Farmers protest against GM in Delhi and across India (10/7/2006)

1.GM No Solution to Agriculture Crisis
2.BKU's letter to the Prime Minister

EXCERPTS: "Our experience in Vidharbha shows that fancy technologies like GM seeds which are introduced as a saviour for farmers, are a pretext for reaping profits by seed companies who get massive royalties from seed sales leaving the farmer with nothing but unfulfilled promises"

"The Rs.1200 technology fee that Monsanto extracted from the sale of every packet of Bt. cottonseed has robbed farmers... and has only driven farmers to suicides".

1.Genetically Modified (GM) Technology is No Solution to Agriculture Crisis
News Release

New Delhi, July 10 -- Farmers from Haryana, Delhi-rural and Western Uttar Pradesh led by the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) today gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi to oppose the proposed introduction of Bt. brinjal, India's first genetically modified (GM) food crop. Bt. brinjal has a bacterial gene whose patent is owned by Monsanto. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has invited comments from stakeholders regarding the biosafety and socio-economic studies on Bt. brinjal by July15 after which it would take a decision.

"We condemn the government's plans to irresponsibly introduce GM food crops without proper long term studies of its impact on the health of the people and environment and on the socio-economic realities of the farmers of this country" said Yudhvir Singh, President, Delhi state, BKU representing millions of farmers in a coalition comprising Bharatiya Kissan Union in North India, Shetkari Sanghatan, Maharashtra, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Samithi (KRRS) in Karnataka and the Tamil Nadu Farmers Association. "In our memorandum (1) to the Prime Minister we have demanded a total ban of GM open air large scale field trials" he said.

Farmers today held dharnas outside the office of the District Collector in at least hundred districts across the country and demanded a 'Genetically Modified seeds free India'. "We are against the anti-farmer and multinational company friendly agricultural policies of the UPA government," said Rakesh Singh Tikait who is the spokes person for BKU.

Leaders of the farmer coalition strongly rejected GM technology as unsustainable and expensive and said it is not suited for a country like India where 80% of the farmers are small and marginal. "The unprecedented haste by the GEAC to approve Bt Brinjal is raising suspicions and it is a shame that the government has excluded farmer groups in looking for a solution to the agrarian crisis", said Yudhvir Singh.

"Our experience in Vidharbha shows that fancy technologies like GM seeds which are introduced as a saviour for farmers, are a pretext for reaping profits by seed companies who get massive royalties from seed sales leaving the farmer with nothing but unfulfilled promises", said Vijay Jawantia, Shetkari Sangathan. The introduction of Bt cotton has added to the crisis in the agricultural sector in rain fed regions like Vidharbha and has resulted in greater number of farmer's suicides, he said. "The Rs.1200 technology fee that Monsanto extracted from the sale of every packet of Bt. cottonseed has robbed farmers of Rs. 625 crores in Andhra Pradesh alone and has only driven farmers to suicides". He warned farmers not to fall prey to the aggressive marketing techniques and huge profit promised by the companies and exhorted farmers to understand the hidden threats behind GM crops and reject the technology.

Yudhvir Singh challenged the government that farmers would fight the introduction of GM seeds in food crops. "The American multinational Monsanto-Mahyco which is responsible for Bt. cotton, has now applied to market Bt. brinjal. This company is in contempt of court for refusing to reduce the patent fee on Bt. cotton seeds despite a court order from Andhra Pradesh" said Yudhvir Singh. "Brinjal is grown by millions of small and marginal farmers across India. Any government must be answerable to millions of farmers in this country if it wants to stay in power," he said.

Contact: Yudhvir Singh, President, BKU, Delhi State. Mobile : 9868146405 [email protected], [email protected] Notes to editor: (1) Memorandum personally handed over by farmer leaders to Prime Minister, Dr. Man Mohan Singh at 3 p.m. on July 10, and copy submitted to Agriculture Minister, Shri. Sharad Pawar and Minister of Environment and Forests, Shri. A. Raja.

2.BKU's letter to the Prime Minister

Shri Manmohan Singh
Hon'ble Prime Minister of India

Sub: Demand that Bt Brinjal NOT be permitted to be grown in India

You would be aware by now that India, under your government, is all set to allow large scale trials and seed production of the first GM food crop in the country in the form of Bt Brinjal. Expectably, the gene for the transgenic crop has been provided by Monsanto, the US-based multinational company and the crop has been evolved by M/s Mahyco, the company that refused to pay compensation to Bt Cotton farmers when they incurred losses.

This is the first time in the world that a vegetable crop, which would be consumed with little or no processing by human beings and livestock with the Bt toxin incorporated into it, would be allowed such an advanced stage of release into the open environment in the name of trials and seed production. It is not out of place to remind here that it was during the field trials' stage that the illegal contamination with Bt Cotton began in 2001. Thus began the history of many serious irreversible regulatory failures in the biosafety regime of the country. Now, we are on the verge of field trials of a food crop, that too a vegetable crop that is grown and consumed all over the country, throughout the year.

This vegetable has special socio-cultural significance in the country. It is even recognized for some of its medicinal properties and is used in Ayurveda for the preparation of some medicines. If Bt Brinjal is permitted, there are serious health hazards that we would be faced with, including allergies, antibiotic resistance etc. Even a so-called non-edible crop like Bt Cotton had ended up causing many health problems as reports indicate from all the cotton growing belts of the country. What about a vegetable crop, in such a case.

It is important to mention here that there are no independent studies on the various possible risks with Bt Brinjal and regulators are choosing to go by the studies and data presented by the company which wants to introduce Bt Brinjal in India. Only a naive or gullible Regulator expects the crop developer to prove that his own crop is allergenic and unsafe. In fact, some of the biotech companies are known to actively suppress findings from studies that came up with adverse results.

India is the Country of Origin for brinjal and entry of Bt Brinjal would lead to contamination of the seed stock. This would have implications for development of newer varieties through agriculture research and could pose a serious danger for the crop itself.

As farmers, we are being told to abide by the recent GM labelling regulations. However, it is impossible to remain GM-free in this country even if we want. This is a serious impingement on our rights and contamination of any sort could either jeopardize markets we enjoy now or could increase our cost of cultivation. As consumers, we would not be able to distinguish between Bt and non-Bt Brinjal and our choices would be seriously negated since labelling will not work as a solution for vegetable crops in the country.

We also anticipate the possible approval of the patent application filed by Mahyco on this transgenic event having repercussions on the traditional rights of farmers of the country.

Most importantly, what is not apparent is the need for bringing in Bt Brinjal into this country. Will the government assure us guaranteed procurement at proper prices if production increases due to Bt Brinjal, as Bt Brinjal is claimed to increase productivity by saving on pest losses? What about the fact that there is no crisis in the production of brinjal and in fact, farmers are often punished for producing in adequate quantities by lack of markets?

There is also enough and ample evidence that safer and more affordable ecological alternatives exist for pest management across crops including brinjal. Such experience exists with thousands of farmers in this country as well as within the agriculture research establishment of the country [ICAR's experience with non-chemical Integrated Pest Management in brinjal has yielded equally good or better results than the results being claimed with Bt Brinjal now]. Why are such alternatives not promoted or supported pro-actively? Are only those technologies which provide more markets for corporations to be promoted, even at the expense of protection of farmers' interests?

It is now amply evident from the fights of a Congress-ruled state like Andhra Pradesh, where the state government is waging a fight on behalf of farmers in the case of liability-fixing for failure of a GM crop and with regard to exploitative pricing.

It is completely unacceptable that views by large farmers' organisations like the Bhartiya Kissan Union's and others across the country and those of consumer groups from all the states are being ignored with complete disregard to any democratic processes and with a violation of our fundamental Right to Safe Food.We expect your government to learn from the ecological disaster and technological fatigue wreaked by the Green Revolution, to be expected in greater measure through technologies like GM and invoke a precautionary principle when taking decisions on GM crops

In this context, we demand that Bt Brinjal and other GM crops not be allowed into India, for trials or seed production or commercial cultivation. We demand that your government pro-actively support ecological alternatives in agriculture and find solutions which are lasting and which reflect a vision for the sustainability of agriculture and of the farming livelihoods in the country.

cc. Union Health Minister Shri Anbumani Ramadoss Union Environment Minister Shri A Raja Union Agriculture Minister Shri Sharad Pawar GEAC Chairperson Shri B S Parsheera

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