GENET archive


REGULATION / RISK ASSESSMENT: Are regulators for regulating or forpopularising GM crops?

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Genetically modified crops 'becoming popular'
SOURCE: The Tribune, India
DATE:   01.05.2007

Genetically modified crops 'becoming popular'

Chandigarh, April 30 Opposition from various non-government
organisations notwithstanding, the area under genetically modified (GM)
crops is increasing rapidly in the country.

Farmers' preference for Bt cotton can be gauged from the fact that 70
per cent of the total area under this crop was covered by Bt seeds. " In
the next two or three years, Bt cotton will be spread over 90 per cent
of the total area under this crop", said Dr P.Ananda Kumar, principal
scientist, national research centre on plant biotechnology, and
chairman, monitoring-cum -evaluation committee.

Dr Kumar told The Tribune that in 2002, only 0.5 million hectares was
under Bt cotton and last year the area went up to 3.8 million hectares.
The use of pesticides to save the cotton crop from pests, mainly the
American bollworm, had gone down by 75 per cent, he claimed.

Asked about reports that genetically modified crops created health
problems like skin diseases, he said there was no such report from any
part of the cotton belt so far. " I believe it is just propaganda
against such crops and there is no authentic report in this regard", he added.

G. Balachandharan, joint secretary, union ministry of environment and
forests, said here today that after the introduction of Bt cotton in
various parts of the country, now the focus was not on water-guzzling
crops like rice.

Balachandharan was here to preside over a training workshop on bio-
safety issues hosted by the Punjab state council for science and
technology. Asked about the high price of Bt seeds, Balachandharan said
it was true that in first years of Bt cotton, companies charged a high
price. " But now we are recommending the Bt seeds of various companies
to introduce competition in sales." Last year, we recommended the cotton
seed of various companies and it brought down the price from Rs 1,400
per bag to Rs 700-800. We expect that the price will come down further
in two or three three years", he added.

Punjab chief secretary Ramesh Inder Singh, who inaugurated the workshop,
listed the steps taken to promote bio-technology in the state.

Others who spoke at the workshop were Dr N.S. Tiwana, Dr Manoranjan
Hota, M.P. Singh, Jatinder Kaur Arora and P. Ananda Kumar.

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                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Are regulators for regulating or for popularising GM crops?
AUTHOR: Kheti Virasat Mission & Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, both
India, Press Release
DATE:   01.05.2007

Are regulators for regulating or for popularising GM crops?

Hyderabad/Bathinda, May 1, 2007: Reacting to media reports on several GM
regulators in the country themselves claiming huge benefits from GM
crops, that too in the name of "trainings on biosafety", Kheti Virasat
Mission and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture questioned the role of
regulators of GE crops in the country. Are they meant to take objective,
scientific and pro-people assessment of the impacts of GE or are they
meant to popularize GM crops as though the verdict is already out, the
civil society organisations asked. The two groups which are part of the
Coalition for GM-Free India also questioned the role of World Bank in
such 'biosafety capacity-building' projects, one of which is being
implemented by the Ministry of Environment & Forests through the Global
Environment Facility.

"It is not clear on what basis are such claims of benefits being made
such as pesticide reduction or farmers shifting away from water-guzzling
crops like rice (linked to Bt Cotton adoption!) when we know very well
that monitoring of GMOs right from field trials stage is almost
completely absent/unscientific in this country", said Ms Kavitha
Kuruganti, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, based in Hyderabad. She
said that given the absence of monitoring (absence of political will as
well as capabilities) it had fallen upon civil society groups to take up
careful monitoring of the GM experience so far in the country.

"Hundreds of farmers are reporting health problems like skin allergies
but the government chooses not to assess such impacts and therefore will
always claim that there is no authentic report. A report from Madhya
Pradesh by a team of doctors has been submitted to GEAC on this issue -
as a member of GEAC how can Dr Ananda Kumar claim that there is no such
report from any part of the cotton belt? They said the same thing with
impacts on livestock after open grazing on Bt Cotton fields - today, the
animal husbandry department of Andhra Pradesh state government itself is
advising farmers not to graze their animals on Bt Cotton fields
suspecting some yet-to-be-identified toxin in the GM plant", she added.

Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab further pointed out - "Mr
Balachandran, Joint Secretary, MoEF (who claimed yesterday in Chandigarh
that Bt Cotton resulted in the focus shifting away from water guzzling
crops like rice) is the same person who admitted recently in an
international context that India faces a major constraint due to the
lack of capacity to effectively implement the Biosafety Protocol. [1] It
is surprising that without setting up effective systems or without
actually building capacities related to biosafety assessment and without
justifying the source of his claims, he can get so enthusiastic about GM
crops", he said. "If adoption is equal to something being 'biosafe',
pesticides should also be encouraged by the regulators", he argued.

"It seems that most regulators who are supposed to be independent,
scientific and pro-people in their assessment of this particular
agricultural technology have already concluded in favour of the
technology rather than to take a precautionary approach towards it! We
have earlier heard about the Co-Chairperson of Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee [the apex regulatory authority] also being on the
Board of industry-funded bodies like ISAAA. They do not deserve to be
sitting in regulatory posts in such a case. Public funds collected from
tax-payers are being spent on popularizing the technology and creating
more markets for the companies in the name of 'trainings on biosafety',
including with the help of the World Bank. The World Bank should stop
such funding", said Kavitha Kuruganti.

For more information, contact:
1.Umendra Dutt, Kheti Virasat Mission at
2.Kavitha Kuruganti, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at

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                                 PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  How safe is Bt cotton for livestock?
SOURCE:, India
AUTHOR: Kavitha Kuruganti
DATE:   01 May, 2007

How safe is Bt cotton for livestock?
Kavitha Kuruganti is with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad

Not many seem to be aware that a serious controversy is dogging GM crop
cultivation in India after repeated reports emerged about livestock
getting killed or falling sick after grazing on Bt Cotton fields. The
limelight is once again on two important aspects related to GM crops -
their safety and their regulation.

As the area of Bt Cotton kept increasing year after year within the
Cotton extent in various states, right from 2004-05, there have been
reports of goats and sheep taking ill and dying after grazing on these
fields. It has to be noted that open-grazing of animals on cotton
fields, after the cotton is harvested and before the stalks are removed,
is a traditional practice in many parts of the country. Further, given
the shrinking grazing lands in villages, open grazing on residual crop
plants is unavoidable. No experiences of cotton plants being toxic to
animals are present hitherto. It is also important to note that such
practices don't exist elsewhere, especially in the developed world from
where we seem to import our biosafety assessment protocols. The
regulators here obviously did not foresee a situation of open grazing
given that they are cut off from the reality of rural India. No studies
have been done to this day to test toxicity in conditions that simulate
real life open-grazing situation of farmers/shepherds of the country.

In 2006, civil society organizations like the Andhra Pradesh Goatherds'
& Shepherds' Union, Anthra (an organization consisting of veterinary
scientists, working on livestock issues) and Centre for Sustainable
Agriculture (consisting of agriculture scientists working on ecological
alternatives in agriculture) pointed out an unusual phenomenon on a
widespread scale, of animals falling sick and dying after grazing on
residual Bt Cotton fields. Interestingly enough, the fact finding visits
of these groups happened after eleven shepherds from eleven different
blocks of Warangal district brought their animals to the Animal Diseases
Diagnostic Laboratory [ADDL] in Warangal town for postmortem analysis as
they found that their animals were dying of unusual symptoms. There was
a mix of nervous, respiratory and digestive symptoms observed. Amongst
other observations, the concerned veterinary surgeon wrote "Poisoning
fed on Bt Cotton", as tentative diagnosis in her postmortem register. It
was quite by chance that a representative of the Shepherds' Union saw
the postmortem register of February and March 2006 and in the month of
April, a fact finding visit was commissioned by these three organizations.

The initial response to these reports was ridicule. The reports in 2005
in the local media were completely ignored. How can Bt toxin kill
mammals, was the usual argument - it only works on lepidopteran pests
with an alkaline medium in the intestines, it was argued. It could be
pesticide residues that were causing the toxicity, said others. The
shepherds must be making up the reports in a bid to claim insurance,
speculated yet others. It seemed as though complete negation of the
phenomenon is the only response possible from the regulators and the
biotech industry. There was no scientific temper exhibited with regard
to wanting to investigate the reports further nor was there a sense of
responsibility on the part of the regulators to put speculation at rest,
to act in the interest of farmers and shepherds. After all, it was the
very livelihoods of poor people at stake here with each death setting
the farmer back substantially on the economic front.

Unfortunately, one small team that went to the affected villages on
behalf of the animal husbandry department of Andhra Pradesh could not
come back with much evidence. The few Bt Cotton plant samples that they
analysed tested positive for nitrates and nitrites. Nitrate content was
found to be more than 2% [strong positive] and symptoms matching nitrate

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee [GEAC], the apex regulatory
body for GM crops in the country whose mandate is to assess the
biosafety of every product that it allows for release into the
environment, did not pursue the matter beyond discussing it in a couple
of meetings, that too under pressure from civil society groups. The
Department of Biotechnology [DBT], a strong advocate of GM crops, was
instructed by the GEAC to take up a systematic foliar material feeding
toxicity study. The DBT found many excuses for not doing so! Other than
prescribing such foliar toxicity studies for future biosafety
assessment, the GEAC ordered no such studies by the Bt Cotton companies
nor did it keep other issues in abeyance until some transparent,
scientific, independent and systematic investigations were completed. It
was business as usual for the regulators and the industry.

In January 2007, the first reports of animals getting affected started
emerging again and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture sent a preliminary
assessment report to the GEAC, DBT, animal husbandry and agriculture
department officials. In February, in Adilabad district, after coming
across the hitherto-unknown phenomenon of animals getting affected after
grazing on Bt Cotton fields, the animal husbandry department pro-
actively put out an advisory to farmers asking them not to graze their
animals on Bt Cotton plants. The department officials here are convinced
of the toxicity of the Bt Cotton plant but are waiting for laboratory
analyses to understand what the exact toxin at work here is.

What is amazing to hear however is that no protocols have been put in
place in the past one year in case such a phenomenon erupts again! The
initial samples that have been sent from Adilabad by the department
veterinarians have reportedly been rejected since they were not fit for
analysis. A special team was then sent to Adilabad for collecting
samples and investigations are on to understand the presence of toxins,
if any, in these samples. Initial analysis shows that the samples have
tested positive for HCN. The investigations will obviously not be
conclusive and comprehensive until it is understood wherefrom such
nitrogen-compounds are accumulating on Bt Cotton plants.

Is it because of the genetic engineering process itself which is known
to result in unpredictable effects?
Is it related to higher application of nitrogenous fertilizers that
farmers are being asked to use on Bt Cotton?
Is it a combination of the Bt Cotton plant's interaction with its
environment that is resulting in the toxicity and which was never
captured in the field trials because such trials are done mostly for
agronomic assessment?
Aren't there some indications of such a phenomenon in the sub-chronic
toxicity test on goats in the case of Bt Brinjal that the crop developer
submitted to the GEAC, when statistically significant changes were found
in haemotological and clinical parameters - why did not the GEAC ask for
the raw data on this?

Farmers whose animals are affected are reporting that because of low
pest incidence this year, they have not used much pesticides and in any
case, the last time pesticides have been used on the crop, it was in the
month of October - if it is pesticide residues that are indeed causing
the toxicity, it is important to ask insecticide regulators in the
country why they are registering such toxic pesticides in the country
which leave such lethal impacts even after four months!

Meanwhile, the GM regulators of the country are guilty of not having
paid attention to an unusual phenomenon that farmers are convinced is
connected to Bt Cotton [the regulators like listening only to 'experts'
sold to corporate science] and for not investigating it systematically.
They are also guilty of not keeping farming livelihoods as the central
point of their regulation. At least now, there should be transparent,
scientific, independent and long term studies to understand this
phenomenon now officially recognized by the animal husbandry department
officials of Andhra Pradesh. Until such studies show conclusively that
the causes of this phenomenon lie elsewhere, no further GM crop
development and releases should be allowed in the country.

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