-GMO klebsiella in the lab with potted wheat plants, and found that the GM klebsiella had killed all the wheat plants, but the non-GMO klebsiella had no impact. Can you imagine the harm and risks if open field trials had been used, instead of carrying out the experiment in the lab?
Genetic Contamination from Open Field Trials is Inevitable, and has High Economic Costs
One of the approvals given by Moily is for Bayer to do an open field trial with genetically engineered cotton with herbicide-resistant gene on grounds that this will provide pollination distances for cotton. Firstly, the TEC has recommended that herbicide-resistant GMOs should not be allowed in India.
Secondly, studies on pollination distances can be based on the Non GMO variant of a variety. Such open field trials with GMOs will promote contamination of organic cotton as well as closely related species spreading toxic genes in the environment. In fact, the Navbharat 151 cotton seed sold in Gujrat had Bt traits, not because the seed was genetically engineered, but because cotton in Maharashtra was contaminated during Monsanto’s illegal field trials. The risks of such contamination are well established. Bayer's field trials of rice in the US have led to the contamination of the rice with the consequence that the US has lost its rice exports. Bayer was forced to pay $750 million for the contamination from its rice trials.
Monsanto’s wheat trials in Oregon also led to contamination of wheat, and rejection of wheat exports from the US.
Both countries and farmers bear heavy costs due to contamination.
Canada’s canola exports have been rejected because of contamination.
Canadian Percy Schmeiser's canola crop was contaminated by Monsanto’s GMO canola. Due to contamination from Monsanto’s GMO canola, Australian farmer Steve Marsh lost his organic status, since GMOs are not allowed in organic. He has sued for damages.
Even though GMO corn is not approved in Mexico, the Centre of Diversity of corn, corn in Mexico has been found to be contaminated by Bt corn through studies carried out by Berkeley scientist Ignacio Chapela.
CONTAMINATION FROM OPEN FIELD TRIALS IS A REALITY. AND THIS REALITY HAS ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES FOR FARMERS AND THE NATION, AND HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT IMPACT FOR ALL SOCIETIES.
The claim that the government has made that the approvals are for scientific research and development is totally false.
We encourage more Research on GMOs, at the level of labs and greenhouses where the organism is contained, specially on their health and safety aspects.
India should have liability laws in place before the trials are approved, since open field trials can lead to contamination and serious economic losses for innocent farmers.
The UN The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety has already adopted a supplementary Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur protocol on Liability and redress.
GMOs are a failed [technology], and alternatives exist
Most GMOs approved by Moily fall in the category of Bt crops, claimed to control pests, and HT crops, claimed to control weeds.
However, in 2 decades of commercialization of Bt and HT GMO crops, pests and weeds have not been controlled. Instead GMOs have created superpests and superweeds. Bollgard I with one Bt gene has had to be replaced by Bollgard II with two Bt genes, because of emergence resistance in the pink Bollworm. In the US, half the US farmland is overtaken by superweeds that are resistant to Roundup. Now the corporations are planning to spread GMOs that are resistant to 2-4,D an ingredient of Agent Orange.
New GMOs: Agent Orange Resistant Corn & Soy
There are ecologically sustainable, effective, and proven technologies to control pests and weeds.
A technology is a tool. The GMO tools for pest and weed control have clearly failed. To promote a failed and hazardous technology, without assessment of its hazards, and without consideration of alternatives is ecologically, socially, and scientifically irresponsible.
Moily’s illegal, un-scientific, undemocratic rush to grant approval for GMOs illustrates the pressure being brought on India to lose its GMO-free status in food crops. This will undermine our science and democracy. It will harm our farmers, our citizens, and our agriculture. It will threaten our health and environmental safety. It will rob of us our seed freedom and food freedom.
Indian Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture has cautioned the Government on GMOs. In a Democracy, the Executive must not bypass the Parliament.
In addition there is a Supreme Court case going on related to open field trials. The decision to approve GMOs is therefore subjudice.
The Supreme Court should put a stay on Moily’s approval of GMO open field trials in the name of scientific research, since once a GMO crop is cultivated in open fields, it will contaminate the ecosystem, it will contaminate our rices and wheats, our mustards and our cottons. Organic farmers will loose their organic status, organic consumers will loose access to safe GMO-free food. India will loose her exports, since most countries are GMO-free and do not accept GMO contamination.
To defend our seed and food freedom, we will challenge this anti-science, anti-democracy decision of the Government in every democratic way possible.
2. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt calls Veerappa Moily a "corporate mole"
Times of India, Mar 1, 2014
Bollywood film-maker Mahesh Bhatt has called the Union environment and forest minister M Veerappa Moily a "corporate mole".
A day after Moily reversed the decision of his predecessor Jayanthi Natarajan on GM crops and allowed field trials of over 200 varieties of genetically modified seeds, Bhatt on Friday questioned the minister's decision on Twitter.
Bhatt tweeted: "Moily is a corporate mole, (he) must explain why India needs GM crops when it produces over 260 million tonnes of food grains."
Expressing his views against genetically engineered food crops, Bhatt said, "The government should be sued if GM crops contaminate our crops. Wake up consumers, once GM crops are out in open they can't be withdrawn!"
The filmmaker, known for his anti-GM crop stand, also took on multi-national seed companies for their ongoing attempts to eventually make production of transgenic food crop a reality in India in future at the cost of human health.
Bhatt tweeted, "In their hunger for profit, corporations turn science against the human race."
His reaction came after Moily's move which allowed seed companies and agriculture research institutes in India to go ahead with scientific filed trials of different transgenic varieties of GM crops which had got clearance from the government's regulatory body - Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) - in March last year.
The decision, which had been kept in abeyance by Moily's predecessor Jayanthi Natarajan, will allow the companies and institutions to put more than 200 transgenic varieties of rice, wheat, maize, castor, and cotton on filed trials to check their suitability for commercial production in future.
Though Moily had on Thursday emphasized that the decision would not in any way violate the Supreme Court's order in this matter and these companies (both government and private) and research institutions can go for trial only after getting nod from respective state governments, his clarification did not convince the anti-GM crop groups in the country.
The Greenpeace has asked Moily to explain on what grounds he has allowed the field trials for GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
"The environment minister has the moral obligation to explain to the citizens of this country what has changed since his predecessors took proactive positions to save our food. Various stakeholders including the parliamentary standing committee (PSC), technical expert committee (TEC) of the Supreme Court have pointed out shortcomings of the GEAC. The minister should further explain why a hasty decision of clearing field trials was taken while the Supreme Court decision is pending on the matter," said Neha Saigal, campaigner, Greenpeace India.