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Parliamentary report calls for immediate end to all GM field trials

1.Press release from GM-free India
2.Press release from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture
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1.COALITION FOR A GM-FREE INDIA WELCOMES THE PARLIAMENTARY STANDING COMMITTEE'S REPORT ON GM CROPS:  ASKS GOVERNMENT TO IMMEDIATELY STOP ALL FIELD TRIALS.

*ALSO DEMANDS GOVT THROW OUT THE BRAI BILL AND BRING IN A BIOSAFETY STATUTE

*AND STOP CALLING BT COTTON IN INDIA A SUCCESS 

New Delhi, August 9, 2012: Calling the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture's report on GM crops a historic, comprehensive and well-grounded document, the Coalition for a GM-Free India welcomed the report and hoped that the governments in India, especially the Union Government, would change their perspective on the subject at least now. It is clear that the government's views are uninformed and biased on the matter, and the blind promotion of the technology is unscientific to say the least, said the Coalition. 

It is symbolic that the Standing Committee's report comes out on August 9th, observed as "Quit India" day in the country it is time that GM crops are thrown out of our food and farming systems, a Press Release said. The Coalition asked for the immediate implementation of one of the key recommendations of the Committee, which is to stop all field trials of GM crops. 

"This report vindicates the concerns and positions taken by many State Governments in India, such as Bihar, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh etc which have disallowed GM crops, including field trials. It also vindicates the larger public demand not to allow GM crops into our food and farming systems," said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener of the Coalition. 

It is evident that the Chair and members of the Standing Committee have gone into the finer details of this controversial technology and studied it from all angles, including the socio-economic, so that the interests of the Indian farmer are upheld ultimately. The report looks at regulation and its shortcomings and questions the Ministry of Agriculture on its policy-making related to transgenics in Indian agriculture. 

The Coalition sincerely hoped that the nation as a whole takes pointers from this analysis and requests law makers and the government to throw out the deeply flawed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill and start at the drawing board afresh, with the correct mandate and therefore, the correct ministries. 

"We also agree with the Standing Committee recommendation that the current 'collusions of the worst kind' in the regulatory system be probed thoroughly", added Sridhar Radhakrishnan.

The Agriculture Standing Committee has 31 members and is headed by veteran parliamentarian Basudeb Acharia. Interestingly enough, this report was unanimously adopted by the Committee, cutting across party lines. 

Kavitha Kuruganti, Member of the Coalition added that the report comes at the right time, when the biotech industry with its deep pockets is exerting pressure in overt and subtle ways on governments. "Ignoring the ground reality of the plight of rainfed smallholder farmers in the country, the biotech industry is busy profiteering at their expense. The analysis of the Standing Committee when it comes to Bt cotton performance in the country, backed up by field visits by committee members, is that it has aggravated agrarian distress rather than helped farmers. We demand that liability for this be fixed on promoters and regulators. The irresponsible hype and promotion of this technology has cost many farmers their lives and this cannot continue", she said. 

The Coalition noted that it is only a public debate facilitated by the then Union Minister for Environment & Forests, Jairam Ramesh, that stopped another disaster in the form of Bt brinjal descending upon our farmers and citizens who would have been forced to consume it. The Standing Committee report takes cognizance of this too.  Keeping in view the risks involved in open-air field trials of GMOs the committee has recommended that all field trials be stopped immediately; we wholeheartedly welcome the recommendation of the Committee. It is time that Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, which have given permissions for such trials stop the open air release of GMOs in their states", the Coalition stated.

The Coalition hopes that the report will form the basis for a deep and widespread debate on the subject of GMOs in our food and farming in the country and said that India should be proud of this historic, well-analysed report coming out in the year that the country is hosting the Convention on Biological Diversity's COP-MOP in Hyderabad later this year. "We hope that this report will guide the thinking in other countries as well, including our neighbouring countries with similar socio-economic conditions for their farming communities", said the Coalition. 

For more information, contact:
Sridhar Radhakrishnan at 09995358205
Kavitha Kuruganti at 09393001550
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2.Press release from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture

LOK SABHA SECRETARIAT
PRESS RELEASE
9 August 2012
18 Sharvana, 1934 (Saka)

Shri Basudeb Acharia, M.P. and Chairman, Committee on Agriculture (2011-12), presented the Thirty Seventh Report of the Committee on 'Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops Prospects and Effects' pertaining to the Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Agriculture and Cooperation) to Lok Sabha today, the 9th August, 2012.

Some of the important recommendations of the Committee are as under:- 

*Bt. brinjal case Thorough probe recommended

The Committee have been highly disconcerted to know about the confession of the Co-Chairman of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (Prof. Arjula Reddy) that the tests asked for by Dr. P.M. Bhargava, the Supreme Court nominee on GEAC for assessing Bt. brinjal were not carried out and even the tests undertaken were performed badly and that he (Prof. Arjula Reddy) had been under tremendous pressure as he was getting calls from industry, GEAC and the Minister to approve Bt. brinjal.  Convinced that these developments are not merely slippages due to oversight or human error but indicative of collusion of a worst kind, they have recommended a thorough probe into the Bt. brinjal matter from the beginning upto the imposing of moratorium on its commercialization by the then Minister of Environment and Forests (I/C) on 9 February, 2010 by a team of independent scientists and environmentalists. (Recommendation Para No. 2.79)

*Inexplicable changes in the organs and tissues of Bt. cotton seed fed lambs re-evaluation of all research findings by an expert committee – impressed upon

Noting from ICAR 'Report on Animal Feeding on Bio-safety Studies with Biotechnologically Transformed Bt. Cotton Crop Seed Meal' conducted in 2008 that there was increase in liver weight, testicle weight, testicle fat and RBC in blood and decrease in WBC in blood in the lambs fed with Bt. cotton seed, the Committee have recommended a professional evaluation of these developments, their possible causes and consequences by an expert committee comprising of eminent scientists from ICMR, pathologists, veterinarians and nutritionists. Further, noting that the data in the Study Report pertaining to kidney weight, spleen weight, heart weight, lung weight, kidney fat, cole fat, pancreas and penis weight also shows variations in Bt. cotton seed fed lambs, the Committee have also recommended a relook by the expert committee constituted for the purpose into all these findings and apprise them about their evaluation and interpretation of the data at the soonest.  The Committee have also 
sought the considered views of RCGM and GEAC on this Food Study Report and how it fared in their consideration while deciding the biosafety and health safety aspects of Bt. cotton.   (Recommendation Para No. 2.90 & 2.91)

*GEAC and RCGM in depth and comprehensive examination by the nodal Parliamentary Committee -requested    

The Committee have noticed several shortcomings in the functioning, composition, powers, mandate, etc. of GEAC and RCGM in their regulatory role for the assessment, evaluation and approval of transgenic crops in the Country.  Noting that these two entities are under the jurisdiction of Department Related Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, the Committee have requested their sister Committee to take up GEAC and RCGM for an in depth and comprehensive examination and Report to the Parliament.  (Recommendation Para No. 2.92)

*Setting-up of an all encompassing Bio-Safety Authority stressed upon    

Noting with concern the grossly inadequate and antiquated regulatory mechanism for assessment and approval of transgenics in food crops; the serious conflict of interest of various stakeholders involved in the regulatory mechanism; the total lack of post commercialization, monitoring and surveillance, the Committee have felt that  in such a situation what the Country needs is not a bio-technology regulatory legislation    but an all encompassing umbrella legislation on bio-safety which is focused on ensuring the bio-safety, biodiversity, human and livestock health, environmental protection and which specifically describes the extent to which bio-technology, including modern bio-technology, fits in the scheme of things, without compromising with the safety of any of the elements mentioned above.  They have, therefore, recommended to the Government, with all the power at their command, to immediately evolve such a legislation after due consultation with all stakeholders and bring it before the Parliament without any further delay. The Committee have also cautioned the Government that in their tearing hurry to open the economy to private prospectors, they should not make the same fate befall on the agriculture sector, as has happened to the communications, pharma, mineral wealth and several other sectors in which the Government's facilitative benevolence preceded setting up of sufficient checks and balances and regulatory mechanisms, thereby, leading to colossal, unfettered loot and plunder of national wealth in some form or the other, incalculable damage to environment, bio-diversity, flora and fauna and unimaginable suffering to the common man. (Recommendation Para No. 3.47 & 3.48)

*Examination of Research Reports on Bt. brinjal by an agency other than GEAC- emphasized in view of conflict of interest.    

Having observed that in pursuance of the direction of the then Minister of Environment and Forests (I/C), GEAC is examining various reports on merits and demerits of genetically modified crops in consultation with eminent persons and scientists, the Committee have opined that it is a clear case of conflict of interest. GEAC approved the commercialization of Bt. brinjal on the basis of its own assessment as the apex regulatory body. Therefore, it should not sit on judgement of its own decision and also on the merits and demerits of various reports on genetically modified crops. They have, therefore, recommended expeditious evaluation of these reports by some public sector agency such as CSIR, who not only have sufficient experience in the matter but also have minimum conflict of interest. (Recommendation Para No. 5.56)

*Failure of DAC at policy making level in regard to transgenics in agriculture sector – criticised    

The Committee have criticized the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation for having failed to discharge its mandated responsibilities, in so far as, the introduction of transgenic agricultural crops in India is concerned, as a policy matter.  They ignored the farmers’ profile in India i.e. 70% of them being small and marginal ones, levels of mechanization, non-availability of irrigation facilities, the cost-benefit analysis, the uncertainty of yield, loss to biodiversity, etc. They have, therefore, recommended an in depth probe to track the decision making involved in commercial release of Bt. cotton including how Bt. cotton became a priority when the avowed goal of introduction of transgenics in agricultural crops was to ensure and maintain food security. (Recommendation Para No. 6.144 & 6.146)

*Lacs of tonnes of Bt. cotton seed oil having gone into food chain unnoticed, in the last decade or so explanation from Department of Consumer Affairs sought    

Having found out that during the last decade or so of Bt. cotton cultivation in the Country lacs of tonnes of cotton seed oil extracted from Bt. cotton has gotten into the food chain, with various agencies including the Department of Consumer Affairs, FSSAI, etc. being oblivious of this fact, the Committee have sought an explanation of the Department of Consumer Affairs from the point of view of consumer protection, consumer rights, informed consumer choice, etc., immediately.         (Recommendation Para No. 6.148)  

*Effect of transgenic crops on medicinal crops and plants and non-inclusion of Department of AYUSH on GEAC explanation sought    

In view of the serious reservations expressed by the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy about the likely impact of transgenics in agricultural crops on the medicinal value of various plants, the Committee have sought a detailed explanation from GEAC about action they had taken on the advice of Department of AYUSH while approving commercial release of Bt. brinjal.  The Committee have also sought a detailed explanation from Ministry of Environment and Forests on their refusal to co-opt the representative of Department of AYUSH on GEAC right away, when Bt. brinjal was approved for commercial release and several other crops having medicinal propriety are already being assessed/approved by RCGM/GEAC.  (Recommendation Para No. 6.149) 

*Negative impact of transgenic crops on Exports consideration requested    

Being told by the Department of Commerce that there may be no real demand for export of GM crops when the emphasis is on organic production, the Committee have asked the Government that the negative impact of Genetically Modified Crops on Country's agricultural export needs to be factored in while taking a decision in regard to introduction of such crops. 
(Recommendation Para No. 6.151)  

*Suitably equipping NBA and FSSAI for effective discharge of their mandated roles exhorted. 

Observing severe deficiencies in the human resource and infrastructure at the disposal of National Biodiversity Authority and Food and Safety Standard Authority of India, both of whom will be playing a crucial role in ensuring biodiversity and food safety respectively,  the Committee have strongly recommended to the Government to adequately strengthen both these agencies with scientific, technical and other human resource of best quality, alongwith sufficient infrastructure without any further delay. 
(Recommendation Para Nos. 6.152 to 6.156)

*Labelling of GM products Recommended.    

Upholding that the consumer has the supreme right to make an informed choice, the Committee have recommended that the Government should immediately issue regulation for making labeling of all Genetically Modified Products including food, feed and food products so as to ensure that the consumer is able to make an informed choice in the important matter of what she/he wants to consume.   (Recommendation Para No. 7.63) 

*R&D on transgenics in agricultural crops should only be done in strict containment and field trials under any garb should be discontinued forthwith strongly recommended.    

The Committee after critically analysing the evidence placed before them, both for and against the transgenic agricultural crops have, in view of the compelling concerns regarding India being one of the richest centres of bio-diversity; agriculture providing sustenance to almost 70% of rural populace; more than 70% of India’s farmers being small and marginal farmers for whom agriculture is not a commercial venture but a way of life and a means of survival; food security and safety; manpower intensive nature of agriculture in India; the severe agrarian crisis afflicting the Country for years now; 60 per cent of cultivated area still being rainfed; the irretrievability of transgenic crops once released in the environment; effects on environment, human health and livestock and animal health;  the gross inadequacy of the regulatory mechanism, the total absence of post release surveillance and monitoring, the absence of chronic toxicology studies and long term environment impact
assessment of transgenic agricultural crops; the virtual non-existent nature of the oversight bodies like National Biodiversity Authority, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Authority, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, etc., recommended that till all the concerns voiced in their Report are fully addressed and decisive action is taken by the Government with utmost promptitude, to put in place all regulatory, monitoring, oversight, surveillance and other structures, further research and development on transgenics in agricultural crops should only be done in strict containment and field trials under any garb should be discontinued forthwith.  (Recommendation Para Nos. 8.116, 8.121 & 8.125)