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APPROVAL: Indian Bt Cotton large-scale trials halted




                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  DOMESTIC BT COTTON LARGE-SCALE TRIALS HALTED

SOURCE: CommodityOnline, India

AUTHOR: 

URL:    http://www.commodityonline.com/news/topstory/newsdetails.php?id=2411

DATE:   22.08.2007

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DOMESTIC BT COTTON LARGE-SCALE TRIALS HALTED

NEW DELHI: In a setback to the genetically modified cotton boom, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has denied permission for large-scale trials (LST) of five Bt hybrids/varieties developed by the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), citing the Supreme Court’s May 8 order.

The Nagpur-based institute, affiliated to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), had sought to undertake large-scale trials and seed production of four cotton hybrids (NHH-44, DBt-H1, DBt-H2 and Dbt-H5) and one variety (Bikaneri Nerma), incorporating the cry1Ac gene isolated from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

These indigenously-developed GM cotton hybrids/varieties, when approved for commercial cultivation, could provide greater choice to farmers, who now shell out Rs 750 or more for every 450 gm packet of Bt Cotton seeds that can be planted on an acre.

The CICR hybrids are expected to be cheaper than the existing 130-odd privately bred approved cotton hybrids, which are all based on four ’events’ or gene construct technologies belonging to the US life sciences major, Monsanto (Bollgard-I and Bollgard-II), JK Agri-Genetics (’Event-1’) and Nath Seeds Ltd (’GFM’).

Moreover, in the case of Bikaneri Nerma Bt — the GM version of a popular American cotton variety — the farmer can multiply the seeds himself and avoid repeated purchase unlike in hybrids.

The CICR’s Bt Cotton strains had undergone confined strip trials during the 2005 kharif season, followed by multi-location field trails in kharif 2006 at four locations each in the Central, South and North Zones.

Further, they were subjected to bio-safety studies, including pollen flow, toxicity and allerginicity analysis, impact of cry1Ac protein on soil micro-flora and test-feeding of small laboratory animals.

Having successfully passed these stages, the department of biotechnology’s monitoring and evaluation committee had recommended the CICR event for LST before the GEAC in its June 22 and August 8 meetings. But GEAC did not give the go-ahead.

The reasons pointed out by the GEAC were while the institute had done the feeding studies on small laboratory animals, it had not completed the same for large animals, i.e. cows and buffaloes. The bio-safety studies were, therefore, technically incomplete.

Incidentally, the GEAC had cited the same reason — of not having completed feeding studies in goats and lactating cows — while not granting LST approval for another new Bt Cotton event ’9124’ developed by Bangalore-based Metahelix Life Sciences Pvt Ltd.

The second ground on which the CICR event could not be cleared was the institute not being able to submit a test protocol that could detect ’contamination’ of non-GM cotton by the DNA of its transgenic hybrids/varieties at levels as low as 0.01 per cent.

While the government has filed applications for vacating or amending the test protocol directions, the matter is scheduled for hearing next only sometime next month.

By then, the planting season would be over, which means LST of the CICR and Metahelix events will take place only next year and the farmers may have to wait till kharif 2010 to try out these home-grown cotton transgenics



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  GM CROP TRIALS NO MORE IN FARMERS‘ FIELDS

SOURCE: CommodityOnline, India

AUTHOR: 

URL:    http://www.commodityonline.com/news/specials/newsdetails.php?id=2373

DATE:   21.08.2007

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GM CROP TRIALS NO MORE IN FARMERS‘ FIELDS

NEW DELHI: After the Supreme Court order, the Indian government has further made the multi-location research trials (MLRTs) of new genetically modified (GM) crops tougher.

The Centre recently banned MLRTs of GM crops in farmers’ fields. These trials — which precede the large-scale field trials (LST) prior to commercial release — will henceforth have to be done by seed companies/institutions either in their own premises, research farms and long-lease lands or at farms belonging to state agricultural universities and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes.

At present, any new GM ”event” or foreign gene construct incorporated in a host plant has to go through five stages before being accorded permission for commercial cultivation. In the first stage, the ”event” itself has to take place in the laboratory, which involves transformation of a cotton or brinjal hybrid into a GM plant through insertion of a foreign gene.

In the second stage, the company is allowed to conduct glasshouse experiments of the new ”event” (by growing the transformed plants in enclosed pots), which is then followed by controlled field trials to test out performance in natural conditions.

In the MLRT stage, the GM crop is planted in open fields in order to produce material that can be used for undertaking bio-safety studies, i.e. whether the grains or seeds produce any toxic or allergenic effect.

Till now, the MLRT was being done in selected farmers’ fields on a limited scale. This was supposed to be done with informed consent from the farmers. But, with the Supreme Court in its May 8 judgment prescribing rigorous conditions difficult to be met in farmers’ fields, it has been decided that MLRT would be held only in the fields belonging to companies or ICAR/SAU institutions.

The court had directed companies to maintain a minimum distance of 200 meters between the trial fields and the regularly cultivated fields, besides ensuring levels of detection of as low as 0.01 per cent (to confirm whether any ’contamination’ of normal crop by the GM material has taken place).

It is difficult to find farmers who will offer part of their fields and not grow anything else within 200 metres. By allowing MLRTs only in company or institutional farms, there is no danger of any contamination to farmers’ fields. So the need for observing detection levels of one in 10,000 is also dispensed with.

But that still leaves the question of what happens to the fifth stage of LST? How will companies find land for these trials that are to be conducted in different agro-climatic regions for evaluating agronomic performance and bio-safely on a bigger scale?


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