NOTE: This front page article (item 1) from India's largest selling daily paper raises some interesting points about GM safety testing.

1.GM crops' biosafety testing procedure questioned
2."Stop release of genetically modified organisms"
3.Joint workshop with medical practitioners on GM
4.Large-scale introduction of GM crops raises concern
5.Film makers' message for Vidarbha's farmers
1.GM crops' biosafety testing procedure questioned
R. Prasad
The Hindu, June 25 2008

Chennai: The way in which the Genetic Engineering and Approval Committee (GEAC) has gone about approving field trials of genetically modified crops, as also the final approval for commercial cultivation, has been questioned by P.M. Bhargava, the former Director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Dr. Bhargava who was appointed a special invitee to the GEAC in February this year at the instance of the Supreme Court to bring about more transparency has been very critical of the regulatory body’s rationale for accepting the results of biosafety studies generated by the applicants.

The minutes of the GEAC meeting held on May 28 has taken note of his disapproval of the way the committee has been relying on the data generated by the applicant and hence its usefulness. However, it has defended itself by noting that accepting the data provided by applicants, as in the case of pharmaceutical companies, is a common practice.

The minutes note that "”¦ it will be unfair to mistrust the samples and data generated by the applicant, without any basis."

"The clinical trial data [for a drug] is not generated by one lab. And the trials are almost always multicentric [conducted in many locations]. All the procedures of the trials are so well documented and the preclinical trials [toxicity testing done on animals prior to starting the trials in humans] can be replicated by anyone," stressed Dr. Bhargava. "All these don't happen in the case of GM safety testing."

But the biggest difference is that most of the human clinical trials for testing drugs are double blinded. This makes sure that neither the person conducting the trial nor the volunteers will know if he has been given a drug or a placebo. And the volunteer recruitment is done by the centres conducting the trials.

This does not happen in the case of GM testing. None of the tests done were double blinded. The samples were provided by the companies. "Do the institutes conducting the tests have the facility to check if samples provided by the companies are indeed genetically modified samples and not non-GM ones," he asked.

Despite the numerous checks and balances to ensure human clinical trials are conducted and reported correctly, the number of instances where the pharmaceutical companies engage in misconduct are aplenty.

Many measures have been taken to make the conduct of clinical trials more transparent, thus giving less scope for any malpractice. The pharmaceutical companies based in the U.S. are now required to make clinical trial results available in the government database. "So what happens when no such monitoring mechanisms exists for testing GM crops," he asked.

"There is a great need for a central dedicated institute for collecting and conducting all GM related safety tests," he said. "The institutions where the tests were done have not been set up for looking at the safety of GM crops." There is a pressing need for such an institute as there are more GM food crops lined up for testing.

If the procedure for approving drugs is strict, the basis for approving GM crops should be stringent as food is consumed by animals and a large number of people when compared with drugs. And unlike drugs, GM crops cannot be recalled from the market once they are produced.

"See what happened with hyacinth plants and parthenium weeds," he said. "There is a world of difference between drugs and GM crops."
2."Stop release of genetically modified organisms"
The Hindu, June 23 2008

*Universities should not promote them, feel experts

*"Genetically engineered crops did not bear seeds"

"GE foods were banned in many Western countries"

MADURAI: Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Union Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation must take cognisance of the impact of genetically modified (GM) food. The Central Government must immediately stop all release of GM crops for open field trials and commercial use.

The Union Ministry of Health should take the requisite steps to stop the release of genetically modified organisms into the nation’s food chain, including effective ban on it and mandatory labelling of imported processed food items.

Resolutions to this effect were adopted at a seminar on ‘Genetically modified food and seed an achievement or a threat’ organised here recently by Indian Medical Association and South Against Genetic Engineering (SAGE).

Speaking to journalists after the seminar, G. Nammalvar of SAGE said that genetically engineered (GE) crops did not bear seeds, forcing farmers to rely on the bio-technology companies for obtaining seeds every time.

That these companies were using universities to promote GM crops was a troubling factor. The complete effects of consuming GE food was yet to be comprehended, he said.

C.N. Deivanayagam, member, key advisory group of experts to Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, said that trails of GE food conducted abroad on various animals found that their reproductive capacity declined. The vital organs of humans consuming these animals were also affected.

In many Western nations, including the European Union, Korea and Japan, GM crops and GE foods were banned, he said. Universities should not be allowed to promote them, he said.
3.Joint workshop with medical practitioners on GM

SAGE (South Against Genetic Engineering) and Indian Medical Association's Madurai Branch (Madurai comes under South Indian State of Tamilnadu) have jointly organized a joint workshop on "Genetically Modified Seeds and Foods- An Achievement or a Threat?" for Medical Doctors in Madurai on 16th June 2008.

The workshop was a result of the initiative by the Tamilnadu chapter of SAGE, as part of its campaign against Genetic Engineering. SAGE has been involved in sensitizing the various sections of the society on the negative impacts of Gentic Engineering and Genetically Modified Crops. SAGE has earlier organized workshops for local governance bodies (panchayats), political parties, consumers and academecians. Just a day before this workshop with Doctors, SAGE has also organized a workshop for the lawyers and Judges in Chennai, where in practicing Lawyers and Madras High Court Judge attended and deliberated the legal implications of the GM crops.

Medical practiceners like Dr Deivanayagam, a Senior Chest Physician and Advisor- Scientific Committee, to the health Minister shared the information on the health hazards of the GM products like rBGH, L-tryptophan and how they affect the consumers health. Later Dr. Natarajan (General Physician) and Dr. Soundarpandian (Senior nephrologist) discussed about Genetically Modified Crops and their hidden Health Hazards.

Dr Nammalvar, the President of the Tamilnadu Organic Agriculture Movement, while inagrating the workshop, shared and explained to the Doctors about the implications of the Genetically Modified Crops in India such as emergence of the resistance to the pests, higher sucking pest incidence, skin allergies etc and urged the Doctors to keep a watch on the skin allergies and their link to working in GM cotton fields.

Mr P V Satheesh, convener of SAGE discussed about the local foods and their nutritive values in comparision to the foods like Rice, wheat and the GM rice.

Dr Vijayan, Chairman of the Kerala Biodiversity Board shared the information on the GM cotton's poor performance and the threat these GM crops pose to the Biodiversity. Ms Usha of TANAL presented the Regulatory aspects of the GM crops to the Doctors.
4.Large-scale introduction of GM crops raises concern
R. Krishna Kumar
The Hindu, June 25 2008

*'No safety norms in place; authorities not aware of biosafety measures'

*'Government trying to change the law to facilitate industry'

MYSORE: Large-scale introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops such as Bt cotton in and around H.D. Kote taluk has raised concern about the absence of safety norms and ignorance of biosafety measures that should be in place.

What has upset the farming community is that the Government recently tried to push certain changes to the law without involving farmers when it tried to hold a regional consultation on the proposed national biotechnology regulatory authority. This was opposed by organic farmers who disrupted the proceedings, following which the regional consultation was cancelled.

Vivek Cariappa, an organic farmer and member of the Empowered Committee on Organic Farming, Government of Karnataka, told The Hindu that the authorities tried to hold the regional consultation without involving farmers.

Following this, farmers have taken up the issue with the Government to highlight the perils of large-scale introduction of GM crops without safety measures in place.

Even officials were unaware of the Biosafety Decision Making Structure (BDMS) in India, which, as per law, had to be headed by the Deputy Commissioner at the district level, Mr. Cariappa said.


According to the BDMS, the responsibility of the district-level committee is to “monitor safety regulations, investigate compliance with recombinant DNA guidelines and report violations to higher authorities, and act as a nodal agency at the district level to assess damage, if any, from the release of genetically modified crops and take on-site control measures”.

“The subject is so technical that the Deputy Commissioner or other officials are unaware of their role, and it is important and complex an issue to be left to the discretion of the IAS officers alone,” he said.

What has peeved a section of farmers is that the Government is trying to change the law to facilitate the industry, without trying to fix any accountability, according to Mr. Cariappa.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cariappa has questioned the Government as to why seeds of non-Bt variety cotton have been pulled out of market when the profits are high in non-Bt variety seeds.

Cotton cultivation

It is reckoned that 40,000 hectares of land comes under cotton cultivation in H.D. Kote and a majority of the farmers are forced to use the Bt variety seeds.

Raising apprehensions of proliferation of Bt variety, Mr. Cariappa pointed out that according to the protocol, an area one-fourth of the size of the land planted with Bt cotton should be provided with non-Bt variety in the surrounding land as buffer or refuge area, and the seed companies were required to provide the non-Bt variety seeds. But this was being violated by the seed companies and the farmers were using the neighbouring fields as refuge area, he said.


This would have a serious impact on the farmers as incidence of pests and the increased use of pesticides would increase the economic burden on them and also create a health hazard.

The farmers have drawn the attention of the Government to the implications of the patent law that governs private companies providing GM seeds.
5.After journey from sickle to camera, they have a message for Vidarbha's farmers
Jinal Shah
Express India, June 25 2008 -have-a-message-for-Vidarbhas-farmers/327139/

Mumbai, June 24 In city to release series of films on 'food sovereignty', Dalit and peasant women film-makers advise cotton farmers to move to food crops
A group of poor, uneducated Dalit women from Pastapur, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, is in the city with a piece of advice for Vidarbha’s farmers: Form communities, shift to food crops and stay strong, not just to survive, but also to live with dignity.

All peasants, these women know a thing or two about living with heads held high. For they are now in the city as filmmakers, here to release a series of films on "food sovereignty" in south India.

"The reason Vidarbha's farmers are forced to commit suicide is because they have nothing with them. They worked on a crop not suiting their eco-system, they don’t have seeds of their own, even manure is procured from the market, labour is hired, their own lands are leased out," said Holigeri Chandraumma (62), speaking in Telugu. "They need community support. Those farmers not cultivating cotton should encourage others to go back to food crops and be self-sufficient in terms of own nutrition as well as earning good money," added Chandramma who, along with 5,000 other Dalit women of the Deccan Development Society (DDS) from 75 villages of Medak District in Andhra Pradesh, is actively involved in capturing issues related to agriculture on camera.

The message comes from lessons learnt the hard way. "Just when things were going right with our millet crop, the N T Rama Rao government introduced rice at Rs 2 in the public distribution system. Not just the landlords, even the daily wage earners making Rs 25 per day got their ration for the whole month. This not just affected the nutrition of the family members as dietary patterns changed but also the cultivating patterns. People became apathetic towards farming, since rice was easily available," recalls P V Satheesh, director of the DDS.

In 2001, after a few Dalit women from the group were selected to undergo training in media, the Community Media Trust came into existence. Since then, the trust has been working on farmers’ issues and their rights.

Today, the trust has 10 cameras plus editing equipment. Many of their videos have had great impact not just on society but also forced governments to act. One such instance was the ban on BT Cotton by the state government. "Our five years of extensive research captured on film paved the way to a ban on BT Cotton by the AP government," said Hasangari Narsamma (35). All the women were trained extensively for eight months, to shoot as well as to edit.

Cameras in tow, they have come a long way from village roads to global highways, acting both as peasant representatives as well as media personnel. Their films are not just shown in international and national film festivals but are also an integral part of biodiversity conferences in London, having been dubbed in French, German and Spanish.

"The camera can only record, but at the fundamental level, it is the issue of food driving us,” said Chandramma.

"A big hurdle was that we were all victims of untouchability, but the camera lifted us from untouchability. We requested one of the upper caste landlords to allow us to shoot the way they celebrate Dasera. We were not just allowed into their houses but also into their house temples," said Begari Laxmi (40), who says her camera is no different to her from her sickle.