1.Kerala says no to genetically modified seeds - The Hindu
2.Indian GM crops battle heats up - BBC News
3.Health Minister for stringent tests on all GM food - Times of India
4.The power of your voice - "I am no lab rat"

TAKE ACTION: Support India's Health Minister - see item 4

NOTE: Mahyco-Monsanto's spokesperson claims that, "The first year the farmer may buy our seed, but the farmer does not come back if the product does not perform." (item 2)

But a multi-year study of cotton seed purchasing in exactly the area of Andhra Pradesh being talked about showed that farmers' seed selection was actually not based on performance but on seed fads manipulated by commercial interests like Mahyco-Monsanto.

Washington University researcher Glenn Stone argues that GM cotton has, in fact, contributed to a disruption of farmers' process of learning, as they rely less on experimentation and observation and more on advertising and a kind of herd mentality where everybody copies everyone else, leading to blind adoption.

See: Glenn Davis Stone, Agricultural Deskilling and the Spread of Genetically Modified Cotton in Warangal, Current Anthropology, Volume 48, Number 1, February 2007
Articles about this research here
1.Kerala says no to genetically modified seeds
The Hindu, December 18 2008

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India - Opposing any type of trial-runs of genetically modified seeds in the state, the CPI(M) led LDF government in Kerala has asked the Centre to declare the State as 'GM free' State in the country.

It was the government's declared policy that genetically modified seeds would not be allowed to be cultivated either on experimental basis or otherwise in the state, Agriculture Minister Mullakara Ratnakaran told the Assembly while replying to a submission.

Instructions have been issued to officials to see that such seeds were not used in the state, Ratnakaran said referring to reports that genetically modified seeds were being "experimented" in Palakkad district.

Ratnakaran said the seeds developed at the Pattambi Paddy Seed Research Centre under Agriculture University have not been handed over to any private players.

The University had also been instructed to seek the government's prior permission if they want to give the seeds developed to institutions outside the country or State for any purpose, Ratnakaran said replying to the submission of Kovoor Kunjumon.
2.Indian GM crops battle heats up 
By Tinku Ray
BBC News, Andhra Pradesh, India

[image caption: India's health minister is considering a ban on all GM seeds]

Driving through Warangal in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh, you pass row upon row of cotton fields.

It is one of the region's traditional crops but these days almost all of it is genetically modified (GM).

Introduced in 2002, there are now over 17 million acres of bacillus thuringiensis (BT) cotton grown in India - making the country the second largest cotton grower and exporter after China.

Genetically modified cotton is the only commercially approved GM crop in the country today.

Allergy fears

Mr Virender has four acres of land, all planted with BT cotton.

"I used to grow non-BT cotton, but had to use much more pesticides so I'm very happy with this," he says.

"I still have to spray pesticides but only five or six times - a lot less than the 15-16 times I had to spray the non-BT variety."

However, he is disappointed with the new seeds he has been asked to try out.

[image caption: "I'm allergic to BT cotton, a problem I never had with the non-BT variety" - Farmer's wife Rama Devi]

"I'm not very happy with these new seeds. I prefer the old BT cotton seeds as I got a better yield from them," he says.

This year the crop has not been as good and Mr Virender says they have seen different problems - with new insects now attacking the leaves.

He blames the weather and not the seeds themselves, but his wife Rama Devi has a completely different problem with the new cotton.

"I'm allergic to BT cotton, a problem I never had with the non-BT variety. I get a cough and blocked nose as well as other respiratory problems," she says.

But she adds that she tolerates the allergy because of the good yield the crop produces.

[image caption: Genetically modified food is not yet readily available to the public]

About 80% of India's cotton farmers are growing BT cotton and the seeds are distributed through the US firm Monsanto's partner, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco).

While no scientific research has been done on the latest reports of allergies, the deputy managing director of Mahyco Monsanto Biotech, Raj Ketkar, says the technology has to go through rigorous allergy tests before getting approval.

"In India we've been growing this for seven years, millions of farmers are growing it. Around the world this technology has been grown for twelve years and we have not had any instances of animals or people having any type of allergic reaction."

The company also claims that the success of its seeds means cotton farmers in India have better lifestyles and can afford things they never dreamed of.

Suicide reports

But there are still many activists opposed to GM crops in India.

Some argue there is a direct link between the thousands of suicides among cotton farmers in Maharashtra and the introduction of BT cotton in the area.

A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute concluded there was no evidence of a direct link, but said the cost of BT cotton may have been a contributing factor in specific cases.

But environmental activist Vandana Shiva is still not convinced.

"The more recent escalation of suicides has been in the region of Vidarbhah and if you look at the data of expansion of BT cotton the highest expansion has taken place there," she says.

"In Vidharbah, one farmer is killing himself every six hours and the separation of suicides from BT cotton is the worst lie because if you do a suicide map of this country and you do a BT sales map of this country - you have a one-to-one co-relation in terms of the districts," she maintains.

Usha Barwale Zehr of Mahyco strongly denies the allegation and argues that farmers are doing extremely well with BT cotton.

"The first year the farmer may buy our seed, but the farmer does not come back if the product does not perform," he says.

It is mandatory in India for cotton farmers growing BT cotton to plant 20% of their land with the non-BT variety. This helps prevent the BT plants from losing resistance to bollworms - a pest that can be devastating to the plants.

Some farmers say it is getting increasingly difficult to buy non-BT cotton seeds on the market, although Usha Barwale Zehr denies her firm has a monopoly and says it is giving farmers more, not less choice.

"The opening up of the markets allowed many foreign companies to come into India and provide products, as a result of which even the Indian companies had to be more competitive and come up with products which were competing," she says.

Engineered aubergines

Options for farmers might be about to expand as Mahyco is on the verge of getting approval for a new BT brinjal, or aubergine seed.

Whilst some Indians consume BT cotton in the form of cottonseed oil, the approval of brinjal will directly introduce a genetically modified food to the Indian population for the first time.

So what do ordinary Indians think?

[image caption: "I wouldn't want to buy a GM food or a vegetable for myself, they might play havoc with the body system." - Woman shopper] 

"From an average person's perspective how would you know the difference? You can't actually examine it. It's just based on what someone says," say sone man.

"I might even stop buying brinjals because I'm not sure," says one man, while a woman tells the BBC she does not think they will be very good for her health.

"I wouldn't want to buy a GM food or a vegetable for myself. They might play havoc with the body system. We just haven't done a long term research on GM food," she says.

Another man said he would accept the products depending on their components.

"If it's healthy then I can go for it, if it's a registered product then we can go for it."

That question of approval is one that many Indians are now asking, including the health minister Anbumani Ramadoss who is considering a ban on all GM seeds.

With biotech firms and some farmers arguing for approval, and activists and other farmers against the idea, the lines seem to be drawn for a prolonged battle.

This feature can be heard on the Business Daily podcast dated 17 December. [Dec 16 programme very good too]
3.Ramadoss for stringent tests on all GM food
The Times of India, 16 Dec 2008

NEW DELHI: Genetically modified (GM) crops are now under the health ministry's scanner. 

Even as the ministry of environment readies to introduce GM food like the Bt Brinjal in India, Union health minister A Ramadoss has promised to oppose the move till proper research is conducted on whether it is safe for Indians.

Ramadoss said on Tuesday that he would take up this important issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Ramadoss said: "All GM food must undergo tests in Indian conditions before they are allowed into Indian markets. The Bt Brinjal has not been tested in India. I am writing both to the PM and the agriculture minister about this."

Ramadoss, in a PMK organized meeting with hundreds of farmers at Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu recently, promised to resist the entry of GM foods for common use.

India is one of the six leading countries that are conducting field trials of GM crops. Besides brinjal, there are over two dozen varieties of rice and an equal number of tomatoes, potato, sugarcane, soy and okra awaiting approval.

Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, all the European Union countries and many in Africa have either banned the entry of GM foods or imposed strict restrictions on their commercial use.

A study published on November 12 by the Austrian government identified serious health threats of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

In one of the very few long-term feeding studies ever conducted with GE crops, the fertility of mice fed with GE maize was found to be severely impaired, with fewer offspring being produced than by mice fed on natural crops.

A group of scientists representing CRIIGEN (Committee for Independent Research and Genetic Engineering), University of Caen, France, found signs of toxicity in the liver and kidney of rats fed with genetically engineered maize.

Soybeans engineered with a Brazil-nut gene to improve nutritional quality, caused allergic reaction in people who consumed this soya.

The Coalition for a GM-free India recently thanked Ramadoss for vowing to stop unsafe GM food. Reacting to Ramadoss' statement, Kavitha Kuruganti, member secretary of the Coalition, said, "It is quite heartening to see the Union health minister taking a bold stand against unsafe GM food."
4.The power of your voice


You had chosen to exercise your right as a consumer, to have access to safe food as well as food of your choice, by raising your voice against GM  crops/foods. More than 70,000 other consumers across India decided to write to the Health Minister too and joined the I AM NO LAB RAT campaign. In addition the latest scientific study done at Austria sent shockwaves through companies pioneering GM technology as it confirmed that GM adversely affects fertility.

AND IT WORKED! Citizen voices and action do matter! The Health Minister  had this to say in response to thousands of voices which said "I am no lab rat" to him:

"As a minister from PMK and also as the Union minister, I will continue opposing it. As far as the recent controversy is concerned Bt brinjal is being brought into the country without appropriate research on its safety. We should oppose it collectively. The ministry of health and family welfare as a policy will ensure that a holistic research (on Bt brinjal) is done - including health impacts and farmer issues. We will definately not allow it into India otherwise."
To sustain this major development in support of the health interests of ordinary citizens, do thank the health minister for his pro-people stand and remind him that we await concrete action from his side now. You can send a thank you letter from this link : http://www.iamnolab php

Also wait for more updates from us on this front and continue exercising your right as a citizen of this country!  
Watch health minister Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss taking a stand against GM food