Moratorium sought on GM seeds in India (6/7/2006)

1.NGO seeks moratorium on GM seeds
2.GEAC shifts to event-based approval for GM crops
3.MRTPC issues inquiry notices to Monsanto

Item 2 reports on an ominous change in how GM crops are regulated in India.

1.NGO seeks moratorium on GM seeds
New India Press, 6 July 2006

MYSORE: Even as the government is widely promoting the Genetically Modified (GM) crops across India, a group of NGOs led by the Southern Alliance against Genetic Engineering and Mysore Grahakar Parishat has decided to file a writ petition in the Supreme Court, seeking a moratorium on release of GM seeds.

From the failure of BT cotton in the field trials in Andhra Pradesh, it is evident that GM crops or genetically modified organisms pose a danger to the environment. Studies show that it poses severe health hazards to humans and animals and leaves them at the risk of allergy and decrease in immunity level, said retired Maj Gen S.G. Vombatkere, president of Grahakara Parishat.

He said that GM crops widely promoted in the country were severely toxic to humans, animals and micro-organisms and had an adverse effect on human health and loss of wildlife, creating imbalances in bio-diversity and environs. Further, transfer of characteristics from GM organisms to other organisms poses completely unknown hazards, he pointed.

A group of experts from a NGO would file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court regarding the bio-safety of GM organisms to allow it to be released in the environment. The petition would seek to put in place a protocol to mandate scientific examination to bio-safety of GM.

A labeling mechanism to ensure that the moratorium on the release of any GM into the environment is safeguarded and effective was essential. Such a mechanism was also necessary to protect agriculturists' and consumer rights, he added.

2.GEAC shifts to event-based approval for GM crops
Ashok B Sharma Financial Express, 5 July 2006

New Delhi - The regulator for genetically modified (GM) crops and products, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), has decided to follow the "event-based approval system" for approving GM crops, instead of case-by-case approach.

This change in the policy has come after the CD Mayee Panel report suggested such a change. The Mayee Panel deliberating on biosafety issues of Bt cotton said: "Extensive biosafety and agronomic testing are not necessary for the approved event. Once an event has been tested for its biosafety and approved for environmental releases, it should be treated at par with the non-Bt hybrids."

The GEAC, accepting the report, has said switching over to event-based system for approval will reduce unnecessary delays. "While due consideration for agronomic value of the GM hybrid should be given and not completely done away with, the parameters of prime importance to assess the efficacy of Bt technology are; (i) confirmation of the gene/event, (ii) level of protein expression and (iii) morphological characterisation based on DUS tests."

According to GEAC, parameters such as the level of protein expression, susceptibility to disease, staple length and staple strength will be given consideration while selecting promising hybrids as these parameters also contribute to the economic gain. GEAC has also admitted that Bt technology is not for increasing the yield potential of the hybrid, but to protect the crop from bollworm attack.

As per GEAC estimate, Bt cotton would cover an area of 81,00,000 lakh hectare this season with 59 Bt cotton hybrids released so far.

Regarding permission for largescale field trials of Bt brinjal, GEAC said it has asked NGOs and interested public to submitt their views by July 15 after which it would consider the case.

3.MRTPC issues inquiry notices to Monsanto
Chennai Online, July 06 2006

The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) on Thursday issued inquiry notices to US biotech major Monsanto and its Indian arm Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech Ltd on a contempt petition filed by the Andhra Pradesh government.

The state government had on June 26 filed an application before MRTPC to initiate contempt proceedings against Monsanto-Mahyco for violating the Commission's orders to reduce the 'trait value' charged on its transgenic Bt cotton seeds to the level prevailing in China.

During the proceedings on Thursday, Monsanto argued that MRTPC should not take any action in this regard as the matter was now before the Supreme Court.

However, MM Sardana, acting chairman of MRPTC, said, "We have taken a view in the past also that if there is no specific stay from the Supreme Court, then proceedings in the Commission would go on."

The Commission has given the companies six weeks to file their replies and posted the matter for listing in August.

MMBL had on June 11 reduced the trait value from Rs 900 to Rs 880 per 450-gram packet. In China, the company charges a trait value equal to just Rs 40.

The state government had earlier contended that the reduction of Rs 20 by the company in trait value was not enough and MMBL failed to comply with MRTPC's directions.

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