Thursday 14 February 2013

NSFD Event Update - Bihar

Please check the pics below from the events organized in Bihar on National Safe Food Day:

Farmers Meeting at Minapur, Muzaffarpur

Students from schools formed a Human Chain at Nala Road, Patna

NSFD Event Update - Vadodara, Gujarat

 Vadodara, Gujarat

 A "Khao Safe, Jiyo Safe" Rally was organized in Vadodara by Jatan Trust from Dairy Den Circle to Narhari Hospital & Back To Dairy Den Circle on the occassion of National Safe Food Day.

The Mayor of Vadodara was gifted with a basket of organic vegetables and she gifted another basket to a young organic consumer of Vadodara. She appreciated the movement. About 300 people rallied for 2 hours in the heart of the city in the evening hours. The Local FM Radio Mirchi also aired interview of Shri Kapil Shah from Jatan Trust.

Please check the pics below:

Wednesday 13 February 2013

NSFD Event Update - Mumbai


On the 7th of February a public talk was organized by the Council for Fair Business Practices and supported by V-Can. Mr. Devinder Sharma, a distinguished food and trade policy analyst and an award-winning Indian journalist addressed the safety issues of GM crops while Ms. Dilnavaz Variava, former CEO WWF-India, vice-president BNHS, and member of apex Govt of India Committees on wildlife and environment, addressed their environmental impacts. Poison on the Platter (short version) was also screened.  The event was well attended with well over 100 people comprising of students, industrialists and even a few farmers. Although this event was not billed as an IFSF event the dates coincided with a number of events organinsed to celebrate ‘National Safe Food Day’. The event was covered in the Free Press Journal and about 50  CDs with Poison on the Platter, an abbreviated 20 page version of GMO Myths and Truths, an AV presentation and the Parliamentary Standing Committees press release was distributed free of cost to those who asked for it.

On the 8th of February three talks were organized under the IFSF banner addressed by Mr Devinder Sharma and Mrs Dilnavaz Variava.

At HR college the topic ‘Food Safety and Security: Are GM crops the answer’ was addressed by Mr Devinder Sharma. Over 100 students attended the seminar at HR college and two other colleges, Jaihind and K J Somaiya sent their representatives.

Mr Sharma spoke at a talk at Sophia College for 50 Mass Media students and at St. Xavier’s College organized by the Sociology Department. At both these talks the impact of GM crops on the environment, food security and consumers was discussed followed by an interactive session with the speakers.

At all the college events Poison on the Platter (short version) was screened along with a picture of Seralini’s rat study and Jatans leaflet was distributed to everyone

Friday 1 February 2013


Let us all join hands to celebrate National Safe Food Day on 9th Feb to mark 3rd anniversary of moratorium put on Bt Brinjal. Let us gather in maximum numbers to celebrate the fact that in India, we have been able to keep away an unknown, and unproven-to-be-safe GMO called Bt Brinjal away from our plates. Let us make sure that we have safe food.

 Q) What is National Safe Food Day?

 On February 9, 2010, the Government of India placed a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal, a genetically modified (GM) food crop. This was done taking into account safety and other concerns around this GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). The moratorium decision followed a nationwide public consultation and debate, which found an overwhelming opposition to this GM food in India. To celebrate and mark the anniversary of the people’s victory on an issue of food safety, February 9th is being observed as NATIONAL SAFE FOOD DAY every year. On this day, we request Governments (Central & State) to continue to keep India free of GM food and exhort all Indians to remember that our food safety, food security and food sovereignty are in our hands!

 Q) What are Genetically-Modified (GM) crops?

 Genetically Modified (GM) crops are developed by artificially introducing a gene from one species into an unrelated species (For e.g. a bacterium gene called “Bacillus thuringiensis” (Bt) is introduced  into Brinjal resulting in Bt Brinjal). As of now there are only two GM traits that have been commercialized. These are produced by transfer of a pesticide producing or herbicide tolerating gene into cells of seeds so that the plant either generates toxins to kill the pest or can survive large doses of chemical (herbicide) sprays. This technology is unnatural, hazardous to our health and environmentally unpredictable and dangerous.

Q) What is the current status with the GM crop debate in India?

 After the moratorium on Bt brinjal, independent reports revealed more problems with Bt brinjal. Many state governments have said No to open air field trials of GM crops. A report from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture( in August 2012), unequivocally stated that there is “no compelling need for adopting” such technologies and asked the  Government of India  to come up with a fresh road map to address food security – without jeopardizing biodiversity and human and animal health. A report from an expert committee of the Supreme Court has in Oct 2012 stated that there should be a moratorium on field trials of Bt and Ht crops and crops where India is the centre of origin.  Despite the moratorium and these reports and the concern of the state governments , the Union Government still believes that GM crops is the way ahead for the country, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, which is assiduously promoting GM crops.

 Q) If GM crops are harmful for us, then why is our Govt. planning to allow them in India?

 Our Govt. is keen on promoting GM technology in agriculture influenced by the powerful multi-national seed and biotech companies who make exorbitant profits out of selling proprietary seeds to farmers. This would result in putting our biodiversity and our farmers’ livelihoods into jeopardy. Bt cotton, the only GM crop allowed in India a decade ago, has shown that choices for farmers as well as consumers are denied in this onslaught. Now the Govt., instead of strengthening our regulatory regime around biosafety, is proposing a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in the Parliament, to create a single-window clearing-house for Genetically Modified (GM) crops in the country, without paying heed to the popular resistance against this.

 Q) Isn’t it enough that farmers can choose whether they want to grow GM crops or not and consumers can choose whether they want to eat GM food or not?

Choice of crops and choice of food is not a simple matter where GM crops and non-GM crops can exist along side. GM crops can contaminate non-GM crops (causing loss of choice) and in addition are backed with enormous corporate power, which removes the non-GM options from the market.  This has happened, within a few years, in all countries where GM crops are cultivated (including cotton in India). As regards food choices, India has recently introduced a labeling law without any teeth to properly regulate GM foods. Moreover, in India   most produce is sold in open markets and produce is not tracked right from seed to plate, so it is not possible to ensure GM-Free food. GM soybean oil and Bt cotton seed oil are already part of our food, without labeling, and could be causing serious health problems, in the long run. One of the ways of avoiding GM foods is to opt for Organic foods. However,  the foolproof way to steer clear of GM foods is to not allow them in any manner. 

 Q) Is the Food Safety Law of India adequate to deal with the issue of safety of GM foods?

 A Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is currently functioning under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. But, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has issued a gazette notification that labeling has been made mandatory (from January 1, 2013), but only for packaged foods using GM products as ingredients. So currently food labeling does not cover GMOs in general or GM foods when they are being manufactured.

Q) Does keeping GMOs out of India mean our food is safe?

While GMOs are an immediate threat to our food sovereignty and safety, our agriculture establishment  has been promoting chemical-intensive agriculture with heavy use of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which pose a serious hazard to our health and environment.

Q) What can we do?

 It is important that we as citizens come forward to ensure that our food is safe. As the saying goes, “we are what we eat” after all! We should ask our Govt. to promote more sustainable and eco-friendly ways of farming, which will ensure a better future for all of us and a better environment for the coming generations. We should also take responsibility for ensuring safe food for us, our loved ones and for the larger society. Eat natural and organic food; grow at least part of our food in kitchen gardens and promote community safe food initiatives; use open pollinated seeds and save seeds, learn more about our food and spread the word about safe food.

Q) How can I participate in celebrating National Safe Food Day?

Several events are being organized across different cities of India, as a voluntary initiative by various groups. You can check the details of the upcoming events at to take part in them. Additionally, you can do the following activities to participate in the event:

  •     Organize documentary screenings on issue of GMOs
  •     Invite experts to talk about Safe Food
  •     Arrange for Poster Exhibition on GM Crops
  •     Organize walks, cycle rallies or get-togethers to create awareness about Safe Food and effects of GM Food
  •     Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter and other social media about the event and also about Safe Food and issues surrounding GM Food
 If you are planning any event then also drop a mail to Nishank (Email: ; Mob: 9015867930) or Renu (Email: ; Mob: 9868383057), so that we can add your event details on the event blog.

For More Resources: Join National Safe Food Day Event 2013 on Facebook:  & 

Check –  & To keep up to date on the latest developments related to GM Crops in India, please join 

“GM Watch India” Facebook Page:  & 

“GM Watch India” E-group:!forum/gmwatch-india

Also visit “India For Safe Food” ( and I AM NO LAB RAT ( )

Monday 28 January 2013

Join Hands With Us to Celebrate National Safe Food Day 2013

This year 9th February would be celebrated as NATIONAL SAFE FOOD DAY to commemorate the 3rd Anniversary of the Moratorium declared on Bt Brinjal by Government of India on 9th Feb 2010 

You may all remember those wonderful days of struggle when more than 8000 people - scientists, farmers, activists, environmentalists, teachers, children, fathers, mothers, elderly citizens, film makers, literary personalities, politicians and even State Governments joined to participate and voice our concerns on GM crops during the large public consultations that Jairam Ramesh, then MoEF opened up on Bt Brinjal. 

The decision that came on February 9th, 2010, was OUR voice - the citizens of India had spoken and Bt brinjal was stopped.

It meant that as a nation we were saved from the big Food Corporates and the Poison industry, that could have unleashed the next generation of living poisons. 

On this day, February 9th, lets Celebrate this success. Lets redeem our pledge to keep India, our Farms, our Food and our Science Institutions GM Free and Food Safe.

You can join the event page of National Safe Food Day on Facebook at:

Wednesday 23 January 2013

10 Reasons Why We Don't Need GM Foods 

Download A-4 Pamphlet for this article

Genetically modified (GM) foods are often promoted as a way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.

1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis

A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices.[1] Biofuels are crops grown for fuel rather than food. GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels — while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!
“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” — Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent, The Independent (UK)[2]
“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bullshit.” – Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology, University of Glamorgan, Wales[3]

2. GM crops do not increase yield potential

Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialised crops.[4] In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.[5]
A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields. The author, former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”[6]
“Let’s be clear. As of this year [2008], there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.” – Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman[7]

3. GM crops increase pesticide use

US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.[8]
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” – Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition[9]

4. There are better ways to feed the world

A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.[10]

5. Other farm technologies are more successful

Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world.[11] Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM.[12] [13]
“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].” – Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre[14]

6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat

Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing. However, animal feeding tests have shown that GM foods have toxic effects, including abnormal changes in organs, immune system disturbances, accelerated ageing, and changes in gene expression.[15] Very few studies have been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food. One such study found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.[16]
It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.[17]
“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.” — Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist

7. People don't want GM foods – so they're hidden in animal feed

As a spokesperson for Asgrow, a subsidiary of Monsanto, said, "If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."[18] The GM industry has got around the problem of consumer rejection of GM foods by hiding them in animal feed. Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labelled. Some studies show that contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed ARE different from those raised on non-GM feed.[19]  Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products[20] and affect the animals’ health.[21] So eating these “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.

8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers

A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the US that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences.”[22]

9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist

GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks.[23] In Canada, the organic oilseed rape industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM rape.[24] In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”.[25]
The time has come to choose between a GM-based, or a non-GM-based, world food supply.
“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.” – Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development[26]

10. We can’t trust GM companies

The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception.[27] GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes — even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.[28]
“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” – Tom Wiley, North Dakota farmer[29]


1. Donald Mitchell, 2008. A Note on Rising Food Prices. World Bank.
2. Daniel Howden, 2008. Hope for Africa lies in political reforms. The Independent, 8 September.
3. Rob Lyons, 2008. GM: it’s safe, but it’s not a saviour. Spiked Online, 7 July.
4. Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and William D. McBride, 2002. The adoption of bioengineered crops. US Department of Agriculture Report, May.
5. R.W. Elmore et al., 2001.  Glyphosate-resistant soyabean cultivar yields compared with sister lines. Agronomy Journal 93, 2001: 408–412.
6. Doug Gurian-Sherman, 2009. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Union of Concerned Scientists.
7. Doug Gurian-Sherman, 2008. Genetic engineering — A crop of hyperbole. The San Diego Union Tribune, 18 June.
8. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., 2009. Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years. The Organic Center, November.
9. Bill Christison, 1998. Family Farmers Warn of Dangers of Genetically Engineered Crops. In Motion magazine, 29 July.
10. N. Beintema et al., 2008. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD).
11. N. Beintema et al., 2008. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD).
12. B.C.Y. Collard and D.J. Mackill, 2008. Marker-assisted selection: an approach for precision plant breeding in the twenty-first century. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 363: 557–572.
13. J.R. Witcombe et al., 2008. Breeding for abiotic stresses for sustainable agriculture. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 363: 703–716.
14. John Snape, 2002. Gene mapping the friendly face of GM technology. Farmers Weekly, 1 March: 54.
15. – Memorandum to Linda Kahl on the Flavr Savr tomato (Pathology Review PR–152; FDA Number FMF–000526): Pathology Branch's evaluation of rats with stomach lesions from three four-week oral (gavage) toxicity studies (IRDC Study Nos. 677–002, 677–004, and 677–005) and an Expert Panel's report. F.A. Hines. US Department of Health & Human Services, 1993.
– Witness Brief – Flavr Savr tomato study in Final Report (IIT Research Institute, Chicago, IL 60616 USA) cited by Dr Arpad Pusztai before the New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification: New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, 2000.
– V.E. Prescott, P.M. Campbell, A. Moore, et al. 2005. Transgenic expression of bean alpha-amylase inhibitor in peas results in altered structure and immunogenicity. J Agric Food Chem 53: 9023–9030.
– M. Malatesta, M. Biggiogera, E. Manuali, M.B.L. Rocchi, B. Baldelli, G. Gazzanelli, 2003. Fine structural analyses of pancreatic acinar cell nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. European Journal of Histochemistry 47: 385–388.
– M. Malatesta et al., 2002. Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Cell Struct Funct 27: 173-180
– L. Vecchio et al., 2004. Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Eur J Histochem 48: 448-454
– M. Malatesta et al., 2008. A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean: effects on liver ageing. Histochem Cell Biol 130: 967-977
– S.W. Ewen and A. Pusztai, 1999. Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. The Lancet 354: 1353–1354
– Séralini, G.-E. et al., 2007. New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 52: 596–602.
– R. Tudisco R, P. Lombardi, F. Bovera et al., 2006. Genetically modified soya bean in rabbit feeding: Detection of DNA fragments and evaluation of metabolic effects by enzymatic analysis. Animal Science 82:193–199.
– F.B. Brasil, L.L. Soares, T.S. Faria et al., 2009. The impact of dietary organic and transgenic soy on the reproductive system of female adult rat. Anat Rec (Hoboken) 292: 587–594.
– A. Pusztai, S. Bardocz, 2006. GMO in animal nutrition: Potential benefits and risks. In: R. Mosenthin, J. Zentek, T. Zebrowska, eds. 2006. Biology of Nutrition in Growing Animals 4: 513–540.
–  G.E. Séralini, D. Cellier, J. Spiroux de Vendomois, 2007. New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 52: 596–602.
–  A. Kilic, M.T. Akay, 2008. A three generation study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: Biochemical and histopathological investigation. Food Chem Toxicol 46: 1164–1170.
– J.S. de Vendomois, F. Roullier, D. Cellier, G.E. Séralini, 2009. A comparison of the effects of three GM corn varieties on mammalian health. Int J Biol Sci 5:706–726.
– A. Finamore, M. Roselli, S. Britti S et al., 2008. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. J Agric Food Chem 56: 11533–11539.
–  A. Velimirov, C. Binter, J. Zentek, 2008. Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Familie und Jugend Report, Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV Band 3/2008.
– M. Trabalza-Marinucci, G. Brandi, C. Rondini, et al., 2008. A three-year longitudinal study on the effects of a diet containing genetically modified Bt176 maize on the health status and performance of sheep. Livestock Science 113: 178–190.

16. T. Netherwood et al., 2004. Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract.  Nature Biotechnology 22: 204–209.
17. Paula Hartman Cohen, 2006. Trans Fats: The story behind the label. Harvard Public Health Review.
18. Anil Netto,2000.  Consumer groups for mandatory labelling of GM food. IPS News, 13 March.
19. Jack A. Heinemann, PhD, 2009. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July.
20. – R. Sharma et al., 2006. Detection of transgenic and endogenous plant DNA in digesta and tissues of sheep and pigs fed Roundup Ready canola meal. J Agric Food Chem 54: 1699–1709.
– R. Mazza et al., 2005. Assessing the transfer of genetically modified DNA from feed to animal tissues. Transgenic Res 14: 775–784.
– A. Agodi et al., 2006. Detection of genetically modified DNA sequences in milk from the Italian market. Int J Hyg Environ Health 209: 81–88.
– T. Ran, L. Mei, W. Lei, L. Aihua, H. Ru, S. Jie, 2009. Detection of transgenic DNA in tilapias (Oreochromis niloticus, GIFT strain) fed genetically modified soybeans (Roundup Ready). Aquaculture Research 40: 1350–1357.

21. –  R. Tudisco, V. Mastellone, M.I. Cutrignelli, et al., 2010. Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings. Animal 4: 1662–1671.
– Jack A. Heinemann, PhD, 2009. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July.

22. Charles Benbrook, 2009. The magnitude and impacts of the biotech and organic seed price premium. The Organic Center, December.
23. E. Neal Blue, 2007. Risky business: Economic and regulatory impacts from the unintended release of genetically engineered rice varieties into the rice merchandising system of the US. Report for Greenpeace.
24. Soil Association, 2002. Seeds of doubt: North American farmers’ experience of GM crops.
25. R. Binimelis, 2008. Coexistence of plants and coexistence of farmers: Is an individual choice possible? Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 21: 437–457.
26. Roger Levett, 2008. Choice: Less can be more. Food Ethics magazine 3: 11.
27. See, for example, Marie-Monique Robin’s documentary film, Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), ARTE, 2008; and the website of the NGO, Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers,
28. – BBC News Online 2000. GM firm sues Canadian farmer, 6 June.
 – Center for Food Safety, 2007. Monsanto vs. US Farmers: November 2007 Update. Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA, November.

29. Stephen Leahy, 2004. Monsanto ”seed police” scrutinize farmers. InterPress Service, 15 January.

Reasons for the Bt Brinjal moratorium

Barely three days after the conclusion of the last of six public hearings, Minister of Environment Jairam Ramesh slapped a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal. Anupama Rao summarises key points from the Minister's note. 

12 February 2010 - Anxious eyes must have scanned through 16 pages of rationale to arrive at the italicized bold font quoting Minister for Environment Jairam Ramesh imposing 'a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till such time studies establish the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in Brinjal in our country to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals'.

Before the moratorium was imposed on 9th February, at the final hearing in Bangalore on 6th Feburary, the 'No's outnumbered the 'Aye's in favour of release of Bt Brinjal. Critical were voices of the agricultural universities, public sector organizations, Kerala State Biodiversity Board and the Organic Farming Mission of Karnataka. There were also concerns over biopiracy, protection (or lack of it) under the Biodiversity Act, Food Safety Act and Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.
The Minister laid bare ‘all the factors for his decision’ in his lucid report, and as he predicted the nation is divided into the ‘happy’ and the ‘unhappy’.
Reasons cited by Minister Jairam Ramesh for imposing the moratorium
    • There is no over-riding food security, production shortage or farmer distress arguments favouring release of Bt Brinjal, other than the need to reduce pesticide use.
    • The apprehensions expressed on and caution called for by Chief Ministers / Agriculture Ministers of 9 states for release of Bt Brinjal, are extremely important as agriculture is a state subject.
    • Non Pesticide Management or NPM, a part of the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (one of the missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change) scores over Bt technology as it eliminates chemical pesticide use completely whereas Bt technology only reduces the pesticide spray, albeit substantially. The Minister has in the past also suggested to the Union Agriculture Minister on the need to evaluate large scale replicability of the NPM experiment conducted in Andhra Pradesh.
    • The threat of contamination and natural toxins resurfacing is worrisome. In this context, the fact that the safety tests have been carried out by the Bt Brinjal developers themselves and not in any independent laboratory raises legitimate doubts on the reliability of the tests.
    • There is a lack of large-scale publicly funded biotechnology effort in agriculture to compete with and countervail Monsanto’s expertise and capabilities so that it does not jeopardise national sovereignty. Further fingers have been pointed at the manner of funding of the Bt related research in government owned Tamilnadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore (TNAU) and University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad as well as TNAU’s right to transfer products and germplasm to Monsanto.
    • India is undoubtedly the country of origin for Brinjal. The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources of the ICAR has pointed out the likelihood of diversity loss due to gene flow (also relevant is the experience of Bt-cotton seeds taking over non-Bt seeds).
    • The Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur has, in the light of its review of Bt Cotton in India, highlighted the need for development of data regarding pest resistance and strategies for pro-active Insect Resistance Management as well as for resistance monitoring after release, all to be carried out independently.
    • Several tests suggested by Dr. P.M. Bhargava and Expert Committee I members were discarded by Expert Committee II (EC II) while evaluating Bt Brinjal. The EC-II report and the biosafety dossier have been criticised from a statistical point of view as well. A National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority which is professional and science-based, independent of the government, equipped to conduct all essential tests with integrity and impartiality is on the anvil but yet to come into being. In the absence of such a body, arguments that have been made on the limitations of the GEAC cannot be ignored.
    • Many countries, particularly in Europe, have banned GM foods. China’s policy is to be extremely cautious about introduction of GM in food crops, even when it has a very strong publicly-funded programme in GM technology unlike India.
    • The current standards by which the GEAC has formulated the decision to approve Bt Brinjal do not match global regulatory norms to which India is a party, specifically, the provisions in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, pertaining to public consultations prior to the release of GM food crops and those governing risk assessment, Article 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) which echoes the precautionary principle and Section 45 of Codex Alimentarius containing "Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants".
    • Scientists in the USA, France, Australia, UK and New Zealand have written to the Minister raising very serious doubts on the way tests have been conducted in India for Bt Brinjal. 17 noted scientists from different countries have addressed a joint letter to the Prime Minister on February 8th, 2010 giving scientific reasons against the release of Bt Brinjal.
    • The Indian Council of Medical Research and the Drug Controller to the Government of India have recommended that chronic toxicity and other associated tests be carried out independently drawing a parallel with independent testing for drugs on human beings instead of relying on developer companies’ data. Doctors for Food and Safety, a network of doctors across the country have warned of the health hazards related to GM foods in general, Bt Brinjal in particular and the possibility of loss of medicinal properties of Brinjal used in Ayurveda, Siddha, Homeopathy and Unani.
    • Dr. Swaminathan, whose research foundation is working on GM technology, has highlighted concern over chronic toxicity and called for credible independent testing of the chronic effects of consumption of Bt Brinjal. Additionally he sees the need for an independent regulatory system and for conservation and collection of India's existing genetic variability in Brinjal.
    • The decision on Bt Brinjal also has to take note of the Public Interest Litigation filed with the Supreme Court which is pending response from the Union of India on the steps taken to protect traditional crops. It is also relevant that the Supreme Court has invoked the precautionary principle as a guiding instrument in environmental decisions.

Minister Ramesh also countered the suggestion for a limited release for the reason that in a retail market such as India’s it would be extremely difficult and impractical to mandate labeling and monitor limited usage. Other pro-Bt Brinjal arguments that he has deliberated upon also suggest setting up a regulatory authority for governing GM crop cultivation upon release.
Ramesh also cited the development of Bikaneri Nerma (whose seeds can be saved by farmers) by the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur, as an example for the need to strengthen good public research. He is also equally vocal in the report about encouraging science based companies launched by Indian entrepreneurs.
Vision for the moratorium period
Reiterating his support for tapping the tools of modern biotechnology, the Minister hopes it would aid crop improvement and strengthen national food and nutrition security. He has indicated his interest in harnessing ‘the full potential of GM technology in agriculture’ and for prioritising introduction of the public sector products. He has however emphasized that there must be no rush with establishing public trust in the very first genetically modified vegetable anywhere in the world.
In his report, Ramesh sets out the need for a fully operational independent regulatory body, a need to evaluate transgenic seeds in the context of the Seeds Bill (awaiting parliament’s approval), to strategise public and farmer control over the seed industry, a comprehensive discussion in the National Development Council and the need for a debate in Parliament on the subject.

The to-dos for the GEAC include following up on further tests with appropriate protocols (to be decided in consultation with certain named scientists) and in appropriate laboratories. The Minister further expects the GEAC to engage and interact with scientists, institutions and civil society groups who have submitted written representations.
Meanwhile the GEAC will be renamed as Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. The change in emphasis from the ‘approvals’ to ‘appraisal’ is there for all to see.

If the public consultations were themselves a novel experience for the layperson, Jairam Ramesh's report that publicly acknowledges the government's duties 'as a measure of our sensitivity to public opinion' elicits appreciation. It was right up there with the best of people-centric acts in our country. Even as we expect effective and even-handed regulation of GM, it will take an informed public to ensure there is no compromise in law, policy or practice.