Below's a short summary of an article on biosafety in India published recently in Economic and Political Weekly.
To read the article in full:
The article contains a reminder of the remarkable justifications given by India's official experts and regulators for the introduction of Bt cotton:
"Optimistic predictions of the GEAC, the ICAR and the department of biotechnology (DBT) quoted an additional income of Rs 10,000 per acre for the farmer. The DBT also claimed that crop yields would increase by 80 per cent. For the chair-person of GEAC, the fact that Bt cotton would drastically reduce pesticide use by 80 per cent among other benefits was reason enough to grant approval."
Somehow these officials all seemd to lose sight of what was happening in the first country to approve Monsanto's Bt cotton in Asia - Indonesia - which was experiencing such bad results that the company was actually forced to abandon selling GM seeds there altogether.
Bt cotton commercialisation in India was also dogged by a whole series of bad reports from farmers, NGOs, independent scientists and even State governments, culminating eventually in the banning of 3 types of Monsanto's bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh and 1 type more widely.
Monsanto, of course, via its own surveys and via industry-friendly scientists did its best to make all the rosy predictions come true. One of the most notorious pieces of research in this regard was a paper by Martn Qaim (University of Bonn) and David Zilberman (University of California, Berkeley) published in SCIENCE (Science Vol 299, No. 5608, pp. 900-902).
They claimed outstanding yield increases from Monsanto's GM cotton - results they projected as relevant to farmers throughout the developing world. Their yield increses were exactly in line with the department of biotechnology's predictions - 80%!
Qaim and Zilberman's paper's findings were so at odds with the reports coming from Indian farmers that its publication caused a storm of protest. Devinder Sharma called the paper a "scientific fairytale" while Dr Vandana Shiva - pointing out that Qaim and Zilberman based their findings entirely on data drawn from Monsanto's trials and "not on the basis of the harvest from farmers' fields" - dismissed it as "fabricated data that presents a failure of Bt Cotton as a miracle."
The paper was an embarrasment even to India's pro-GM lobby. In a piece posted on CS Prakash's AgBioView list, former Syngenta man, Dr Shantu Shantharam, complained that, "This kind of shoddy publication based on meagre and questionable field data in reputed journals like SCIENCE do more harm to science and technology development, perhaps set GMO technology backwards."
The other line of argument used by Qaim and many others to try and vindicate Bt cotton was to point to increases in acreage. But as a response to Qaim et al published in India's Economic and Political Weekly pointed out:
"If increasing demand is an indicator of a technology's effectiveness or performance, how do the authors explain the increasing demand for pesticides? Does increasing demand automatically imply higher efficacy, successful experience and so on? Or does it also have elements of hyped up propaganda?"
The full extent of the hyped up propaganda that Monsanto and its associates were deploying to promote Bt cotton was eventually exposed in the report: THE MARKETING OF BT COTTON IN INDIA: AGGRESSIVE, UNSCRUPULOUS AND FALSE
When such extravagant predictions and mileading propaganda are used to endorse a largely untested and potentially hazardous technology, and in the context of the kind of lackadaisical biosafety system described below, then it's hardly a surprise that so many of India's poor farmers have found themselves duped and left unprotected with no prospect of recompense for the losses and suffering they have had to endure.
Biosafety in India
Rethinking GMO Regulation
Economic and Political Weekly, September 24, 2005, Volume 40 No. 39, pp. 4284-4289
Summary: Despite conflicting claims about the performance of Bt cotton, in 2002 the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee approved its commercial cultivation in several states of north India. Judging from the lackadaisical manner in which the genetically modified cotton was handled in the southern and western states, serious doubts about the efficiency of the regulatory agencies persist. More democratic forms of decision-making that involve greater public participation and debate could be one of the more critical factors that contribute to an effective biosafety regime. For satisfactory implementation of the regulation it is also vital to strengthen institutional infrastructure.