1.Sustainable agriculture: A world beyond GM crops
2.GM crops: call for effective regulation
3.Stop influx of illegal GM foods

EXTRACT: What becomes abundantly clear is that those who talk of the immense potential of GM crops are not even aware that the same objectives are being achieved without harming the environment and playing havoc with human, animal and plant health. (item 1)
1.Sustainable agriculture: A world beyond GM crops
By Devinder Sharma
Deccan Herald, June 20 2008

"Indian scientists do not promote sustainable technologies because they are disconnected from the farming community."

There was a stunned silence. For a few minutes they didn't know how to react. They stared blankly at me, not many of them believing my words. It looked as if the biotechnologists and scientists who do not fail to swear in the name of genetically modified (GM) crops at the drop of a hat were for a change caught on the wrong foot. They had in fact never heard of it.

Growing crops without the use of GM seeds and chemical pesticides and yet getting a bountiful harvest is something agricultural scientists have never been taught to believe.

When I told a recently concluded National Summit on GM crops, organised at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology at Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala, that there is an alternative and sustainable way of reaping a plentiful harvest, wherein millions of small farmers cultivate a large number of crops without GM crops and chemical pesticides, they accused me of romanticising subsistence agriculture.

When told that millions of farmers in almost all the districts of Andhra Pradesh, in an area extending to 7 million hectares, were actually following sustainable farming systems that automatically takes control of dreaded insect pests and diseases, and does not result in any productivity fall, they began to see the point I was trying to make.

And when I said that the area under non-pesticides management (NPM) is likely to go up to 12 million hectares this year, and reach a staggering 25 million hectares in a couple of years from now, the resistance they were trying to offer broke down.

Dr P Ananda Kumar, director at the Plant Biotechnology Centre, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, was the first to break the ice. He said that if what I had narrated was correct he was willing to forgo GM crop research and work along with these farmers. Saying that "if a patient is healthy, there is no need for any medication", Dr T M Manjunath, formerly director of research with the seed multinational Monsanto, which is on the forefront of introducing GM crops, also agreed. Several other scientists also came forward to promote such healthy farming systems.

What becomes abundantly clear is that those who talk of the immense potential of GM crops are not even aware that the same objectives are being achieved without harming the environment and playing havoc with human, animal and plant health. If all what the GM crops assure by way of diseases and pest control (as of now) can be insured by low-external input sustainable agricultural practices (LEISA) that is being practiced by several million farmers not only in AP but throughout the country, why should scientists not accept it as an economically viable and environmentally sustainable option?

Technology does not merely come as a branded product. If Monsanto's Bt-cotton is a technology, so are the time-tested traditional technologies that farmers have perfected over the years. Why cannot scientists promote safe, reliable, sustainable and healthy technologies?

Just because these traditional technologies do not come with project funding and foreign travel does not mean that these have to be ignored. Already the technologies pioneered by the green revolution have poisoned the land, the underground water and contaminated the environment to such unsustainable levels that they are difficult to resurrect. How much more does modern science intend to pollute the environment and the human body?

It is in this context that the ongoing effort to seek stake-holders' approval for a single-window clearance for GM crops, in the form of a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA), assumes significance. The entire exercise is being conducted by the Biotechnology Consortium, which is an association of the biotechnology industry. The invitees for these stake-holders dialogue are mainly from the industry and from amongst the plant biotechnologists. For the sake of justifying diverse opinion, a few NGOs and farmers are invited.

There is no need to conduct such stake-holder dialogues when the outcome of the entire exercise is known. Already the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the apex body for approving and regulating GM crops, is over-laden with pro-biotechnology scientists that the entire exercise has turned into a farce. The GEAC is in fact a rubber stamp for the biotechnology industry. The proposed NBRA is essentially "of the biotechnology industry, by the biotechnology industry and for the biotechnology industry."

Isn't it strange that while there is so much excitement and interest among the scientific community in India to provide a single-window clearance to one of the riskiest technologies that mankind has ever evolved, the US the Mecca for GM crops has set up three regulatory bodies?

Even then, there are questions being asked about the credibility of the US regulatory process. Why does India on the other hand want to hasten the process of introduction of GM crops and foods at a time when the majority world is questioning its safety?

The fundamental question still remains. Why don't Indian scientists promote sustainable technologies and ecologically viable farming systems instead? The answer is simple. Over the years, they have disconnected themselves from the farming community.

They are unaware of a silent revolution that is sweeping the country. If only the science and technology minister, Kapil Sibal, were to promote the Andhra Pradesh model of NPM cultivation instead of blindly pushing for GM crops, India could easily turn into a global model for sustainable agriculture and healthy living.
2.GM crops: call for effective regulation
R. Sairam
The Hindu, June 20 2008

*Transgenic cotton seeds introduce new disease in soil, says expert

MADURAI: A strong regulatory body was needed to control the release of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) and protect the nation's interests from powerful international biotech lobbies, said P.V. Satheesh, Director of Deccan Development Society (DDS), on Monday.

A Hyderabad-based non-governmental organisation, it is working in about 75 villages with women's sangams in Andhra Pradesh and is also conducting research in GMO.Talking to The Hindu here, he said that the present regulator, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), would address the concerns on the impact that genetically-modified foods and genetically-engineered crops would have on the environment as it worked under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

However, the new regulator being proposed - National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) - would be a part of the Centre's Department of Biotechnology that was in favour of introducing these crops.

"If the Department controlling NBRA has already taken a stance, how objective would a regulator be," wondered Mr. Satheesh. He was in the city to take part in a seminar on genetically-modified food and seed organised by the Indian Medical Association and South Against Genetic Engineering.

New disease

He alleged that Bt Cotton seeds sowed in Andhra Pradesh affected the soil and led to a new disease called 'Root rot disease.' When the transgenic cotton seeds were first introduced in 2002, the disease was first found in 2 per cent of the soil and by 2007, it had spread to 40 per cent, infecting soil where normal crops were being grown.

In 2005, around 2,500 sheep died after grazing these crops. However, it was explained away as a coincidence. "We conducted experiments on sheep and found that Bt Cotton caused death in them," he said. "All these findings had been submitted to the Central Government to consider the implications of GMOs," said Mr. Satheesh.

Affects health too

Storing these genetically-engineered crops posed health problems as it caused asthma and other breathing problems. Those handling the crops got skin allergies. "The Centre must reconstitute the regulatory body and give equal representation to Government and independent scientists, farmers and the civil society."
3.Stop influx of illegal GM foods
Commodities Bureau
Financial Express , June 20, 2008

New Delhi - Delay in approval by the government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is leading to massive influx of genetically modified food into the country, the international environment group Greenpeace on Thursday said. It said that it could severely impact public health if not checked by the government.

Drawing attention of the union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Green peace demanded that that the health ministry must ensure that these illegal products are confiscated from the market

Without the approval of GEAC, the sale of genetically modified food is not allowed in the country. According to a Greenpeace statement, the Director General of health services, foreign Trade and GEAC, the agencies involved in regulation of import of GM food have said that no permission has been granted for the import and sale of any GM food in the country other than purified Soya oil.

"Issues regarding the safety of GM products, promoted for human consumption, remain a cause for concern and many countries including belong to the European Union continue to restrict GM food from entering their country,” the statement said.

The group said that GEAC has been deferring a decision on the matter for want of trivial details like absence of the representative of the health ministry in the meeting. "There are no laboratories notified or testing protocols issued by the GEAC in its 19 years of service to the country to stop any dumping of GM food into the country,” Rajesh Krishnan, Campaigner, Sustainable Agriculture, Greenpeace, said.
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*NGOs demand comprehensive study

Two Andhra Pradesh based NGOs have demanded comprehensive scientific research into the impact of the Bt cotton cultivation on human, animal and soil health. They have advised the Government against relying on the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for information and have also dismissed the biotech companies’ claims about the increase in yield after introduction of Bt cotton. Read more

*Pakistan's Punjab province to promote Bt cotton

The Punjab Agriculture Department in Pakistan has constituted two sub-committees for the promotion of Bt cotton in the province. The sub-committees will hold negotiations with Monsanto Pakistan to work out the modalities of their partnership with the Punjab government. They will also develop a regulatory regime and a process for approval of varieties. Read more...

*GEAC approves Indian Bt Cotton variety

India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has approved a new Bt cotton variety Bikaneri Narma developed by India 's Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) and by the University of Agricultural Sciences in Karnataka. The variety contains the gene for the Bt Cry 1Ac protein and has been approved by GEAC for release in the North, Central and South Cotton Growing Zones of the country. Read more”¦ Decision