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2-Plants: Bt cotton update from RFSTE, India

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Bt cotton update
SOURCE: Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, India
DATE:   November 12, 2001

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Bt. cotton controversy in Gujarat once again highlighted the lack of 
biosafety infrastructure in India. More than 10,000 hectares has been 
planted with "Navbharat 151" in Gujarat, which MAHYCO tested and later GEAC 
tested and found to be Bt.

GEAC has ordered to uproot the standing crop of "Navbharat 151" and destroy 
it by burning and also to destroy the seed production plots. But this order 
was later changed to procure the cotton which has already reached the 
market, destroy the seeds and store away the lint; State Government to 
procure the cotton from the remaining standing crop of "Navbharat 151" in 
the farmers fields and also from farmers storage places, and procured 
cotton will be ginned for separation of lint and seed, the seeds will be 
destroyed and separated seeds will be kept under safe custody till further 
orders from GEAC; as well as state government will ensure uprooting and 
complete destruction of the cop residue by uprooting and burning.

However, Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd. challenged the GEAC order in the Delhi 
High Court on 24th October 2001 in the case Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd. Vs 
Union of India & others.

The company has basically argued that it has not carried out genetic 
engineering methods to produce seeds and that it is a very small company 
and has no such facility of genetic engineering research. And that it has 
basically produced a hybrid from cotton plants collected from Maharashtra, 
selected superior hybrids and then registered the hybrid "Navbharat 151" 
with the Department of Agriculture, Government of Gujarat, and marketed it 
in last two years. In the year 1999-2000, 1371 kilograms of "Navbharat 151" 
seeds were produced while in 2000-2001 it was 5817.50 kgs. In the year 
2000, the 2437 packets of "Navbharat 151" were sold while in 2001, 11820 
packets of "Navbharat 151" were sold.

It is thus evident that the source of the Bt. in the "Navbharat 151" hybrid 
has come from either the open field trials undertaken by Monsanto and 
MAHYCO or by cross-pollination from their trials with other cotton 
varieties. In either case Monsanto and MAHYCO are the source of the genetic 
pollution which has now entered the commercial seed supply through 
hybridization either intentional or natural.

The large-scale illegal commercialization of Bt. cotton in Gujarat is 
therefore clearly linked to Monsanto-MAHYCO trials.

On 10th March 1995, MAHYCO, a collaborator with Monsanto, imported 100 
grams of the developed cotton seed with Bt. gene after obtaining a 
permission from Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under the 
Department of Biotechnology. The permission to import genetically 
engineered substance (seeds in the present case) can be granted only by the 
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of 
Environment and Forests as per the "Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, 
Export and Storage of hazardous Microorganisms Genetically Engineered 
Organisms or Cells, 1989" framed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 
1986. However no such permission has been granted by GEAC. Therefore there 
was no clearance from GEAC and Bt. gene was imported illegally into India.

In 1998 the large scale, multicentric, open field trials by Monsanto - 
MAHYCO at 40 locations and in 40 acres spread over the 9 states was started 
without the permission from GEAC even though it is the sole agency to grant 
permission for large scale open field trials of GMO's under the 1989 Rules.

No post harvest management and safety was ensured. In fact the farmers sold 
their genetically engineered cotton in the open markets. Not even that, the 
farmers of some of the states who had undertaken trails replanted their 
trial fields with crops like, wheat, turmeric, groundnut etc., which 
violates Para-9 on "Post harvest handling of the transgenic plants" of the 
Biosafety Guidelines, 1994.

It was because of violation laws and Rules and the risks of genetic 
pollution that Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology 
(RFSTE) has taken Monsanto and MAHYCO to court. Monsanto Bt. cotton seeds 
has not yet cleared for biosafety and commercial release.

The GEAC in its submission in the Gujarat case has also admitted that the 
Bt. cotton poses major risks. It says,

"12 (i) The crop which is standing may pass to the soil that modified genes 
which it contains. The effect on soil microorganisms can not be estimated 
and may cause an irreversible change in the environment structure of the 
soil. It is a standard practice to uproot crops which pose such a threat. 
The destruction by burning is to ensure safety to environment and human 
health and to obviate any possibility of cross-pollination.

(ii) The destruction of the cotton produce as well as seeds harvested from 
this plant is also equally necessary. The cotton which has been produced is 
genetically modified cotton, the effect of which i.e. allergenicity and 
other factors on mammals are not tested. The precautionary principles would 
require that no product, the effect of which is unknown be put into the 
market stream. This cotton which in appearance is no different from any 
other cotton will intermingle with ordinary cotton and it will become 
impossible to contain its adverse affect. The only remedy is to destroy the 
cotton as well as the seeds produced and harvested in this manner.

(iii) Since the farmers are being put to a loss, the further process to 
determine the compensation payable to farmers, who have unwittingly used 
this product has to be determined and undertaken.

13. I would respectfully submit that every day of delay in this matter 
poses a threat to the environment."

The Bt. cotton case in India reaffirms RFSTE stand of safety first and 
demand that commercial release of Bt. cotton or any other genetically 
engineered organisms should be frozen till biosafety structure are put in 
place and capacity is built at the multiple level of governments as well as 
farmers to deal with biosafety issues.

And in support of this all the national farmers unions has made a joint 
petition to GEAC and asked for an Inquiry Committee to be set up and 
liability and compensation fixed on the basis of "polluters pays 
principles". Since Monsanto-MAHYCO are the source of the g.e. pollution, 
they along with Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd which has further spread the 
pollution are jointly liable for the pollution caused.

For any further information please contact:

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
A - 60, Hauz Khas
New Delhi - 110016 INDIA
Tel: 0091-11-6561868, 6968077
Fax: 0091-11-6562093, 6856795


Afsar H. Jafri
Programme Co-ordinator 
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE)
A - 60, Hauz Khas
New Delhi - 110 016
Tel: 91-11-6561868, 6968077
Fax: 91-11-6562093, 6856795


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