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BIOSAFETY: Monsanto field trials in India failed

mailinglist genet-news
Cartagena/Colombia, Feb 16 1999, 11:00

Dear GENET-news readers,
today Colombian NGOs launched below attached biosafety appeal on a press 
conference at BSWG-VI. The international NGOs which follow the biosafety 
negotiations since the very beginning were invited to support the call of 
colombian NGOs for a strong biosafety protocol which is suitable for 
protecting the biodiversity and human health of developing countries 
against the commercial interests of TCNs.

Afsar Jafri from the Indian Research Foundation for Science, Technology 
and Ecology presented below attached paper on the recent illegal field 
trials with Bt-cotton in India performed by Monsanto. The claims of 
reduction in pesticide use and higher yield of Bt-cotton have been proved 
to be a myth.


A Briefing Paper from




India has very advanced genetic engineering research. A large number of 
research institutions in government, universities and private R&D labs 
have been active in biotech programme where research is being done in 
both in basic and applied fronts utilising microorganisms plant and 
animals, tissue culture and cell lines and on the development of vaccines 
towards communicable diseases of both men and animals. Therefore, India 
is among the few country which has had a biosafety rules and guidelines 
for more than a decade. At the same time India is also very rich in 
biological resources and two of the ten bio-resources centers of the 
world are in India. The genetically engineered organisms (GMO's) have 
immense potential to harm this rich bio wealth, environment and human 
health and therefore immense care have to be taken before granting any 
approval to use genetically engineered organisms.  

There are two committees in India, which is responsible for the granting 
of approval for GMO's trial. These are Genetic Engineering Approval 
Committee (GEAC) functioning under the Minsitry of Environment and the 
Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under the Deparment of 
Biotechnology. The GEAC gives approval for largescale use of hazardous 
microorganisms and recombinants in research and release of GMO's and 
products into the environment including experimental field trials. The 
State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) and the District Level 
Committee (DLC) functions under the GEAC. While the RCGM monitors the 
safety related aspects in respect of ongoing projects and activities 
involving GMO's and reviews the ongoing projects involving high risks 
category and controlled field experiments. However the present guidelines 
have no provisions for the democratic participation of the public in 
biosafety decisions which reveals its loopholes and inadequacies both 
from the democratic as well as ecological perspective. The approval for 
the GMO's trial or release should be notified to the public as part of 
the citizens right to information. Public hearing need to be organised in 
the specified villages and districts and states where the introduction 
and trials are planned. The local communities, gram sabha and the 
panchayat permissions should be obligatory for the trial and release of 
genetically engineered crops and plants. 


Monsanto have conducted multicentric open field trials, without any 
containment measures, of its Bt cotton "Bollgard" at 40 locations spread 
across 9 states of India in 1998-99. But Monsanto and Mahyco (the Indian 
seed company bought by Monsanto) have violated the existing biosafety 
rules at every stage for conducting these trials of GMOs with the 
connivance of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. 
Though the permission was granted to the Indian company, Mahyco, there is 
enough documentary evidences which proves that Monsanto was involved in 
these trails at every stage.

The permission for these trials were grated by RCGM instead of GEAC.  The 
total land which was utilised for these trials measure 40 acres, and 
hence the only responsible authority for granting permission for such 
largescale open field trials is GEAC. Secondly the wrong committee (RCGM) 
has not consulted the concerned departments of the state governments 
before granting permission even though "agriculture" is a state subject 
and any such trials can have direct impact on the agriculture of the 
particular state. This have been done very tactfully because clearance by 
GEAC would have required consultation with the SBCC. 

Besides an illegal permission by an illegal committee, the dates of 
permissions (27th July & 5th August '98) and the actual dates for the 
field trials shows that the trails on the open fields of various farmers 
were started much before the actual permission was obtained by the 
company. Further the trial designs of the experimental plots had serious 
flaws and no precautions were taken in avoiding the plantation of other 
crops in "isolation distance" to be maintained in between the trial plots 
and the surrounding crops. Moreover, the callous attitude of the company 
and regulating authorities in dealing with post harvest management 
indicates their indifferent approach towards the so-called "strong 
biosafety guidelines". The farmers sold their Bt produce by mixing them 
with normal cotton and also replanted the trial plots with next crop. 
However despite all these inadequacies and discrepancies, several 
officials of the government of India, including members of RCGM have 
openly supported these illegal trials of G. E. cotton by Monsanto 
(Business Line, New Delhi dated 14th January 1999). 

The actual dates of the bt cotton planting at all those sites visited by 
RESEARCH FOUNDATION team was between 15 June 1998 to first week of July 
1998 while the permissions were granted first on 27 July 1998.for 25 site 
and for additional 15 sites the permission was granted on 5th August 


Monsanto has also made three elements of false claims by saying that Bt 
cotton would have more yield than any normal cotton variety (Observer, 
New Delhi dated 2nd December 1998). The company said that "bollgard" 
would give inbuild protection to the farmers against pests, reduce debt 
burden and give large yield. Bt would reduce the consumption of pesticide 
in cotton which consumes a chunk of the total pesticides use in India and 
the country would be benefited to the tune of Rs. 5730 crore (1 crore = 
10 million) if the bollgard seeds were used. And further that in the 
trial, the company is taking care of the ecological safety aspect.  But 
all these three claims by Monsanto have found to be gimmicks to attract 
the innocent Indian farmers and to mobilise public opinion for the 
trials. The Research Foundation fact-finding teams have found that the 
yield of Bt in comparison to the normal cotton is very low. One more 
point which needs attention is that the non Bt cotton used for trials 
with the Bt were the low yielding varieties and not being used by 
farmers. In some places the yield of Bt is almost nil. Similarly, the 
claim by the company that Bt would lead to reduction in pesticide use is 
also found to be utter lie because almost in every trial field farmers 
have used pesticides to control pests and had applied upto 15 sprays and 
in some places spent about Rs. 6500/- on chemicals itself. 

The team also found out that the experimental plots are amidst 
agricultural fields and surrounding vegetation and no proper protection 
of the trial plot has been taken in any of the sites. The experiments 
were carried out in the most unscientific manners without adhering to the 
specified guidelines on biosafety and its adverse impact on the 
surrounding environment. Not only that the old guidelines were revised in 
August 1998 by which the powers of GEAC to grant approval for trials has 
been usurped by RCGM. The amendment of guidelines is tainted with 
malafied intention because it was amended after the trails had started in 
the open fields. 

The present guidelines have proved to be totally inadequate to deal with 
the present state of genetic engineering requiring stringent measures and 
precautions to be taken in such GMO's trials. Monsanto have tried its 
best to subvert these inadequate guidelines to justify their illegal 
field trials of Bt cotton. Therefore India need an strong biosafety laws 
because if companies like Monsanto can subvert the existing biosafety 
rules of India what would happen in a small third world country. 

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

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