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2-Plants: Cover-up of Monsanto's illegal Bt-cotton trials in India



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TITLE:  Monsanto Quit-India Campaign update: Cover-up of Monsanto's
        illegal trials in India
SOURCE: Diverse Women for Diversity, India, divwomen@del6.vsnl.net.in
DATE:   July 22, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


Monsanto Quit-India Campaign update
Cover-up of Monsanto's illegal trials in India

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) of the Government of 
India which is supposed to be the nodal agency for biosafety has so 
far been totally absent in the biosafety debate related to Monsanto's 
transgenic trials in India. On Thursday, 20th July 2000 it suddenly 
broken its silence to "clear" the trials, thus attempting to legalise 
activities that have been illegal from the beginning.

In January 1999, the Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, 
Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) filed a petition in public interest 
before the Supreme Court of India, challenging the first major open 
field trials of transgenic crops in India, involving the planting of 
Monsanto-MAHYCO's genetically engineered Bt cotton in 40 locations 
across 9 states in India. The Monsanto-MAHYCO field trials were 
illegal because clearances were obtained after planting and the 
approval for the field trials was granted by an agency that did not 
have the jurisdiction under the Rules for the Manufacture, Use, 
Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically 
Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989 issued under India's Environment 
(Protection) Act, 1986.

Those impleaded as Respondents in the RFTSE case are: 
- The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and 
Technology
- The Ministry of Environment and Forests  The Ministry of 
Agriculture
- M/s. Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (Mahyco)
- Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech (India) Private Limited

The petition, which is still pending before the Supreme Court, seeks 
judicial intervention to check the violation of the environmental 
regulations created for GMOs and strengthen Biosafety regulations in 
the country.

The petition contends that the Seed and Biotech Companies and the DBT 
violated the law since the trials were based on "permissions granted" 
by RCGM (Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation), which can only 
monitor and review research and design trials, not grant approvals or 
permissions under the biosafety regulatory system. The approval 
authority is the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the 
MOEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests). The clearance of the GEAC 
announced by the MOEF on Thursday 20th July 2000 is primarily an 
attempt to legalise the illegal trials of Monsanto-MAHYCO.

The GEAC which has been totally absent in the approvals of the field 
trials of the last two years has suddenly become active and expanded 
the trials to 85 hectares and allowed seed production on 150 hectares.

However, the GEAC approval is also violative of the domestic 
biosafety law. Firstly, in most states the planting of cotton takes 
place in the month of May and hence either the approval has once 
again come after the planting, or the trials cannot cover various 
agro-climatic zones. The claim to generating "comprehensive data" is 
therefore false. In any case after the GEAC clearance Monsanto-MAHYCO 
are supposed to seek permission from individual states for conducting 
the trials under their jurisdiction. No comprehensive trials could 
therefore possibly be carried out in the year 2000 without they being 
illegal. Secondly, seed production cannot be part of a field trial 
since a requirement of safety in field trials is that "all vegetative 
parts of the transgenic parts including the transgenic seeds 
generated therefrom shall be destroyed by burning after the 
experiments are completed".

Therefore, if the trials as claimed by the MOEF are for generating 
"environmental safety data on transgenic cotton in various agro-
climatic regions of the country", then seed production cannot be a 
part of it without violating safety criteria. If on the other hand, 
the large scale trials and seed production are a preparation for 
commercialisation of Bollgard Cotton, biosafety is any way being 
violated.

The clearance by the MOEF is misleading on a number of accounts. 
Firstly, inspite of the MOEF being a respondent in the Supreme Court 
case it makes no mention of the legal challenge it is facing. 
Secondly, by only referring to MAHYCO, it hides the role of Monsanto 
which first announced the Bt field trials in 1998 as trials of its 
patented transgenic Bollgard Cotton. Monsanto also owns large shares 
in MAHYCO and has a joint venture with Monsanto, namely Monsanto 
MAHYCO Biotech (India) Pvt. Ltd. Thirdly, it makes it appear that 
this is the first time that transgenic crops are undergoing field 
trials in India even though Monsanto started its trials in 1998. 
Fourthly, the trials are presented as "environmental" trials when 
they are in fact "commercial" trials undertaken by the seed and 
biotech industry.

In any case, corporations promoting genetic engineering (GE) cannot 
be the source for biosafety data. Biosafety data has to be generated 
by ecologists and other independent experts. Depending on Monsanto-
MAHYCO for environmental safety data is like depending on the 
chemical industry for data on chemical pollution and the auto 
industry for CO2 pollution. Pollution monitoring and assessment 
agencies must be independent of the commercial interests that gain 
from an activity that generates pollution. The MOEF acknowledges 
genetic pollution as a "legitimate public concern". Therefore similar 
independence needs to be maintained for environmental safety data in 
the case of genetic engineered crops which create the risks of 
genetic pollution. The systematic exclusion of public participation 
in biosafety procedures is another serious concern.

The MOEF falsely associates GE with increase in productivity. All 
data around the world is showing that yields of transgenic crops are 
lower than conventional crops. Over the last two years studies of 
RFSTE have shown that the claims related to transgenic cotton in 
terms of yields or reduction in pesticide use have been fabricated to 
speed up commercialisation and have no scientific basis. The MOEF 
claim of the efficacy of Bollgard Cotton to increase yields or reduce 
pesticide use is highly questionable. GE will not promote food 
security though it can create new environmental risks through genetic 
pollution.

Due to the high costs of transgenic technology, collapse of markets 
because of unwillingness of consumers to buy GE products, the acreage 
of GE crops declined by 25% in the US in the last season. The rush to 
expand the area under GE crops in India is largely related to the 
failing fortunes of the biotech industries in the US and Europe. In 
Brazil an entire state of Rio Grande Du Sol has declared itself GE 
free because it threatens the sovereignty and makes agriculture 
dependent on corporations like Monsanto-MAHYCO.

We demand that the results of the last two years of field trials be 
released to the public and the public be informed immediately of the 
location of the current trials sites and monitoring and evaluation be 
opened to public participation. Public participation is the only 
guarantee for truthful data about dates of plating, yields and 
biosafety. Data from trials carried out in secrecy cannot be trusted 
since there is no social control and public accountability to prevent 
falsification and fabrication.

Citizens have a right to safety and a right to information. Any 
action by corporations and governments that violates these 
Fundamental Rights is a threat to democracy and citizen's freedom.







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