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2-Plants: Indian experts cautious on Bt cotton and GE food

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Farmers should shun Bt cotton: Som Pal
SOURCE: The Hindu, India
DATE:   Feb 13, 2003

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Farmers should shun Bt cotton: Som Pal

Bathinda, Feb. 13. (UNI): Even as approval for cultivation of transgenic
cotton in three North Indian states seems likely, former Union
Agriculture Minister and Planning Commission member Som Pal has warned
the farmers against going the whole hog for the new seed as it could lead
to genetic contamination of other crops.

He also questioned the claims on yields and bio-safety by the company,
Mahyco-Monsanto-Biotech Company, which introduced the Bt Cotton in India.

"Their claims are still suspect as its approval for commercial growing by
the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), an apex Government
body last year, lacked transparency," Som Pal said yesterday.

Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) scientists conducted trials on RCH-
134, RCH 138, Mech 162 and Mech 15 varieties of Bt cotton at nine
locations this season and will place 'favourable results' of these trials
before the Punjab Agriculture Department officials on February 17 for
final clearance from the GEAC.

Som Pal said the results of studies on gene flow from a transgenic cotton
differed from 5 metres to 51 metres.

"A majority of Indian farmers cannot adhere to the norm of maintaining a
non-Bt cotton refuge area thus exposing non-transgenic crop to
contamination," he said while addressing a seminar here.

With Bathinda as nucleus, an area of 80 Km around it, comprising three
States-Punjab, Haryana and North West Rajasthan has been producing one-
third of India's cotton for the past three decades.

But with the American bollworm developing resistance to all sorts of
pesticides, the cotton production in the region has come down by 17 per
cent. Also it led to pauperisation of cotton growers, who are eagerly
looking for a new cotton variety that could withstand the bollworm attack.

At this juncture, farmers are lapping up Bt cotton, made resistant to the
bollworm by implanting a living soil bacterium gene (Bacillus Thuringiensis).

The genetically engineered (GE) cotton plant produces toxin that is said
to kill the bollworm.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Nutrition experts sound caution on GM foods
SOURCE: Times of India, by Kalpana Jain
DATE:   Feb 18, 2003

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Nutrition experts sound caution on GM foods

NEW DELHI: Close on the heels of the government decision to allow imports
of genetically modified (GM) foods on a case-by-case basis, top nutrition
experts here have expressed fears that there are no systems as of now to
do adequate risk assessment or even to detect unapproved genetic

Ramesh V Bhat, deputy director at the Food and Drug Toxicology Research
centre, National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), says that while kits are
available to detect approved genetic modifications, there is no way of
knowing if an unapproved variety is being slipped in.

Agreeing that GM foods provide hope for increasing food production,
experts from the Indian Council of Medical Research's foremost
institution of nutrition also add that they need to go through a
"complete risk assessment". Some of them may contain certain allergens
which may make them unsafe for human health.

However, these experts say a complete risk assessment may not be possible
if the technology developer does not pass on all the information, such as
the genetic construct of the particular material, among others.

The department of biotechnology has initiated projects for trying to
build capacity for detection of GM. However, says former director and
emeritus medical scientist at NIN, Kamala Krishnaswamy, "It's not that
easy." These foods would require an appropriate labelling, which clearly
shows the country of origin, she said.

In addition to the labelling, experts say the government should ensure
that the onus of safety rests with the company. When a comapny develops a
drug, it takes responsibility for its safety, it should be the same with
GM foods, says Krishnaswamy.

Fears about whether unapproved GM foods have already started coming in
arereal. For instance, Bhatt says he received an inquiry from someone
wanting to know if genetically modified cyclops could be used as prawn feed.

Fears over hazardous GM slipping in has already led to a major
controversy over the import of GM corn-soya blend from the US for
distribution amongst schoolchildren and the poor by Catholic Relief
Services (CRS) and CARE-India. There were apprehensions that the US food
consignment could contain traces of the hazardous Starlink Corn, which is
not yet approved for human consumption by the USFDA.

China has adopted a more cautious approach. While Bt cotton was approved
for commercial sale, none of the other important GM crops have got the
nod since 1998, although 10 varieties have been approved for controlled
environmental testing.