ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

28 March 2002


1. Bt cotton decision makes no scientific sense
2. Syngenta up 3% on GM seeds hopes
3. India's GM Decision Shows Neglect of People's Movements
4. Gaining ground: FT on implications of India's decison


1. Bt cotton decision makes no scientific sense
Debate on GM crops favoured
By Our Special Correspondent
The Hindu (India's National Newspaper)
Thursday, Mar 28, 2002

HYDERABAD, MARCH 27 . Pushpa M. Bhargava, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, has suggested a Government-sponsored public debate before granting final approval for introducing genetically modified cotton in the country.

In this debate, all the data presented to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Department of Bio-Technology by Monsanto-Mahyco should be presented and reviewed, he said.

In a statement, Dr. Bhargava said that permitting the marketing of the Bt seeds by Mansanto-Mahyco for three years did not make any scientific sense.

A living organism, once released on a large scale, cannot be recalled.

If the GEAC felt that there was prima facie case for permitting the release of Bt cotton, it should have first made public the entire trial data and allowed the citizens concerned to assess the data.

Further, the GEAC had not taken into account the fact that seed and agriculture chemicals business should be the national business.

"If we had wished to have Bt cotton in this country, why did we have to import technology from Monsanto," he asked. "We have a Department of Bio-Technology and institutions like the Indian Agricultural Research Institute with necessary expertise to produce a Bt cotton."


2. Dow Jones: Stock Market - Top Story
Syngenta up 3% on GM seeds hopes

11:38 28 Mar

MUMBAI, March 28 - Syngenta is up 3% at Rs 89 on hopes that the government may approve use of genetically modified Bt Maize, wheat and sugarcane seeds, after it approved use of genetically modified Bt cotton Tuesday.

However, Syngenta MD Prakash Apte tells CNBC it could be couple of years before company could come out with genetically modified seeds. So dealers think stock could retreat later today without prospect of company benefiting in near term.


3. India's GM Decision Shows Neglect of People's Movements - Critics

by Ranjit Devraj
Inter Press Service - Asia Times, 28 March 2002

NEW DELHI - When India's right-wing government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, granted approval for the commercial farming of genetically modified (GM) cotton Tuesday, it was yet another sign of its readiness to ignore civil society at home and please transnational corporations and the West, critics say.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment cleared cultivation of GM cotton, patented by the U.S. seed giant Monsanto, in spite of demands by top international campaigners for better and more scientific testing.

Vandana Shiva, who heads the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Environment, said the test conducted so far were ''not adequate to establish the benefits nor fully assess the risks''.

Genetically modified crops have been banned in several countries because the technology involves splicing genes from different species for desirable characteristics with as yet unknown long-term consequences to the environment and to human health.

Said Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, ''The GEAC approval can only be described as the biggest ever scientific fraud in this country. . . .all scientific norms have been thrown to the winds''.

Suman Sahai, who leads Gene Campaign, pointed out that Monsanto's GM cotton was approved on the basis of valid field testing data for just one year and even that is yet to be made available to the public for scrutiny. But the cavalier manner with which approval for GM cotton came through was one of several decisions that critics say have gone against the rights and interests of ordinary people.

In October 2000, the Supreme Court of India ignored years of struggle by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) or Save the Narmada Movement against the displacement of 300,000 people to allow further heightening of the five billion U.S. dollar Sardar Sarovar Dam across the Narmada River in western India.

According NBA leader Medha Patkar, the court preferred to side with the interests of urban elites that see in the project water for hydropower, irrigation and municipal and industrial water supply, while ignoring the plight of displaced tribals and peasants.

Ignored also were claims made by the NBA that the area around the Narmada valley had a history of hydrological and seismic problems and that cheaper and more sustainable ways of generating electricity and gaining access to water needed to be explored.

The Booker prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy, who criticized the court's judgment and championed the cause of the displaced in an essay called 'The Greater Common Good' was hauled up by the court and sent to jail for one day earlier this month on contempt-of-court charges.

A newly released report 'Power Finance: Financial Institutions in India's Hydropower Sector' , by researcher Peter Bosshard, tells the story of how uneconomic and destructive projects are funded in India while keeping the public and those directly affected in the dark.

The report, published by the International Rivers Network, the German rights group Urgewald and the South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP), also tells the murky story of the U.S. energy giant Enron's stalled 2,000-megawatt project at Dabhol in western Maharashtra state. Dabhol once stood for the promises of economic liberalization and private foreign investment but ended up symbolizing the opportunities that privatization offers for corruption and private enrichment, notes Bosshard.

Right from the start the project was opposed by affected communities, by the Indian power sector experts and by a growing popular movement, mainly because of lack of transparency.

Enron resorted to violence against protestors and directly paid the police to suppress popular resistance. Amnesty International in 1997 found evidence of harassment, arbitrary arrest, preventive detention and ill-treatment by the company, Bosshard said in his report.

The government, last year, sold off majority shares in the profitable public sector Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO) to a private firm although constitutional provisions prohibit the alienation from government control of assets standing on tribal land -- in this case a plant in the tribal state of central Chattisgarh.

In February, environmental groups were caught by surprise by a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs welcoming U.S. President George W Bush's Valentine's Day policy statement rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, under which the United States would have had to reduce greenhouse gases by seven percent from 1990 levels.

The statement came in spite of the fact that India is among nations that are likely to be worst hit by climate change, unless countries like the U.S. reign in their greenhouse gas emissions.

It also negated the Indian Ministry of Environment's long-standing stance at climate change negotiations that industrialized countries should be the first to cut greenhouse gas emissions, since they account for the bulk of emissions that cause global warming.

Bush had said that ''developing countries such as China and India already account for a majority of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and it would be irresponsible to absolve them from shouldering some of the shared obligations''.

According to Sunita Narain, chief of the prestigious Centre for Science and Environment, the government apparently ''buckled under pressure to
support the isolated U.S. government on a plan that everybody else was junking''.


4. Gaining ground: India's acceptance of genetically modified cotton marks a breakthrough for the biotechnology industry in the developing world, says John Mason

Financial Times, March 26 2002

Genetically modified crops are poised to make a breakthrough in two of the biggest agricultural economies. India on Tuesday approved the planting of genetically modified cotton and Brazil could well reverse its opposition to gene technology within weeks. The two moves together would herald a substantial shift in the future of world farming.

In backing the use of BT cotton, a genetically modified strain resistant to the devastating boll-worm, India is encouraging farmers to use biotechnology to raise their competitiveness towards the levels of China and the US, fundamentally changing the dynamics of the world cotton trade.

In Brazil, two federal appeal court judges are expected any day to announce whether they are joining a colleague in removing an injunction that prevents the pro-biotech government allowing the cultivation of GM soyabeans.

For Monsanto, the US company supplying the seeds in both cases - in India through a joint venture with Mahyco, a local seed company - huge new markets are opening up. For environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace, such decisions can only be a setback.

India and Brazil have become the two causes cele`bres in the international adoption of biotech. Of the big developing world economies, they have hung back from the new technology, while China, Argentina and South Africa have embraced it with enthusiasm.

Other developing countries, such as the Philippines and Thailand, could follow suit to approve further commercialisation of genetically modified products and boost their own biotech research programmes.

Victory for the biotech industry in Brazil and India would still leave many issues unresolved. The circumstances in the two countries are very different, as are the changes they could prompt. Despite the efforts of campaign groups, there seems to be little consumer opposition to wearing fabrics made from genetically modified cotton. Food containing genetically modified products is another matter.

European consumer concerns centre primarily on health worries, with anxieties over the environment in second place. In contrast, most scientists are more concerned about the environmental impact of GM crops, particularly on biological diversity.

With the likelihood of little protest from consumers, even environmentalists agree take-up of genetically modified cotton by Indian farmers will be substantial. "Farmers everywhere are in a bad situation over low prices," says Doreen Stabinsky of Greenpeace. "Whenever you see these crops come to market you see significant take-up because farmers see it as their salvation."

For companies such as Monsanto, that means potentially huge commercial rewards. India is the world's third largest cotton grower, producing 5.2m tonnes a year compared with 14.6m in China and 11m in the US. Yet productivity is low, with almost twice as much land area under cultivation as either of its rivals. "Monsanto should get its money back within three or four years," says Channapatha Prakesh, director of the centre for plant biotechnology research at Tuskegee University, Alabama, US.

But there is still some debate over the extent to which the farmers themselves will benefit. For example, BT cotton contains a gene, transferred from bacteria, that makes the plants toxic to insects. Yet some argue that pests will develop resistance to the toxin. If so, the argument goes, the BT plants will eventually become useless, leaving farmers back where they started.

This problem could be compounded by India's low literacy rate and sheer grinding poverty, which some fear could produce widespread non-compliance with crop management regimes demanded by seed companies. According to Nuria Urqua, a plant scientist with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, which remains cautious about the benefits of biotechnology, such non-compliance could bring forward the day when the product becomes redundant.

The long-term economics for producers are uncertain. Costs of biotech crops could rise over time, leading farmers to revert to planting older types of seed, says Ali Gurkan, an FAO economist. "What happens in the next one or two years may be entirely different to 10 years down the line," he says.

Prof Prakesh agrees that the resistance problem is real but says it would be less of a threat in India than in the US, where farming is far less mixed and more intensive than in Asia. He says the resistance issue is inherent in all plant development, biotech and conventional, and that the solution lies in the private sector's constant development of new products. "You don't stop using a knife just because it gets blunt," he says.

The decision over Brazilian soya, engineered to be resistant to herbicides, is poised to have the widest effects - for the simple reason that it will doubtless attract the attention of European consumers. In stark contrast to their US counterparts, Europeans are generally hostile to genetically modified foodstuffs. Brazil is the world's second largest soya producer after the US.

Brazil has benefited from selling non-genetically modified soya to Europe. How it would cope with trying to supply both products is unclear. For example, it has yet to build the costly infrastructure to segregate the two types of crop.

Moreover, Brazilian approval of genetically modified soya would severely test the attitude of European consumers and the credibility of the European Union's policy of developing contamination thresholds in non-genetically modified food.

A substantial take-up by Brazilian farmers would lead to a parallel market in commodities, says Mark Mansour, a food lawyer with Keller and Heckmann, the US law firm. "Once you get a price premium for non-GM [genetically modified crops], it will test the tolerance of European consumers. Then we will find out just how deep is the tendency of Europeans to reject GM. We don't know that answer yet."

This could pan out differently across Europe, with France and Italy remaining hostile but the concerns of British and German consumers weakening, Mr Mansour suggests.

For Europe's food regulators, the worst scenario would be for a large European food company to have a non-genetically modified product fail the EU's threshold tests amid a blaze of publicity. The reputation of food producers and regulators would then come under scrutiny.

Most in the biotech industry assume that European hostility will remain strong for some years. For the companies - the Swiss-UK Syngenta and French-German Aventis as well as Monsanto and Dow of the US - the European market is important but not absolutely critical.

One of Monsanto's rivals plans to expand seed sales in Latin America, Asia and Australia but expects to do no business with European farmers for up to 10 years. However, the dislocating effects on world commodity trade of continuing European resistance could be severe, the company acknowledges.

Others see Europe as a critical factor for farmers in the developing world in deciding which crop to plant. Countries such as Thailand and Namibia have already scaled down their use of genetically modified foodstuffs to keep their European markets and will remain wary.

Even ardent supporters of biotech such as Prof Prakesh say that in spite of the huge significance of approvals by Brazil and India, Europe remains the key to genuinely widespread adoption of the technology.

"It is a huge and affluent market that imports food from all over the world. The science began in Europe [with the discovery of DNA] and Europe will dictate the future of agricultural biotechnology."


5. Farmers lose battle as GM cotton given the green light

March 28, 2002
The Sydney Morning Herald
John Vidal [via Agnet]

India, the world's largest grower of cotton, has, according to this story, opened the doors to genetically modified varieties after a four-year rearguard battle by academics and powerful farmers' groups who fear its introduction will lead to hundreds of thousands of poor farmers being forced off the land.

The story says that if, as expected, large-scale Indian farmers switch to the GM varieties, then most of the world's cotton is expected to be genetically modified within a few years. Up to 90 per cent of all US cotton is now modified, and South Africa, Argentina and other large exporters haveall changed in the past three years. China now grows more than 400,000 hectares of GM cotton.

The story adds that the Government's decision is likely to lead to further confrontations between Monsanto and farmers' groups, which can organise rallies of up to 1million people.

Activists were cited as saying the introduction of GM cotton will lead back to the economic colonisation of India by outsiders. Freedom from cotton colonisation was a central argument for independence more than 50 years ago, and handwoven cotton cloth was Mahatma Gandhi's resistance movement's symbol of opposition to British rule.

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