"GM crop trials shrouded in secrecy" (27/2/2006)

"GM crop trials shrouded in secrecy"

New Delhi, February 27, 2006: The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee [GEAC] and the State Governments today accepted that they are not kept informed by the companies on where the GM crop trials are happening. This was revealed at a meeting convened by the GEAC to look into the matter of irregularities in GM field trials brought up by the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee [MEC].

The two-hour discussion on the issue of field trial irregularities took place this evening, organised by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee [GEAC], Ministry of Environment and Forests, based on the investigative report submitted by the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee led by Greenpeace India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

In January 2006, the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee consisting of 20 civil society organizations made public the serious irregularities discovered in Bollgard II GM Cotton trials across the country, including violations of biosafety guidelines of the Environment Protection Act. This was presented to the GEAC, with a demand that all field trials be declared invalid for the year and that liability be fixed under the EPA for all violations.

Today's meeting convened by the GEAC was attended by representatives of Greenpeace India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture as well as representatives of Mahyco Seeds, Nath Seeds, Krishidhan Seeds, Rasi Seeds, Tulasi Seeds and Ajeet Seeds. In addition, state government agriculture department officials and department of environment representatives were present from Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu along with Director, Central Institute for Cotton Research [CICR], Nagpur and a scientist from the Agricultural Research Station, Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. The new GEAC Chairperson, Mr B S Parshira, the co-Chair Dr D D Verma and the Member-Secretary of GEAC, Dr Ranjini Warrier were present.

In the meeting, companies also accepted that they are going ahead with advertising, organizing of ‘field days’ and ‘advance bookings’ for unapproved Bt Cotton hybrids, in anticipation of clearance from the GEAC. State government representatives expressed their objection to this practice, which is in violation of norms.

Some of the points that emerged in the meeting were:

Violation of biosafety guidelines in relation to crop material from field trials not being destroyed but allowed to contaminate the supply chain: The companies claimed that material from the trials was being bought back from trial farmers and destroyed whereas the MEC had evidence of the farmers selling it in the local market. The GEAC Chairperson felt that this violation is something that needs to be further looked into and assured that in all such cases where the companies were found to have violated the guideline, the approvals will not be accorded and action taken.

State Governments' Feedback: The MEC’s reports have been sent to all state governments and other concerned stakeholders, as per the GEAC and their feedback on the violations would feed into any future action that GEAC would take.

Unscientificity in trials: On the unscientificity of trials, including on lax monitoring by companies and data from only good plots is being presented for approval, the companies once again denied this allegation. However, the GEAC promised that this would be looked into further. GEAC also felt that their guidelines of monitoring should be improved since right now, it is not based on random sampling.

Secrecy around the field trials: All the state governments’ representatives present in the meeting denied that they get any information from the companies on the trials taking place, while the companies insisted that they keep the state governments in the loop. At this point, it was revealed that even GEAC was not kept informed about where the trials were happening. On this, it was felt that state governments and agriculture departments should be involved in the monitoring of trials and that communication systems should be streamlined on this.

Marketing of Bt Cotton before approvals: On the issue of advertisements coming out, 'field days' being organized and 'advance bookings taking place before approvals being accorded, the companies did agree that they are doing so ["since that is how the seed industry works"] while the state government representatives felt that this is inappropriate, especially given that the majority of farmers are illiterate and can be easily misled by these marketing strategies.

Food Crop Field Trials: In the context of field trials of GM Food crops like Bt Okra happening in farmers' fields without their knowledge, the Mahyco representatives said that "bio-physical containment" is not possible, while state government representatives once again objected to food crop trials happening without any information to them. There was no decision taken on this, even as the MEC pointed out that food crop field trials should not happen in farmers’ fields, given the scope of contamination from these trials.

Other issues: The AP state government representative also pointed out that there are anomalies in quantities with regard to seed stocks held and supplied by the companies and the actual permission for seed production given by the GEAC when it comes to Bt Cotton.

The MEC members also pointed out the larger issue of serious regulatory failure given that GM soy products are being imported into India without the permission of GEAC, that GM food crop trials are happening with violations on the ground, without biosafety being cleared, that there is large scale failure of Bt Cotton in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh and that most suicides this year were related to Bt Cotton failure. The GEAC assured the team members that they will look into all the issues being raised. The discussions that emerged from this meeting would now be reported to the larger GEAC and decisions taken.

For more information and for the report of the MEC on field trial irregularities, contact:

Ms Divya Raghunandan, Greenpeace India, 09845535406 or [email protected] Ms Kavitha Kuruganti, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 09393001550 or [email protected] Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 09301359702 or [email protected]


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