Groups demand more participation in the Bt cotton process, urge authorities to take a more holistic view
New Delhi, June 20th: Concerned civil society groups welcomed the decision of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) not to permit commercial planting of Monsanto-Mahyco's Bt cotton. In an official meeting held on June 19th, one day after an open dialogue was held with scientists, farmers, NGO's and Government representatives, the GEAC demanded another year of field trials be conducted in order to collect comprehensive data.
With this decision, India remains a "GMO" (Genetically Modified Organisms) free country, since Bt cotton would have been the first crop to be commercialised.
The decision of the GEAC to demand another year of field trials to be conducted directly under the supervision the ICAR only confirms the concerns raised that the data presented was inadequate and insufficient to introduce Bt cotton into the country, they stated.
The precautionary approach adopted by the GEAC is undeniably a laudable one. There was now a need to ensure more public participation and transparency in the processes, including more non-official members in the relevant Committees that screen applications for GMO releases.
"The issue is not purely a scientific one, there are social, economic and political dimensions, all of which need to be debated and considered before any conclusion is reached," said PV Satheesh of the Deccan Development Society. "In view of these dimensions it is important that the decision making process should actively involve environmental groups and small and marginal farmers whose stake is the highest in this debate, he added. "The decision of the GEAC is undoubtedly an encouraging one, but the debate had only just begun." Kalpavriksh, Deccan Development Society, Centre for World Soilidarity and the Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity, organisations working on the issue of biodiversity, with some deeply involved in the ongoing process of formulating India's National Biodiversity Strategy pointed out that given the potential dangers Genetically Modified (GM) crops could pose to the socio-ecological security of the country and to the livelihoods of communities dependent on biodiversity, the Committee had exercised foresight. They urged that the GEAC should now insist on comprehensive and long term studies on the potential ecological, social and economic impacts of any proposed GM crop or GM Food.
Additionally, organic cotton farmers from Maharashtra stated that they had evolved methods of farming that completely eliminated the use of pesticides.
In contrast, Bt cotton only helped in reducing such use. They asked what was the point of going in for such a risky technology when safer alternatives for getting high cotton output were already available.
"At a time when the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms is at a nascent stage in the country, there should be no haste in taking a decision to commercialise," stated Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.
The fact that the Monsanto-Mahcyo was hastening the process on the basis of inadequate data is deplorable. More shocking is the way the scientific Committees overlooked these glaring flaws in statistics thereby casting a doubt on the efficiency and competence of the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM)," he stated.
Greenpeace pointed out that it was now crucial that information regarding the field trials be made public and they be conducted in a most transparent manner to avoid public suspicion and doubt.
The groups demanded that all relevant Committees should incorporate NGO's and independent scientists and a full assessment of all alternative methods of tackling cotton pests, including through organic means be made. Meanwhile, the demands for public disclosure of previous data collected as well as the need for a scientific review still stood, they stated.
For more Information contact: Forum for Biotechnolgy and Food Security. Devinder Sharma, Delhi. Tel. No 011-5250494 Kalpavriksh, Ashish Kothari, Pune. Tel. No. 020-5654239
AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity and the Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad. PV Satheesh. Tel. Nos 040 -963222260/3222867
Centre for World Solidarity, Hyderabad. Mr. MV Shastry. Tel. Nos.040-7018257
Greenpeace, Delhi. Michelle Chawla Tel. Nos. 011-6962932/6536716/6536717
Natural Agricultural Resouce Centre, Nagpur, Mr. Parchure.