'[Vandana Shiva] said it is unfortunate that the [Swaminathan panel report is "more in line with the call for environmental deregulation from corporations like Monsanto".' (item 1)
Item 2 underlines that the panel's aim is to 'hasten the process of clearance of GM crops': 'The panel report, which has been submitted to the Union agriculture ministry and will be eventually taken up for discussion in the Cabinet, criticised the existing process of clearance as "lengthy and cumbersome, as is evident from the time taken for release of Bt cotton".'
In fact, the release of Bt cotton has been an economic failure for Indian farmers as new research has one again confirmed. The Bt cotton saga argues for more care in regulation and testing - not deregulation!
See: Important new study nails Monsanto's lies over GM cotton in India (1/5/2004) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3405 And for more on those behind the fast-track approval bid: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3406
1.Tougher bio-safety rules urged for genetically modified crops
2.Not yet born, biotech monitor draws first blood
1.India News - Tougher bio-safety rules urged for genetically modified crops
New Delhi, May 5 (IANS) :
Leading environment activist Vandana Shiva Wednesday urged tightening the rules for commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops, notwithstanding recommendations of noted scientist M.S. Swaminathan.
In a recommendation to the agriculture ministry last week, Swaminathan, in his capacity as head of a task force set up to study bio-safety aspect of GM crops, suggested bypassing the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the environment ministry.
Swaminathan had mooted substituting GEAC expert group with an Agriculture Biotechnology Regulatory Authority.
"What is needed for GM crops is a GEAC plus - a stronger health regulation by the health ministry and agro economic and socio economic regulation by agriculture ministry," said Shiva.
Bio-safety being an environmental and health issue, Shiva said it needs to be in the hands of those who do not have special interest in the promotion of the technology.
India is looking at GM crops as an option for raising production for food security and meeting the nutrition needs of millions of undernourished children in the country.
Other than GM cotton, so far no other genetically modified crop has been given approval for commercial cultivation in India though trials are on for several crops like mustard, tomato and rice.
The activists have however been agitating for greater safety both for environment and human health.
Alleging that Swaminathan committee was "parroting the US stand", Shiva said, "The case by case risk assessment must stay in place with GEAC as the nodal agency."
While appreciating that the committee has taken on board concerns for having organic crop zones and prevention of herbicide resistant crops, she said it is unfortunate that the report is "more in line with the call for environmental deregulation from corporations like Monsanto".
Shiva's group is joining hands with other NGOs and activist around the world in a unique Global Citizen's GMO challenge to the US position to promote GM crops of multinationals like Monsanto, which has a presence in India too.
"We are planning to intervene in the US case against the EU in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for not permitting GM products. The US allegation that it is acting for the citizens of its country is misplaced as it is promoting the cause of the industry. We are seeking amendment of WTO rules to stop force feeding of GM food," she said.
So far around 700,000 signatures have been collected in the global campaign, which is targeting one million people.
Shiva's group is also joining hands with other global NGOs in supporting a Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser who has been sued $200,000 by Monsanto for growing GM crops though the farmer has claimed that his canola (mustard) crop has been contaminated due to cross pollination.
The farmer is awaiting Canada Supreme Court's verdict this month to an appeal against a lower court judgement.
In India too, Shiva said a study by GEAC has found that cross-pollination had led to contamination of around 300,000 hectares of cultivable land in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra where cotton is grown.
2.Not yet born, biotech monitor draws first blood
ASHOK B SHARMA
The Indian Express, April 30 2004
NEW DELHI, APRIL 29: The regulatory mechanism for biotechnology finally shows signs of getting off the ground. For starters, the M S Swaminathan Panel on Applications of Biotechnology in Agriculture wants to cut back the powers of the existing regulatory authority, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee.
The GEAC was a multi-disciplinary body headed by an additional secretary-level official from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The last three years have seen six chairmen come and go, triggering a great deal of consternation in the industry.
The Swaminathan panel has suggested that pending the establishment of an autonomous Agricultural Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (ABRA), the release, notification and registration of transgenic crops for commercial cultivation be done by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Union agriculture ministry. The panel has limited the powers of the GEAC to "only environmental clearance".
The panel report, which has been submitted to the Union agriculture ministry and will be eventually taken up for discussion in the Cabinet, criticised the existing process of clearance as "lengthy and cumbersome, as is evident from the time taken for release of Bt cotton".
With a view to hasten the process of clearance of GM crops, the panel report said "once an extant/transgene has been declared bio-safe, its derivatives need not always be evaluated for bio-safety again. Such derivative crop varieties can be evaluated on basis of largescale trials by ICAR and released after satisfactory value for cultivation and use (VCU) trials".
In the run-up to the ABRA, the Swaminathan panel suggests, approval powers for contained and open field trials for biosafety should rest with the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) while the multilocational farmer's field trials are the sole responsibility of ICAR and the company concerned.
The Monitoring-cum-Evaluation Committee (MEC) should report to GEAC on biosafety and environmental issues, while post-release monitoring should be the responsibility of the Union agriculture ministry and ICAR.
In practical terms, this means cutting back the GEAC's powers. At present, they are the sole authority to deny or clear a particular Bt gene on all counts, economic and environmental.
Regarding selection of crops for developing transgenics, the panel report says that national interests like external trade should be kept in view while taking up research projects in transgenics. The importance of traditional Basmati rice and soyabean in the export market is a case in point.
The panel also suggests labelling and traceability norms for genetically modified (GM) products, establishment of Codex norms in GM foods and protection of organic farming zones and agro-biodiversity sanctuaries from the effects of cross-pollination of GM crops.
It has suggested 'gathering of data on the impact of transgenics on biodiversity in crop fields, on model of recent studies in UK'. The panel report pleads for special government-sponsored insurance scheme for GM crops, venture capital assistance for the transgenic crops industry and private-public sector alliance for production and marketing of GM seeds.
The panel report recommends farmers' participatory assessment in the evaluation of GM crops. It also suggests that till the ABRA comes into being, the GEAC should have two expert-staffed wings - one to deal with transgenic agriculture and the other for the pharma sector - headed by a biotech expert.
The report also suggests strengthening the Seeds Act and environment laws to deal with possible illegal proliferation of GM seeds. It favours mandatory registration of all released seeds and proposes a single-window information centre on all aspects of bioethics and biosafety.