GM decisions in India / Do we need GM brinjal? (1/6/2006)

1.GEAC spares refined GM oils mandatory pre-import test
2.Nod likely for field trials of 3 GM food crops
3.Andhra govt decides on Bt cotton seed prices
4.Do We need Transgenic Brinjal in our Food Plate

Curious that the GM floodgates seem to be opening in India so soon after Bush signed them up to the Indo-US agrement on biotech in exchange for support on nukes.

EXCERPT: Transgenic Bt brinjal will become India's first genetically modified food crop if it is cleared by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)... Our policy makers seem to have learnt nothing from the suicides of hundreds of farmers... due to Bt cotton. (item 4)

1.GEAC spares refined GM oils mandatory pre-import test
Posted online: Wednesday, May 31, 2006

NEW DELHI, MAY 30: The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has decided to allow imports of refined soyabean oil extracted from genetically modified (GM) sources without any tests. But such refined oil imports should carry a certificate from the exporting country stating that it is derived from GM sources.

GEAC giving its interim decision, however, said tests were necessary for imported crude soyabean oils. The importer is required to submit analytical reports from either of the three designated laboratories on the composition of the crude oil both at pre and post processing stages, determination of glyphosate in the oil and its residues.

The three designated labs are Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad and the Delhi-based Sri Ram Laboratories.

In case of imported crude oils from GM sources, GEAC insisted on test certificates from any importing country like Japan, China, India, The Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the European Union. The oil trade industry association on behalf of all importers may seek one time approval of the GEAC for import of oils from GM sources.

The samples may be drawn as per norms under Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) rules.


GEAC insisted on test certificates from any importing country like Japan, China, India,the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and the EU • The oil trade industry association on behalf of all importers may seek one time approval of the GEAC for import of oil from GM sources • The shipment should carry the name of the importer and contact details, name of the exporting country, declaration that it is extracted from GM sources and the approval date and number

Subsequent to GEAC approval, the shipment should carry the name of the importer and contact details, name of the exporting country, declaration that it is extracted from GM sources and the approval date and number.

GEAC pulled up Cargill India for importing without its approval.

In the last GEAC meeting the CFTRI director, however, pointed out that detection of DNA/protein is not feasible in highly processed food like oil with the level of present technology. GEAC should, therefore, ask for tests for normal oil as per PFA norms.

He also objected to the concept of one-time clearance by GEAC.

2.Nod likely for field trials of 3 GM food crops
Posted online: Tuesday, May 30, 2006

NEW DELHI, MAY 29: Genetically modified (GM) versions of three food crops, namely brinjal, mustard and potato, are awaiting permission for large-scale field trials before the final approval for commercial sale.

The secretary, department of biotechnology, Dr MK Bhan said, "Transgenic mustard and potato have completed the requisite rounds of field trials under the Review Committee for Genetic manipulation RCGM). These two crops are awaiting the nod of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for large-scale field trials, before they get the final approval for commercial sale."

Mustard and potato are winter crops, and its field trials are expected from October this year. Comparatively, brinjal is a summer crop and GEAC is likely to give approval for large-scale field trial in this kharif (summer) season.

According to Dr Bhan, the data generated by RCGM field trials are favourable and the GEAC is likely to approve field trials. The GM mustard has barnase-barstar genes incorporated in its genome, with claims for increasing oil content. This variety has been developed by Dr Deepak Pental in the South Campus of Delhi University.

The transgenic potato developed by Dr Asish Dutta of National Centre for Plant Genome Research by inserting genes from the amaranthus plant is claimed to have improved protein content.

Bt brinjal is awaiting approval for large-scale field trials, developed by Mumbai based company Mahyco by insertion of Cry 1 Ac gene. Mahyco claims that its GM brinjal is tolerant to fruit and shoot borer, one of the major pests of the crop.The company has claimed to have completed biosafety studies.

Mahyco has developed four varieties of Bt brinjal hybrids namely MHB-4 Bt, MHB-9 Bt, MHB-80 Bt and MHBJ-99 Bt and has asked permission for largescale field trials. Mahyco obtained Cry 1 Ac gene from Monsanto Inc, US. This gene was used to transform the proprietary brinjal line through agro-bacterium mediated transformation and then transfered into other Mahyco brinjal proprietary lines through traditional backcrossing method.

3.Andhra govt decides on Bt cotton seed prices
Posted online : Tuesday, May 30, 2006 [Pshortened]

HYDERABAD, MAY 29: Following the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission's (MRTPC) interim order on the Bt cotton seed pricing, the Andhra Pradesh (AP) government has asked the seed companies, including Mahyco-Monsanto, to fix the price between Rs 650 and Rs 750 per 450 gm packet.

According to officials sources, the AP chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy has directed the officials to issue a government order to this effect.

"The seed companies cannot sell the Bt cotton seed over Rs 750 per packet in the state," an official told FE after a high-level meeting here on Monday. The order will come into force with immediate effect, the officials said. However, Mahyco-Monsanto is disputing the government direction and claimed that it has time till June 10, 2006, to fix the technology fee as per the MRTPC order.

4.Do We need Transgenic Brinjal in our Food Plate
Debjeet Sarangi, Living Farms

Transgenic Bt brinjal will become India's first genetically modified food crop if it is cleared by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union Environment and Forests Ministry says a report appeared in The Hindu on 27th of May 06. Mayhco has produced transgenic brinjal plants with Cry 1Ac gene from Bacillus thuringensis, tolerant to fruit and shoot borer.

Our policy makers seem to have learnt nothing from the suicides of hundreds of farmers in Andhra Pradesh due to Bt cotton.

Let us consider this

Violations in the Bt Okra trial by Mahyco-There have been several violations and issues of concern with the Bt Okra trial by Mahyco to fruit and shoot borer in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh by inserting Bt gene called Cry1Ac as uncovered by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture .Firstly, the farmer was not informed that this was a transgenic crop trial. He was not aware about the Bt Okra seed being planted on his land. This raises questions of ethics as well as issues related to conforming to biosafety guidelines. Since he did not know what the crop was, it was more likely that he would violate norms. He did. The farmer and his family consumed the untested and not-yet-cleared-for-safety Bt Okra from the trial plots at least twice. The Field Assistant of the company was also not aware that this was a Bt Okra trial at the beginning of the season. He was told about it only later.

Safety of GE Foods Questions over the safety of GE foods were raised as far back as in 1998, when renowned scientist Arpad Pusztai,of Scotland's Rowett Research Institute, tested an experimental GE potato on laboratory rats . The rats fed on the GE potatoes suffered substantial damage to their immune systems, plus abnormal weightless. Some also had abnormal growth in their intestinal cells, which could indicate a prelude to cancer.

The Indian Council for Medical Research [ICMR] sounded a severe note of caution on GM foods in India. In a report entitled "Regulatory Regime for Genetically Modified Foods-The way ahead", the ICMR invoked several studies from across the world to point out to the potential problems with GM foods and has asked for an overhaul of the existing regulatory systems. It takes note of the allergencity potential of GM crops and the case of potential health hazards of GM potato, amongst other things.

Monsanto has admitted that no one knows - or can know - what will happen when genetically modified organisms are put directly into the human food chain and are released into the natural environment, as is the case with genetically modified crops.

Environmental risks of insect resistant crops (Bt crops)

According to the biotechnology industry, the promise of transgenic crops inserted with Bt genes is that they will replace synthetic insecticides now used to control insect pests. However, most crops have a diversity of insect pests, and therefore insecticides will still have to be applied to control pests, which are not susceptible to the Bt toxin expressed by the crop (Gould 1994

Effects on non-target species

By keeping pest populations at extremely low levels, Bt crops could potentially starve natural enemies, as predators and parasitic wasps that feed on pests need a small amount of prey to survive in the agro ecosystem. Among the natural enemies that live exclusively on insects which the transgenic crops are designed to kill, egg and larval parasitoids would be most affected because they are totally dependent on live hosts for development and survival. No one has analyzed the consequences of such transfers on the myriad of natural enemies that depend on pollen for reproduction and longevity. This will make things very difficult for marginal and small farmers who rely for insect pest control on the rich complex of predators and parasites associated with their mixed cropping systems.

These findings open a whole new dimension on the unexpected impacts of transgenic crops on non-target organisms which play key roles in the ecosystem, such as providing alternative food for natural enemies that depend on field margins for their continual existence in agro ecosystems (Altieri 1994).


The products of genetic engineering are living organisms, which reproduce, move, and in general, behave in ways that are not entirely predictable. The natural course of any seed is inevitably to spread. That is what makes a seed a seed. It will be just a matter of time for the Bt brinjal to join the pool and for contamination to occur. The native and traditional varieties of brinjal will be contaminated with GE transgenes as happened in rural southern Mexico where the traditional varieties of corn had been contaminated with GE.

.The experience in different countries shows that it is impossible for normal or organic produce plants to coexist with GE altered crop varieties There will be no stopping the spread of gene-altered pollen and seeds through wind or animals, or by machines and human beings. That meant farmers lost their free choice which varieties of brinjal to grow. In Canada gene-altered soya seeds had been used for ten years. At the present time, there was no more genetically unchanged soya or rapeseed.

Moreover, large-scale landscape homogenization with transgenic variety will exacerbate the ecological vulnerability already associated with monoculture agriculture. As the new bioengineered seeds replace and contaminate the old traditional varieties and their wild relatives, genetic erosion will accelerate, warn the scientists involved in studies on the impact of transgenic crops on sustainability of indigenous farming systems.

The push for uniformity will not only destroy the diversity of genetic resources, but will also disrupt the biological complexity that underlies the sustainability of indigenous farming systems (Altieri 1996).

Our Concerns

As humanity, we see how a small group of people moved by arrogance and driven by profit, with the support of various forms of power, are shamelessly playing Nature.

The bio tech industry is working over time and applying all possible strategies to flood the Indian market with transgenic crops .So, that there's nothing we can do about it. We may have to just to surrender to that.

Our traditional seeds will be the only recourse if the prevailing belief in the safety of genetic engineering proves wrong. Unless our seed supply is preserved free of genetic contamination, our ability to change course if genetic engineering goes awry will be severely hampered.

We demand the GEAC should put a total moratorium on Bt crops in India until the government adequately answers the fundamental questions about the human health, environmental, social and ethical implications of Bt crops by having an in-depth investigation on Bt okra & Bt cotton. The government should also investigate the claim of bio tech industries that Bt crops have greatly reduced pesticide use

The data presented by the company on various studies done in Bt Brinjal was put up by the GEAC only this morning [31/5/06] and considering that this is a very important food/vegetable crop of the country, there should be at least 90 days allowed for feedback on the biosafety tests and their findings. Secondly, the data put up is not adequate for an intelligent and scientific debate to take place since it only has findings without details of the research design and protocol in each case. We demand that full reports on each test be presented and not just findings.

We also demand that the GEAC show its accountability to the public by sharing what improvements have been made in its biosafety protocols, in its monitoring systems and in its accountability systems, before giving any more permissions for trials, given your proven inability to ensure biosafety in this country. Here, we would like to remind you that it was during such field trials that illegal Bt Cotton and rapid contamination of the Cotton chain began in this country and GEAC could only wring its hands in helplessness. The dangerous and unscientific manner in which field trials take place in this country tell us that we are only one step away from a huge bio-disaster wreaked on Indian agriculture.

Debjeet Sarangi
Living Farms
Living Farms
PP-27.PANDAV NAGAR( a project of DRCSC, Kolkata ) PO-Baragada Brit Colony Bhubaneswar -751018 Orissa


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