"Stop GM Brinjal Trials" - All India Peasants' Union (10/7/2006)

'Stop GM Brinjal Trials'
AIKS Appeals To PM

The following is the text of the letter written by K Varadharajan, general secretary, All India Kisan Sabha [All India Peasants Union], to the prime minister on July 5, 2006 regarding the impending release of GM Brinjal for open-air field trials in India. A copy of the letter has also been sent to the union agriculture minister and to the secretary, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), union environment and forests ministry.

We would like to raise the concern regarding the impending release of GM brinjal for open-air field trials in India. If approved GM brinjal would become the first GM food crop in India and Indians will be the first consumers of GM brinjal in the world.

The events surrounding Bt cotton, the only GM crop to be commercialised in India, are still contentious. GM cotton was illegally released into the environment while it was still under field tests both deliberately and accidentally. No state government could monitor, regulate nor prevent the easy flow of illegal and untested GM cotton. The failure of regulatory bodies to regulate GM crops has exposed their woefully inadequate systems to implement the protocols and enforce the law. Farmers were the main victims of the untested and spurious Bt cotton, which resulted in germination failures, pest attack, wilt etc.

The American multinational Monsanto-Mahyco, which is responsible for the sorry condition of Indian cotton farmers, is now applying for Bt brinjal approvals. Since the government has not taken any concrete steps to implement and strengthen the current regulatory process; any GM brinjal seeds that are released into the field for testing will ultimately end up contaminating the food chain and is a potential health hazard.

This company faces a charge of contempt of court for refusing to reduce the patent fee on the Bt cotton seeds despite a court order from Andhra Pradesh. Monsanto-Mahyco is also fighting the case for compensations sought by the farmers because of the failure of their Bt cotton crops. The company has been exploiting the farmer by charging three times the price for its Bt cotton variety and this has pushed poor farmers further to the brink of suicide. Brinjal is grown by millions of small and marginal farmers across India. Your government must ensure that our farmers do not become victims of the company's propaganda.

Bt cotton, a non-food crop after 3-4 years of commercial growing may be the cause for health concerns in cattle as documented by the study conducted by Center for Sustainable Agriculture on sheep mortality in Andhra Pradesh. With no further investigations being conducted on the same, it seems dangerous to approve a food crop containing a similar gene.

India is the center of diversity for brinjal and our farmers have developed hundreds of varieties that they used, saved, and exchanged for last 4000 years. Monsanto-Mahyco in their submission to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) suggests that brinjal is a highly cross-pollinated crop. Bt brinjal could contaminate other varieties of related crops cultivated in the vicinity by transferring undesirable genes to it and thereby robbing India of its genetic diversity that exists.

Contamination will also become a big threat for organic farmers, as any trace of GM material in organic food will disqualify them from labeling their products organic. Organic farmers will loose their competitive advantage, which they established after years of painstakingly following all the stringent rules set by certifying agencies to achieve organic certification.

Above all, our concern arises due to the fact that studies have shown that Crystal [Cry] proteins used in this GM brinjal have time and again been proved to be potentially allergic to human beings. Brinjal is a poor man's vegetable and is eaten by a cross section of citizens across the country almost everyday. Any approval of GM brinjal will affect the health of millions of people in India.

From the way events are unfolding we feel that there is an unwarranted haste in the manner in which approvals are being given to GM brinjal.

Since gross uncertainties exist in the health, economic and ecological front with regards to Bt brinjal we demand that:

A comprehensive ban be put on all GE open air field trials until:

a) The GEAC and the states involved demonstrate that it is capable of regulating and containing GM crops in field trials.

b) The long-term safety of GM foods in the context of India is thoroughly examined by independent credible scientists, for which comprehensive and long term food and feed studies which are accepted by all concerned groups need to be formulated.

c) An investigation into the sheep deaths in Warrangal show without doubt that Bt cotton has no part to play in the sheep mortality.

d) A consensus approach is taken where different stakeholders and representatives of people should be heard, as this is an issue, which is going to affect the country as a whole.

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