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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:
http://ens.lycos.com/ens/feb99/1999L-02-23-03.html

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 
occurring insecticide.
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 
fundamental rights.
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. 
Shiva.
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 
environment.
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 
directly.
"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.


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