Chief minister told to keep Kerala GM free (7/7/2006)

Dear Jonathan,

I am sending another news from Kerala, which may be of interest for GM Watch.

Civil Groups and Scientists have asked the progressive Kerala Chief Minister Sri V S Achyuthanandhan to keep the state of Kerala (India) GM Free. In a letter signed by prominent sceintists and voluntary organisations, they have asked the CM to ensure that the organic movement in Kerala is encouraged and to keep it GM Free.

Kerala is a state dependent on export of various crops and its plantation sector is a large source of income for the farmers. Opening the state to GM crops would inevitably kill Kerala's market. Export of organic produce is also on the increase in the State and the State cannot risk any issue of contamination. In the background of the farmer suicides issue that is raking Kerala, the State may take a serious view of this issue. The issue has already been carried in detail in some of the vernacular magazines in the State. A few farmers organisations have also come out in support of the demand for a GM ban in the State.

Hope you will be able to carry this news. I am attaching the letter that was sent to the CM along with this.

with warm regards

Sri V S Achuthanandhan,
Honible Chief Minister,
Government of Kerala


You may be aware that the Government of India has plans to approve the release of Genetically Modified Crop varieties in food crops starting with Bt Brinjal. This is a dangerous move which can have disastrous consequences on the food safety, health and environment. It can also irreparably damage the farming sector in the country, which is already facing the after-effects of globalization and WTO policies.

While the controversy over Bt cotton intensifies in the country, Government of India has recently stated through its Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under Ministry of Environment & Forests that they are going to give permission to large scale field trials of Bt Brinjal, an important vegetable crop in the country. This is only a beginning. Small scale field trials of at least 20 food crops like rice, mustard, potato, tomato etc. are going on in the country in the research institutions and farmers' fields even without the knowledge of the state governments and often, without the knowledge of farmers themselves. By the end of this year, the seed companies would be coming out with results of field trials for getting permission for commercial release of their transgenic varieties.

The concern over the environmental and public health impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is not yet resolved even among the geneticists, nutritionists and toxicologists. Many studies on GMOs have already shown health impacts like allergies, cancers, tumours, stomach lesions etc. in experimental animals. This is enough to cause alarm especially while the health concerns are increasing even in a state like Kerala where people have access to good health care facilities and are economically better off. In India, many reports have pointed out to the serious inadequacies in our biosafety testing and our risk assessment related to GMOs. Even in the developed world, many regulatory systems ask basic questions like 'is it socially and ethically justifiable', before the introduction of any GMO into the environment. In India, even though majority of our people survive on agriculture, even basic scientific questions are yet to be asked and answered with regard to GMOs, leave alone risk assessment parameters that cover social costs.

Kerala is rich in biodiversity, from the coastal tract to the High Ranges. 50% of the state falls within the purview of Western Ghats which is a global biodiversity hot spot. It was predicted and now is a well realized fact that GMOs can contaminate the natural world through horizontal gene transfer (HGT) and other means. GMOs are unnatural, not just because they have been produced in the laboratory, but because they can only be made in the laboratory, creating organisms and in ways that have never existed in the course of 3.8 billion years of evolution. Scientists concede that they do not understand the mechanisms of GE induced changes in gene expression in sufficient detail (Aruna Rodrigues, 2005). This is the reason why there is an internationally accepted bio safety protocol which is put in place to regulate the release of GMOs. Biotechnology Task Force Report by Dr. M. S. Swaminathan also put forwarded the fact that ecologically sensitive areas like Western Ghats region should be kept safe from contamination from GMOs.

Bt Cotton, the only GM crop to be approved for planting so far in India, is under commercial cultivation in the country since 2002. Bt Cotton was released with permission from GEAC. From the very beginning, there were concerns raised about its poor performance, high cost of seeds, continued pesticide use, illegal proliferation of unapproved seeds etc. Even state governments have admitted that Bt Cotton is more vulnerable to pest and disease attack compared to non-Bt Cotton [AP government], that Bt Cotton has been stress-intolerant and that organic cotton gives the best profits to farmers [Maharashtra government]. Even in cases where Bt Cotton has failed and state governments have ordered the concerned seed companies to pay up compensation, the companies (the Multi-national corporation - Monsanto and Mahyco) refused to become accountable, as in the case of Andhra Pradesh. They have even challenged the order of the Andhra Pradesh Government and the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Commission on the matter of the very high cost they charge for their seeds from the farmers.

Now, studies are coming out about the health impacts on agriculture workers and on impacts on livestock. There are reports that indicate mortality amongst livestock that graze in the cotton field after harvest. Farmers from various states including Punjab are reporting adverse impacts on their soils by growing Bt Cotton.

While such circumstances prevail in the country the central government should have taken a precautionary approach and should have stopped or at least stalled the further release of GE seeds. But on the other hand Government of India is going ahead with giving permission to more GE seeds, that too in food crops like brinjal, bhindi, rice etc. This is dangerous, unscientific and undemocratic. More importantly, this will be an irreversible damage done to Indian agriculture. There can be no co-existence of GM agriculture along with non-GM agriculture in this country since contamination is unavoidable, genetic and physical.

Although Kerala is rich in biodiversity and rural economy is still dependent on agriculture, we are also a food dependent state. Hence such decisions as this by the central government can have disastrous consequences ecologically, economically and socially in the state. We believe that as a politically aware society we should take a position on this issue and ask the central government to stop giving permission to such unsafe technology in the country and especially in Kerala.

Food is fundamental to our existence and it is our right. We should not allow MNCs and their associated national seed companies to take control over our agriculture, food, health and farmersí lives. We have thousands of proven safe alternatives to produce quality food in adequate quantities. Such alternatives unfortunately are neglected and do not receive any support from the government. While these can truly help our farmers, especially small and marginal and landless farmers, the central government is going ahead with a pro-GMO policy which can only help the big corporations to profit.

To overcome the agriculture crisis in the state a large number of farming experiments are going on in the last 10-15 years by farmers, research institutions, organizations and Self Help Groups of women in Kerala. These include Integrated Pest Management practices, vermi composting, organic farming, bio dynamic farming, multi cropping, group farming etc, to name a few. The results are highly encouraging and the farmers are getting better prices for their products and it is becoming a model for other farmers. But the introduction of GMO s can destroy all these efforts within no time. It is imperative for Kerala to remain organic because of its export potential which can actually save the farmers who cultivate spices and other cash crops and whose economy is dependent on its trade. There is a good and promising market for organic food within the state as well as outside and our farmers can benefit from tapping into such opportunities. But introduction of GMOs can kill this market altogether since contamination of crops by GMOs (unintended effects) is a certainty, and such crops are rejected by many of the importing countries. .

Therefore, we the undersigned people request you to raise this concern with the central government and demand that the release of Genetically Modified Crops and seeds be immediately stopped. We also request you to uphold the progressive status of Kerala as a growing organic state by declaring it and keeping it a GM free state.

Yours truly

Dr Thomas Varghese, Agriculture Scientist, (Ex-Chairman, Kerala State Agriculture Prices Board), Trivandrum Prof R V G Menon, Kerala Sashtra Sahitya Parishad, Trivandrum Dr A S K Nair, Scientist, Centre for Earth Science Studies, Trivandrum C R Neelankandan, Environmentalist, Ernakulam Jacob Lazer, People's Union for Civil Liberties, Kochi Annie Punnoose, Social Activist, Trivandrum S Usha, Coordinator(Sustainable Farming), Thanal P R Sreekumar, GREENS, Trivandrum Prof. M. K. Prasad, Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishan, (Ex _Pro Vice Chancellor, Calicut University), Kochi Dr. S. Santhi (Environmental Scientist), Trivandrum Dr. C. Thankam ( Retd ñ Professor, Botany, Government Womens College), Trivandrum Dr K Saradamoni, Social Scientist

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