2-Plants: India's High Court Stops Field Trials of Biotech Cotton
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India's High Court Stops Field Trials of Biotech Cotton
By Frederick Noronha
For Full Text and Graphics Visit:
NEW DELHI, India, February 23, 1999 (ENS) - India's highest court, the
Supreme Court, today intervened on the issue of allowing trials of
genetically engineered Bt cotton by companies linked to biotechnology
giant Monsanto. The cotton has been altered by biotechnology to
incorporate the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally
Judges S.P. Bharucha, B.P. Mohapatra, and R.P. Sethi, issued Notice on a
petition from veteran Indian green campaigner Dr. Vandana Shiva, director
of Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. The petition
was filed under under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, which allows
citizens to move the highest court over issues of violation of
The court gave Notice that in the interim before a final ruling no
permission can be granted to conduct open multicentric trials of this
cotton on a large scale unless the rules and guidelines are amended
ensuring protection of the environment, biodiversity and human health.
The Petitioner is also seeking a moratorium on trials of the genetically
engineered cotton for three to five years unless biosafety regulations
are in place and until the ecological risk assessment has been carried
out on a scientifically sound basis.
"This case is the first of its kind in this country on the new generation
of environmental issues, related to risks of genetic pollution from
environmental releases of genetically engineered organisms," said Dr.
Farmers fear that insect resistance to the Bt insecticide caused by
genetically engineered Bt plants would make Bt sprays ineffective.
Shiva and the other green petitioners argued that recent permissions
granted by the Indian government's Review Committee of Genetic
Manipulation to Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, Ltd. (MAHYCO) is
contrary to the rules as well as provisions of India's Constitution.
MAHYCO had sown the genetically engineered seeds in June 1998, much
before permissions dated July 27, 1998 and August 5, 1998 were granted by
the Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation, the petitioner charged.
Dr. Shiva contended that the permissions can only be granted by Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment
and Forests to assess the impact of such large scale trials on the
Her petition charged that "damage" can be done by release of genetically
engineered crops in Indian agriculture, and that guidelines for such
permissions have to be framed in consonance with the international
scientific knowledge and experience. Several countries have invoked a
moratorium of the commercialisation of genetically engineered crops.
Dr. Shiva referred to documents from MAHYCO to Monsanto-MAHYCO Biotech
(India) Pvt. Ltd. - a joint venture with Monsanto - to point out that
though the permissions have been obtained by MAHYCO, the trials have been
conducted by Monsanto-MAHYCO Biotech (India) Pvt. Ltd. and by Monsanto
"This case does not merely have national significance, it has
international significance. Around the world scientists,
environmentalists, consumer groups and farmers are calling for a
moratorium on commercial releases of genetically engineered crops because
of growing evidence of ecological hazards and threats to food safety,"
Dr. Shiva said in a statement made available to ENS. workers
This case is also significant in the context of the international
negotiations for a Biosafety Protocol under the Convention on Biological
Diversity to control the trade and transport of genetically engineered
organisms currently underway in Cartagena, Colombia.
Dr. Shiva holds a master's degree in particle physics and a Ph.D. in the
philosophy of science, and is the author of eleven books. Her particular
concern is biodiversity, the variety of earth's plant and animal life.
She is especially concerned about international agreements allowing
organizations to patent and have exclusive access to plants, seeds, and
other natural resources not previously considered property.
-| Hartmut Meyer
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
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