Bt firms condemned for unethical sales (20/11/2005)

What's so remarkable about these criticisms of Bt cotton and its promotion by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) is that it is headed by MS Swaminathan, a long-time GM promoter who has often been used to try and give biotech an eco-friendly and poor-friendly face.

Even Swaminathan's commission has not been able to side-step what farmers have been telling them about the failure of Bt cotton "due to drought and multiple pest epidemics" or the evidence of how Bt seeds have been aggressively and deceptively promoted.

For more on P Chengal Reddy of the Industry-Farmers Alliance see The Fake Parade.

Bt firms pulled up for unethical sales
Financial Express, November 19, 2005

NEW DELHI, NOV 18: The National Commission on Farmers (NCF) has pulled up the seed companies for their "aggressive advertisement" which has resulted in several misgivings.

The commission headed by Dr MS Swaminathan observed: "Genetic literacy (amongst farmers) has been generally low as most of the Bt cotton farmers grew no refugia and did not provide recommended isolation distances needed for preventing cross-pollination between Bt and non-Bt strains so as to reduce the chances for breakdown of resistance to bollworm in Bt cotton varieties. A general misgiving prevails, may be partly due to aggressive advertisement by seed companies, that the Bt cotton needs no pesticide applications, forgetting that the Bt provides protection (often not 100%) only against bolloworms. For controlling other pests, which at times assume serious proportions, such as aphids and white fly, pesticides will need to be applied as per recommendations."

The commission's observation of "aggressive advertisement" by seed companies confirms the allegations made by a network of over 20 NGOs in its recent report that foul practices were adopted for selling Bt cotton seeds to farmers. The concerned seeds companies have, however, denied this allegation. [see THE MARKETING OF BT COTTON IN INDIA: AGGRESSIVE, UNSCRUPULOUS AND FALSE]

Summing up its recent consultations with farmers (on Sept 22, 2005), the commission noted that some participants reported failure of Bt cotton "due to drought and multiple pest epidemics, while reported additional net profit of at least about Rs 12,000 per hectare and about 40% to 50% savings in the pesticide use and in the number of sprays.

Speaking to FE, the executive chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS), Dr Krishan Bir Chaudhary said that he had submitted a detailed reports about failure of Bt cotton in India over the past three years and also reports of GM crops being derminatal to farmers in other parts of the globe.

"Not much of my report have been incorporated. Rather the commission in its report has mispelt my organisation as Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Union at different places. Bharat Krishak Samaj is the premier farmers' organisation in the country having over 5 million members. It is an irony that the commission has no knowledge about farmers' organisations," he said.

Dr Chaudhary, however, complimented the commission to incorporate his view that "Syngenta's efforts to patent the rice genome and other such moves should be resisted." Apart from Dr Chaudhary, Vijay Jawandhia, chairman, Shetkari Sangathan, Mahendra Singh Tikait, president, Bharatiya Kisan Union and others pointed out failure of Bt cotton in different places, while Mr P Chengal Reddy of Industry-Farmers Alliance and others openly supported propogation of transgenic technology in agriculture.

The commission noted that biotechnology can help, but if it is pro-poor, pro-women and pro-environment. Although none of the farmers reported cases of any health, food or environmentally negative effects of Bt cotton, some expressed concerns about the possible risks and several farmers emphasised the need for a cautious approach while exploiting the technology and asked for a science-based pre and post release testing and monitoring. The commission noted with addmission : "inadequate testing under the major cotton growing agro-climatic conditions is a serious problem."

The commission expressed grave concern over ploriferation of spurious Bt cotton seeds and suggested that in order to curb this trend "the company must compensate the losses incurred by the farmer." It also suggested insurance cover alongwith the sale of GM seeds.


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