India's commerce ministry calls for GM free zones/Tamil Nadu ban (23/2/2007)

1.India's commerce ministry calls for GM free zones
2.Tamil Nadu government bans the sale of Monsanto-Mahyco seeds because of failure
3.Bt cotton to be investigated for toxicity
4.Farmers Call for Immediate Ban on all GM Crops
5.Patent report plagiarised from corporate funded source
1.Keep Basmati rice areas free from GM crop trials: commerce ministry 
Financial Express, February 24 2007
NEW DELHI, FEB 23:  The Union commerce ministry has decided to intervene and ask the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) not to approve field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops in Basmati rice growing states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and western Uttar Pradesh.

The consensus emerged at a recent meeting of stakeholders convened by the commerce ministry. The meeting among others were attended by the chairman of Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (Apeda), Sashi Sareen of Export Inspection Council of India, advisor to the department of biotechnology, KK Tripathi and representatives of the All India Rice Exporters Association (Airea).

The meeting also decided to ask GEAC not to approve field trials of GM crops in all the 60 agri export zones (AEZs). Apeda has been asked to submit a detail list of 60 AEZs.

Speaking to FE, the Airea executive director, Anil Adlakha said, "We are neither against nor in favour of GM crops. Our concern is maintaining the country's export prospects. Recently when the US and Chinese rice were contaminated with GM trace, major importing countries refused rice consignments from these two countries. The US rice industry is reeling under heavy losses. We do not want such a situation to occur in India."

Saying that the exporters' concern was to keep all AEZs safe from any possible contamination by GM crop field trial, Adlakha said, "We suggested a transparent and scientific procedure for such field trials and that the GM crop field trials should be conducted under a validated event-specific protocol and in a transparent manner. The trials should be conducted by a lead scientist whose details should be disclosed," he said.
2.State Pulse: Tamil Nadu: Need for seed  
After its Bt Cotton fails in Tamil Nadu district, Mahyco faces flak from the state government
Shailesh Kumar
Central Chronicle, Feb 23 2007

The Tamil Nadu government has brought the Bt Cotton seed issue back into focus by banning the sale of seeds from Mahyco over complaints of crop failure in Dharmapuri district. Bt Cotton varieties made by the Indian seed major had earlier been blacklisted by Andhra Pradesh after crop failures in the 2004 kharif season.

In Dharmapuri, thousands of farmers are in distress. They told the district collector that their Bt Cotton crop failed due to sub-standard seeds. "Cotton crop on at least 2,500 acres (1,012 hectares) has failed and about 2,000 farmers affected.

Prima facie, it seems that the seeds are responsible," says Pankaj Kumar Bansal, Dharmapuri's district magistrate.

The state government has taken serious note of the problem and ordered an enquiry. "Mahyco has been asked not to sell any seed in the state till the enquiry concludes. They should also compensate affectedd farmers," says Veerapandi S Arumugam, Tamil Nadu agriculture minister.

The anti-GM lobby in the state is happy over the ban. "After the failure in Andhra Pradesh, Bt has failed yet again. Such failures of genetic engineering (GE) technology are always at the cost of poor farmers. The aggressive marketing tactics of the seed companies is the sole reason behind further spreading of Bt cotton even after repeated failures," says Rajesh Krishnan, GE campaigner, Greenpeace.

It is still not clear, however, whether the Dharmapuri crop failure can be blamed on substandard seeds. Citing one case, Surjit K Chaudhury, the Tamil Nadu agriculture secretary, says that a farmer obtained 15 quintal of cotton from an acre, netting a profit of Rs 54,000 after deducting the seed cost of Rs 6,000 per acre.

The failure could also be attributed to wrong agricultural practices and inadequate support from the company. "Either you sell your seed with usage instructions or if it fails, give compensation," says Chaudhury, who is also agriculture productivity commissioner. Mahyco does not deny the crop failure in Dharmapuri. But it maintains its seeds have anything to do with it. "There is a wilting problem but it is not necessarily because of seeds. We have instructions written in the inside of each packet. For compensation, the government has formed a committee. Very soon we will decide on it," clarifies Sanjay Despande, deputy general manager, Mahyco.

Earlier, in 2006, Monsanto's licensee, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Limited (MMB), was charging Rs 1,250 as 'trait value' (another name for royalty) out of the prevailing rate of Rs 1,800 for 450-gramme packets. The Andhra government fixed the price of seeds at Rs 750 for 450 grammes. Whenn Monsanto refused to comply, Andhra Pradesh took the issue to the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) in January 2006. In its interim order on May 10, 2006, MRTPC asked MMB to reduce the 'trait value'. The company then moved the Supreme Court.

The final hearing on the issue in MRTPC is scheduled. Thereafter the government would decide its strategy for next hearing in Supreme Court. But, in Andhra Pradesh, there are also moves for an out of court settlement over the price of Bt Cotton seeds. "Some Indian seed companies operating in the state have approached us to press for an out of court settlement saying that they are ready to abide by the government decision.

We are ready if it is in the interest of farmers, and since other states have also joined the litigation, they should also be ready for an out of court settlement," says N Raghuveera Reddy, agriculture minister, Andhra Pradesh.

Activists are upset that the state government that had taken up the cause of farmers is compromising with a company whose seed failures have led to farmer suicides. "This step actually shows the clout the seed companies hold," says Krishnan. Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign feels that the judicial process should continue since it will generate a lot of information, which will be available in the public domain.

Down to Earth Feature
3.India : Bt cotton to be investigated for toxicity
February 17 2007
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) along with many farmers of the state believe that death of thousands of sheep last year was due to consumption of Bt cotton plant leaves.

On the back of this assumption, National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) has decided to investigate whether the cause of death of over 1,500 sheep in Andhra Pradesh was due to consumption of Bt cotton plant material.

Deccan Development Society considered this as an important issue and had requested NIN to carry out toxic studies, P V Satheesh, Director of Deccan Development Society, informed here on Wednesday.

Scientists from Asian countries were of the opinion that genetically engineered seeds were not the proper solution for pest control on the contrary organic farming should be encouraged.
4.Resolutions Passed In 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj
The 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj was held at Erode (Tamilnadu) from 17th  to 18th February, 2007.  The following resolutions have been passed:


...Immediate Ban on all GM Crops
Worldwide there are reports of farmers being put to heavy losses on account of cultivation of GM crops. There is a conspiracy being hatched against farmers in the name of increasing production for food security by forcibly introducing genetically modified (GM) crops.  India should learn lessons from the failure of GM crops across the world. Recently the US court has called for a review of  the approvals of GM crops in that country. 
The failure of Bt Cotton, financially crippling thousands of Cotton growers, impelling a large number of them unable to repay the debt to commit suicides by the farming community is a National shame.  The Government should put immediate ban on commercial cultivation and trials of all GM crops in the country, because GM crops will cause health & environmental hazards and destruction of bio-diversity.

...Seed Bill-2004
If the government wants to re-introduce the “Seed Bill-2004”, it should incorporate the all recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, because seed is the basic need for food security which should not be surrendered to corporates & MNCs at any cost.  Further there is no need for any new act for regulating the seed sector. The Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers Rights (PVP&FR) Act is sufficient to regulate the seed sector and should be the only law in the country.  The PVP&FR Act should be further amended to provide greater protection to farmers’ rights. The PVP&FR Act is already TRIPS consistent and there is no need for a patent regime on micro-organisms, genes and other life forms.  
                                                                  (KRISHAN BIR CHAUDHARY)
Executive Chairman
Bharat Krishak Samaj, New Delhi
[email protected]
5.Mashelkar in the eye of a storm
Special Correspondent
The Hindu, Feb 23 2007 [front page]

*Left and intellectual property rights experts want report on patents scrapped 

*A national embarrassment: CPI (M) leader Nilotpal Basu

*MNC interest disguised as national interest: CPI leader Raja

NEW DELHI: The Left parties and experts on Thursday demanded scrapping of the Mashelkar Committee report on patents and asked the Union Government to reject any proposal from its members to rewrite the "plagiarised" and "pro-multinational corporation" paper.

The Government had asked the former Director-General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) R. A. Mashelkar and four other "experts" to examine Left objections to the new legislation on patents.

However, key portions of the committee report were found to be lifted from a document funded by MNC pharmaceutical companies and reflected their views on the two issues.

Demanding appointment of a joint parliamentary committee to examine the two issues — limiting pharmaceutical patents to a chemical entity, and, in case of substantial improvements, excluding micro-organisms from the patents regime -- leaders of the Left parties told a press conference here on Thursday that public health implications were too serious for the issue to be left to another expert committee.

"It is a big shock that such a high-level committee has indulged in plagiarism. It is a national embarrassment because developing countries look to India for intellectual leadership. The Prime Minister can't accept the offer [to rewrite the report] by Dr. Mashelkar," said CPI (M) leader Nilotpal Basu.

"He is pursuing a policy hostile to the scientific community. The entire exercise seemed to be to serve the interest of MNCs. Worse than plagiarism is the fact that MNC interest has been disguised as national interest," said CPI national secretary D. Raja.

Experts Vandana Shiva, Meera Shiva, B. K. Keyala, Dinesh Abrol and S. P. Shukla pointed out that the crux of the Mashelkar Committee recommendations ran counter to reviews by noted organisations including the World Health Organisation, the South Centre and the British Government.

The former CSIR Chief was even a member of some of these committees and expressed views that were contrary to those contained in the report to the Indian Government. With 80 per cent of Indians paying for medical expenses out of their pocket and the government spending just under one per cent of the gross domestic product on the health sector, a rise in drug prices would badly hit the vulnerable sections.



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