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2-Plants: Indian committee rejects new Bt cotton application

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                                  PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Panel Rejects Rasi Seeds` Bt Cotton Bid
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India
DATE:   June 13, 2003

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Panel Rejects Rasi Seeds’Bt Cotton Bid 
New Delhi, June 13: The Genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) has
struck down the plea made by Rasi Seeds for commercial cultivation of its
genetically modified (GM) RCH 2 Bt cotton seeds in the South, saying the product
needs further field trials and evaluations. The panel has also decided to set
up a mechanism for monitoring the performance of the approved Bt cotton crops
from this khariff (summer) season. It has said no request has so far been
received from the developers for field-trials/commercialisation of GM potato
and that it cannot be approved during the current year. This statement of the
GEAC, however, runs counter to the statement made by the biotech secretary
Manju Sharma in a recent interview to BBC, where she had said GM potato would be
released for commercial cultivation within six months. The 37th meeting of
the GEAC here on Friday allowed multiplication of GM cotton seeds, namely RCH
20 Bt, RCH 138 Bt, RCH 134 Bt and RCH 144 Bt developed by Rasi Seeds in an
area of 10 hectare to enable the company to generate seeds for large scale
field trials during summer. It also noted that the RCH 2 Bt gave more seed cotton
yield over the controlled cotton and in view of this it allowed seed
production of this variety in 100,000 hca. The panel has also said as Cry 1 Ac gene
in Bt cotton cultivars developed by Rasi Seeds was evaluated and approved by
GEAC, no further biosafety assessment is needed. 

                                  PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Gujarat told to act against illegal Bt seed manufacturers
SOURCE: New Indian Press
DATE:   June 12, 2003

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Gujarat told to act against illegal Bt seed manufacturers

NEW DELHI: In the wake of this website's newspaper report on the spurious
hybrids of Bt cotton in Gujarat, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC) has asked Gujarat to take immediate action against seed manufacturers who
have made a mockery of the entire regulatory mechanism.

Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Limited, the only company granted permission to
market Bollagard, the hybrid with in-built protection against bollworm, has also
made a formal complaint to the GEAC, an inter-disciplinary apex body clearing
transgenics for the country.

V K Duggal, the newly-appointed chairman of GEAC, has written to Gujarat
chief secretary P K Lahiri, pointing to the Environment Protection Act (EPA)
which the seed companies have been flouting.

His letter also has an appendix with names and addresses of the companies
that seem to be conducting a clandestine but flourishing business.

The Ministry of Agriculture had earlier written to the additional chief
secretary of Gujarat because, transgenic factor apart, these illegal seeds also
violate the Seed Act as they are being sold without registration.

So far the State Government has made no move. Speaking to this website's
newspaper, Lahiri said he was yet to see the letter.

The GEAC is meeting on June 13 and one of the items on the agenda would be a
discussion on how to deal with this spread of illegal seeds.

Clearing a transgenic hybrid involves closely-monitored laboratory trials,
field trials and a number of bio-safety tests.

GEAC has also laid down norms for planting these seeds like five rows of
refuge (non-Bt) on the side of Bt cotton.

These spurious hybrids are home-grown, made by crossing the male line from
the unapproved Navbharat Seeds with local female lines. They are cocking a
snook at all safeguards listed by GEAC.

Navbharat Seeds was booked last year for selling Navbharat 151, a hybrid
which was found to contain Bt, without applying for permission.

When the government cracked-down on the company, seeds and parental lines
remained with farmers across the seeds production area of Gujarat.

The GEAC meeting will examine another application from Rasi seeds on another
hybrid of Bt cotton for South and Central India. Since they are franchisees
of Mahyco and have the same Cry1AC gene, they are expected to get clearance.

Infact, some members within the GEAC feel that this is an exercise in
futility to conduct trials for the Rasi hybrid as it is the same gene that has been
closely examined in the case of Mahyco's Bollgard.

This is the same argument given by the proponents of illegal seeds: once the
Cry1AC gene is tested and cleared for biosafety, let the seed companies
design their own hybrids.

But genetically modified organisms being a controversial issue, the GEAC is
treading with extra caution and is insisting on long-drawn field trials for
each hybrid.

The meeting on June 13 will also discuss a set of recommendations by a
committee set-up to lay down the ground rules for assessing the performance of
transgenic crops.

Following the first season of Bt, the reports given by states have used
various parametres to guage the performance and, hence, the results are not

The committee led by A Bahuguna, joint secretary (seeds) in the Ministry of
Agriculture, has laid down the exact period of maturity of the crops when
they can be assessed, the parameters, sample size and the benchmarks for
comparing yields.

With another company entering the market fray, regulators are hoping it
would end the craze for illegal Bt seeds in Gujarat.

                                  PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Unanswered Questions On Clearing Transgenic Seeds
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India, by Ashok B Sharma
DATE:   June 16, 2003

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Unanswered Questions On Clearing Transgenic Seeds

  India’s regulatory authority, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC) last Friday decided not to allow commercial cultivation of RCH 2 Bt
cotton developed by Rasi Seeds Company Ltd. This transgenic hybrid seed was
slated for cultivation in south India in the the summer of 2003.

 The GEAC said, “The trials conducted by the company and the Indian Council
of Agricultural research (ICAR) are not conclusive and therefore,
commercialisation cannot be permitted at this stage.” True, if the trials are not
conclusive the transgenic seed should not be approved for commercial cultivation.
Similar was the case earlier when the genetically modified (GM) mustard seed
developed by ProAgro in collaboration with Aventis & PGS came up for approval
and the GEAC found that the trials were not conclusive it did not give its
approval. But what leads one to think that the GEAC lacks consistency in its
approach is minutes of the proceedings of its 37th meeting on last Friday. The
recorded minutes said, “RCH 2 Bt hybrid, which is a direct derivative of the
already released RCH 2 non-Bt hybrid, has been released through All India
Coordinated Cotton Improvement Project in 1999 and notified by department of
agriculture and cooperation of the ministry of agriculture on April 3, 2000 for
national cultivation and enjoys the benefit of wide acceptability of cotton
growers. The committee noted that in the earlier trials RCH 2 hybrid gave
appreciably more seed cotton yield over a variety of controlled cotton cultivars
consistently. In view of its superiority, the GEAC permitted seed production
of RCH 2 Bt hybrid in an area of 1,00,000 acre.”

The GEAC by making this statement has already pre-judged the performance of
RCH 2 Bt hybrid even before ‘the trials are conclusive’. If the GEAC is so
confident about the performance of RCH 2 Bt hybrid, then why did it not approve
it for commercial cultivation? Or is there any health and environmental
hazards associated with RCH 2 Bt hybrid? The minutes of the proceedings are
silent on this issue.

Another interesting point is that the Rasi Seeds had asked production of RCH
2 Bt hybrid over 600 acre, expecting that this variety would be approved for
commercial cultivation. But the GEAC has been generous at this stage to
allow seed production of RCH 2 Bt hybrid over 1,00,000 acre, without approving it
for commercial cultivation and said, “The subsequent trials conducted by the
company and ICAR during kharif (summer) 2003 would be further evaluated by
the GEAC prior to approving commercial release.” The GEAC has permitted
largescale field trials in the central and southern zones of the country. (The Rasi
Seeds had sought approval for commercial cultivation in south zone for RCH 2
Bt hybrid and largescale field trials in central zone)

Mr Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security (FBFS)
has questioned this move of the GEAC to allow seed production of RCH 2 Bt
hybrid over 1,00,000 acre. “What is the motive behind such a largescale
production of yet unapproved seeds?” he said, adding, “When the Bt seeds of Mahyco
Monsanto was approved the GEAC allowed its seed production over 1,00,000 acre
and keeping in view the commercial needs, but the situation in case of RCH 2 Bt
hybrid is totally different.”

Rasi Seeds had sought seed production of RCH 20 Bt and RCH Bt over 150 acre,
that of RCH 138 Bt and RCH 144 Bt over 250 acre. But the GEAC permitted
multiplication of seeds of RCH 20 Bt, RCH 138 Bt, RCH 134 Bt and RCH 144 Bt over
an area of 10 hectare to enable the company to generate seeds for largescale
trials during khariff (summer) 2004.

The company had asked for largescale field trials of RCH 20 Bt in south zone
and largescale field trials of RCH 2 Bt, RCH 138 Bt and RCH 134 Bt in the
central zone, which has evidently been approved.

The GEAC also said that Rasi Seeds has “transformed their proprietary cotton
hybrid with Cry 1 Ac gene alongwith gene cassette as was done by Mahyco. As
the Cry 1 Ac gene cassette was evaluated for its environment safety earlier.
No further biosafety assessment is required.” To this, Mr Sharma of FBFS
said, “It is not enough to evaluate and assess the transgenic construct
independently. The total transgenic seeds needs evaluation. Transgenic constructs can
behave differently on different host crop.”

One thing the GEAC has come out clear is in refuting the statement made by
the secretary of the department of biotechnology, Dr Manju Sharma that GM
Potato would would be released for commercial cultivation within six months. But
the measures needed to curb the sale of illegal Bt cotton seeds in Gujarat
are not prompt enough. Will the GEAC come out clear on all these issues?



 Hartmut Meyer       
 Kleine Wiese 6         
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