GM regulator openly propagandises for GM crops (19/1/2007)

1.GM regulator openly propagandises for GM crops - GM Watch
2.India surpasses China in acreage under biotech crops - Press Trust of India
3.Press release - ISAAA

1.GM regulator openly propagandises for GM crops

Back in October the Times of India reported that a leading Indian GM regulator was simultaneously "a director of an international network funded by biotech majors such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont". (GM regulator on panel funded by biotech majors) http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2162116.cms

At the centre of the controversy over conflict-of-interest was Charudatta Mayee, the co-chairman of India's apex GM regulatory body - the GEAC, who the Times of India pointed out was also on the board of directors of ISAAA - the controversial GM propaganda and 'technology transfer' outfit whose high-profile board members, past and present, include Monsanto's Robert Fraley, Wally Beversdorf of Syngenta, and Gabrielle Persley, Executive Director of the AusBiotech Alliance.

If that weren't bad enough, yesterday Mayee went one better by taking a leading role in the PR promotion of one of ISAAA's controversial annual reports. These reports are renowned for inflating and distorting the figures on GM crop acceptance around the world. Mayee not only contributed to the ISAAA press release (item 3) but also took an active part in promoting GM crops at the ISAAA's press conference (item 2), even doing his best to bat away "a pointed question on farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra allegedly due to the failure of Bt cotton".

At the time of the Times of India revelations, Mayee was said to be considering his position. If Mayee has not already resigned as co-chairman of the GEAC, then he must now go immediately. For a regulator to be working hand in glove with a biotech industry front organisation in this way is an absolute scandal, even in a country where GM governance is riddled not only with conflicts of interest but outright corruption.

Equally scandalous, though, is the content of what Mayee had to say and also ISAAA's carefully calculated PR exploitation of India as an exemplar of the benefits of GM crops. One reason that Vidarbha - the main cotton growing belt of Maharashtra - came up at the ISAAA's press conference is not just that Vidarbha has been so horrifically scarred by farmer suicides but because the sudden escalation in suicides has tallied exactly with Bt cotton adoption.

It's important to understand that Maharashtra is the Indian state where farmers have bought into a bigger acreage of Bt cotton than anywhere else in the country. And they have bought into it not because of Bt cotton's demonstrable benefits but because of a massive PR campaign claiming Bt cotton means bumper returns. And what Mayee and ISAAA were doing with their press release and news conference in Delhi was - yet again - feeding that devastating campaign of hype.

At the press conference Mayee tried to dismiss the embarrassing issue of the spiralling suicides by claiming "there was a good performance of Bt cotton in other parts of the country". But we only have Mayee's word for that whereas the latest official overview of "Farmers' suicides in Maharashtra" - from the office of the Divisional Commissioner - reports that Bt cotton "yields have been unstable" and "the net return has often been negative." It goes on to say that, "Bt cotton has not paid good returns" in the conditions under which 97% of Maharashtra's cotton is grown. Yet Bt cotton has been relentlessly hyped to farmers there. (New Bt cotton disaster in Maharashtra)

More generally, Mayee tried to claim that Bt cotton has boosted India's overall cotton output, but these type of productivity claims have already been effectively demolished as nonsense with the help of ISAAA's (and USDA's) own data!

What is particularly unsavoury is the way that Mayee and ISAAA sought to reinforce their hyping of Bt cotton by deploying "Ravinder Brar, a widowed mother of two and biotech cotton farmer" to sing Bt cotton's praises. This is not the first time this "widowed mother of two" has been used in this way. Earlier this year the industry flew Ravinder Brar to its BIO 2006 jamboree, where they presented her to former president Bill Clinton, amongst others.

The terrible irony of the biotech industry selecting a "widowed mother" as the face of GM crops in India will not have been lost on those who've witnessed the devastation wrought there by the industry's murderous campaign of hype.

2.India surpasses China in acreage under biotech crops
The Hindu, January 19 2007

New Delhi, Jan. 19 (PTI): India has emerged as the leader in cultivation of biotech crops, surpassing China with a record three-fold increase in its area under the crops even as the debate over use of the technology in agriculture continues.

"In Asia, India emerges as leader, tripling area to 3.8 million hectares overtaking China's 3.5 million hectares in 2006," Clive James of biotechnology advocacy group ISAAA told reporters here today.

There is an urgent need to address the food security issue as Indian population is estimated to overtake China by 2030, James said while presenting to a select gathering the statistics of crops grown by using genetically-engineered seeds.

Like China, India has also allowed only genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds for commercialisation.

The issue of using GM seeds in agriculture is currently being heard by the Supreme Court as some non-governmental organisations have raised safety issue of human health.

After Bt cotton seeds were approved for commercialisation in 2002, there are now as many as 62 varieties of seeds available in the market compared to 20 in 2005, said an agricultural scientist C D Mayee.

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