Genetically Modified crops – testing and plans in West Bengal,

News Contents:

Cracks in agri commission over GM crop field trial ban – April 15, 2008
Monsanto enter Bengal – next Vidarbha? – report from August 3, 2007
Genetically Modified (GM) Crop Testing in West Bengal – report from July 27, 2007
No safety checks for GM seeds – report from August 1, 2007
Vandana Shiva’s paper Seeds of Suicide covers aspects of the policies of liberalization on the seed sector
Znet introduction to GM crops


Cracks in agri commission over GM crop field trial ban – April 15, 2008

Members of the state agricultural commission today disagreed with their own recommendation seeking a ban on open field trials of genetically modified crops made in interim report of the commission. The division in their ranks was apparent during a discussion with the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee over the issue.

The commission had recommended in its interim report a complete ban on all kinds of open field trials and commercial cultivation of all kinds of GM crop varieties in the state till all issues of environment and bio-safety are resolved.

Although the commission’s resolution had been unanimous, a section of the members today opposed the recommendation of putting a complete ban on open field trials.

“It was pointed out to the chief minister that the resolution was not an unanimous and there is disagreement over banning field trials of GM crops in the state. There is a need for going for experimental field testing while ensuring the field releases go through the necessary precautionary processes,” said a member of the commission.

However, members favouring the ban said no note of dissent had been submitted to the commission during discussion on the issue
“The chief minister assured that the state government would announce its decision on this issue in due course of time,” said another member present in the meeting.

The agriculture minister, Mr Naren De later said that the various departments like horticulture, fisheries, animal resources development, agri-marketing and cooperation would discuss the recommendations and then hold separate meetings with the commission in June to come up with a final report.

Land and land reforms minister, Mr Abdur Razzak Molla told commission members that it should suggest ways to ensure farmers get proper cash value of their produce.


Monsanto BT Cotton cultivation starts in Bengal: Next Vidarbha?

Kolkata, Aug 3, 2007: The cultivation of Monsanto’s BT cotton in Vidarbha, which resulted in disaster last year killing more than 540 farmers, is now making silent entry to Bengal.

The cultivation of Monsanto’s BT cotton in Vidarbha–the main cotton growing belt of Maharashtra resulted in disaster. Literally hundreds of farmers committed suicide due to total failure of the Bt cotton crop and their resulting debts.

Speaking to mediapersons on the sidelines of a seminar on “Agri-biotechnology: Opportunities & Challanges” organised by ASSOCHAM, West Bengal Minister Agriculture Minister Naren Dey said,”We have started BT Cotton field trail.” When asked about BT Cotton cultivation in the state, Agriculture Secretary Atanu Purakayashta said there is no bar on cotton cultivation.

”The Bengal government is increasing cotton cultivation from 500 to 5,000 hecatres by the end of the 11th plan period,” he said.

Member Secretary and Advisor to Department of Biotechnology, under government of India, Dr KK Tripathi said, ”The biotechnological application can bring about a lot of scientific challanges in front of us.”


Genetically Modified Crop Testing in West Bengal – July 27, 2007 report, The Telegraph

The Indian Statistical Institute will study farmers’ psychology to find out why they are “reluctant to accept technological changes in cultivation”, state agriculture minister Naren De told the Assembly today.

“Our field officials received a lukewarm response from farmers when they were asked to experiment with new kinds of seeds, crop diversification and other bio-technological innovations. The government wants to understand the psychological as well as other factors behind their hesitation so that we can plan remedial measures with the help of farmers’ organisations,” the minister said.

De said the study was necessary as the government planned to modernise farming in the state to increase production and ensure food security.

“We also want to promote crop diversity for intensive and maximum use of all kinds of land available for cultivation. This will enable the farmers to cater to the growing market for agriculture products.’’

The minister also announced that the government would reward the “best performance in farming using modern technologies” .

De’s views seemed closer to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’ s rather than those of his party, the Forward Bloc, which is sceptical about the government’s acquisition of farmland for industry and the move to modernise agriculture marketing.

Underlining the need to acquire land for industry, De tried to allay fears of consequent food insecurity, saying the government was keen on converting fallow and waste plots into cultivable land. Surveys have identified 32,000 acres of uncultivable land, he added.

The minister told the House that production of foodgrain was more than the total annual demand in the state. Farmers had produced 145.11 lakh tonnes in 2005-2006 while the demand was around 134 lakh tonnes.

Production is expected to go up to 159 lakh tonnes in the current fiscal and is projected to reach the target of 195 lakh tonnes at the end of the Eleventh Plan period, when the estimated foodgrain requirement would be around 180 lakh tonnes.

De brushed off apprehensions — voiced by some members of the state agriculture commission — that field experiments in growing genetically modified crops, including trans-generic BT rice, might be hazardous for humans.

“The furore is largely misplaced. The so-called hybrid varieties of rice and vegetables we consume every day are genetically modified (GM),” he said.

“We will set up committees to monitor experiments in GM crops so that the private sector seed companies follow the central stipulations,” the minister added.


No safety checks for GM seeds – report from The Statesman, August 1, 2007

By Anindita Chowdhury

The field trials for genetically modified seeds were permitted in the state even though West Bengal is yet to put in place its bio-safety regulatory system.

According to rules framed by union ministry of environment and forest for the manufacture, import, use, research and release of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in 1989 under Environment (protection) Act six competent authorities were required to be set up for advisory, regulatory and monitoring purposes. The monitoring aspect was left at the state level with two authorities, State Bio safety Coordination Committee (SBCC) and district level committees (DLC). However, in case of West Bengal, the SBCC was set up just a few months back and has till date, held only one meeting.

The DLCs are yet to be formed. “The committee was to be set up long time back but we have finally set it up three months back with the chief secretary as the chairman and the secretaries of other departments and experts as members. We have held one meeting so far and but we still need to form the district-level committees,” said an official of the state environment department.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) at the national level authorises large scale production and release of GMO and products and carries out supervision through SBCC and DLC. While SBCC investigates and takes punitive actions in case of violation of DLC, more importantly, it is the smallest authoritative unit to monitor safety regulations in installations.

Incidentally, in a letter to Prof. TK Bose, member, state agricultural commission, Dr KK Tripathi, advisor to the department of biotechnology under Union Science and technology ministry, had contended: “The regulatory system put in place by the government as on date is responsible for overviewing the safety of environment, human, and animal health and has been functioning effectively in regulating the DNA research and GM product commercialisation in the country.”

Prof. Bose argues that the permission to Mahyco for conducting field trials for Bt rice and Bt Okra on 11 July, 2006 at North 24-Parganas was illegal since the state government was yet to set up the SBCC and DLC for monitoring purpose.

Although the chief secretary and agriculture commissioner were informed, the absence of experts have raised apprehension of the violation of biosafety protocols for the use of GM crops, particularly after a team from Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidaya reported that the protocols were not adhered to.


Seeds of Suicide

The report Seeds of Suicide by Vandana Shiva covers aspects of the policies of “liberalisation” on the seed sector. It shows that the consequence of giving seed companies a free hand through privatisation and deregulation has been increasing the cost of seeds and agrichemicals for farmers, increasing farm debt and increasing crop failure. Farmer suicides are the extreme results of these policies of market freedom. Corporate power works through existing feudal structures to capitalize seed markets, and has rendered agriculture socially, economically, and ecologically unsustainable.

Into this context of non-sustainability is being added the new threat from genetically modified crops. Chapter 3 is a report on the first large scale trials of a genetically modified crop – Monsanto’s Bollagard Cotton in India.The final chapter offers alternatives to the corporate control over seed by rejuvenating the public sector under farmer control and community seed banks. The Terai Seed Corporation is taken as a model.

The freedom from patents, from genetic engineering, from toxic chemicals, and from debt is what freedom of seeds brings to farmers.

Click here to read Vandana Shiva’s study [PDF, 589KB]


Znet activist introduction to Genetically Modified crops

The issue around Genetically Modified Food (GM Food, or also known as Genetically Engineered Food — GE Food) has really hit the mainstream media in a number of countries around the world, including most of Europe and many Asian countries, but noticeably not really in the US.

While there is a possibility that GM Food can actually benefit us, a lot of scientists today suggest that this is not the case at this time. The reason for this is because GM food is being rushed through without adequate time to test the technology and assure people that it is safe. One common point made by supporters is that this is the same as what farmers have been doing for thousands of years with crops — mixing and matching, getting the best our of each species etc etc… However, often missed out in this is that farmers have traditionally used similar species, not completely separate ones like genes from fish being added to certain types of tomatoes…

Corporations such as Monsanto are aggressively trying to promote it (60% of all processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, and most people do not know about this…) but there has been a huge backlash from scientists as well as activists. Long term safety of the technology is uncertain and the way the public is being shut out of the debate is a huge cause for concern — if this was to be “beneficial for humankind”, then surely one of the main places to discuss this is in public. But, prevention of labelling in the name of “free” trade and patenting of hundreds or even thousands year old indigenous knowledge (what some call biopiracy) suggests other interests are at play while raising also issues to do with Intellectual property rights…

The “solution to world hunger” is currently a very expensive technology. This solution has been criticsed due to technology like Terminator Seeds (which prevent germination of seeds so that the farmer is always forced to buy new seeds each year, rather than save them efficiently) and the strong argument that world hunger is actually a political problem, where “many people in the world are suffering from malnutrition and hunger because they cannot afford to buy food, not because it is unavailable.”

Some companies promoting GM Food have come under harsh criticism. Perhaps the most well known is Monsanto. They have been accused of various unfair corporate practices from censorship to “close relationships” with the Food and Drug Administration in the US, developing the Terminator technology with just profit in mind and so on.

The amount of public protest has perhaps taken most people by surprise. In Europe especially, wherever test fields growing genetically modified crops exist, activists have been destroying them, sometimes dumping them in front of their government offices and so on. In fact because of the public complaints, the media has caught on and a number of European nations have been trying to introduce moratoriums (although, not always successfully as some nations have complained that this is against the ideals of free trade) etc… Major supermarkets in UK and Spain for example have said that they will ban GM ingredients in their own branded food.