ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

7 November 2002


LATEST NEWS: India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, ostensibly because of pressure from the NGOs, has today deferred the commercial approval to GM Mustard.

1. Entry of GM mustard opposed
2. field survey showing complete failure of Bt. cotton


Entry of GM mustard opposed

By Our Special Correspondent
THE HINDU, Thursday November 7 2002

HYDERABAD Nov. 6. The Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity, a network of 142 civil society groups in the State, on Wednesday demanded that the permission to Genetically Modified Mustard, coming up for consideration before the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Union Environment Ministry tomorrow, be put off.

Addressing a press conference, P. V. Satheesh, convenor of the APCDD, criticised the Central Government for attempting to introduce the GM mustard, "in a hush-hush manner'' without any public consultations and demanded that the biosafety and health impact issues be put to public debate before its approval.

He said if the permission is accorded to Pro Agro, a subsidiary of the Belgian agro chemical giant, Aventis, to sell genetically engineered mustard seed in the  country, one of the `navadhaynas' known for their purity would be irretrievably contaminated by genetic pollution. "And when you have your favourite sarson da saag or sambar, you can never be sure whether it is nature's bounty or Frankenstein poisonous food,'' he added.

Mr. Satish said after Bt Cotton, it would be the second blow this year to ecological agriculture and farmers in India. It clearly points to the growing clout of trans-national agrochemical corporations and their lobbyists on the Government. The lack of public debate was indicative of the dismantling of Governmental accountability to the citizens. The GM mustard approval has unabashedly abandoned even the imperfect process adopted in pushing the Bt Cotton.

When the Ministry of Environment was legally bound to conduct public hearings even when a small dam is built as part of Environment Impact Assessment, something which is far more environmentally impacting as a GM crop, is being permitted without consulting the citizens. The irony was that the target of the GM mustard was common people but they have been left out from the entire decision-making process.

He said when Bt Cotton was promoted, the argument put forward was that it was not a food crop hence it should not cause concern about growing on Indian soils. It was argued that it would help in reducing the use of pesticide and the risk of gene transfer was extremely low. Though debatable, the GEAC got away with the weak defence. But when one considers mustard, none of these arguments hold good.


2. Press Release: field survey showing complete failure of Bt cotton                     
6th November 2002

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology calls for a withdrawal of the conditional clearance given by GEAC to the genetically engineered Bt. cotton on the basis of its field survey showing complete failure of Bt. cotton

On 26th March 2002 the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, gave the conditional clearance for commercial planting of the controversial genetically engineered Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.) cotton to Monsanto and Mahyco. This has been done in spite of the fact that:

A. A Supreme Court case challenging the 1998 field trials is ongoing;

B. The GEAC is aware that there have been numerous irregularities and violations of biosafety laws and guidelines in Monsanto-Mahyco‚s field trials of Bt cotton (presented to GEAC in a Memorandum of 5th November 2001).

The commercial clearance to Bt. cotton was granted on grounds that it had been fully tested in Indian condition, that it does not require pesticide sprays and it gives higher yield and farmers have higher incomes. All the claims on the basis of which the clearance was granted have been proven false by the total failure of Bt. cotton in states where it was cleared for plating including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology has carried out a field survey between 23rd October to 2nd November 2002 and the following are the results of the survey.

1.False Claim of Bt. Cotton as Pest Resistant
Bt. cotton has been devastated by pest attacks. Pest occurrence on Bt. was higher than non-Bt. cotton. As the trail data had already indicated with 250-300% increase in non-target pests for Bt. cotton, there was a substantial attack of bollworm and sucking pests e.g. Jassids, aphids and Thrips on Bt. cotton in both the states where commercial planting was done on a large scale. The normal sprays on Bt. cotton is upto 7 times for controlling bollworm and sucking pests. Farmers in Warangal are spraying Tracer
which cost about Rs. 1500 per spray including labour charges on Bt. The Bt. toxin has also found to be ineffective after 90 days while Goucha effect also goes away by 45 days and followed by heavy attack by sucking pests. Mahyco varieties are found to be  susceptible to sucking pests. In fact, Mahyco has also recommended for sprays if Economic Threshold Limit (ETL) level is crossed which is defined as 20 bollworms in per acre is crossed. So their own propagation material proves that their claim of pest  resistance was only to misguide farmers for profit making. Bt. cotton has been attacked by wilt (fusarium oxysporum fsp. Vasinfectum) and Root rot (Rhizoctoria bactaticola) in Yawatmal, Anandwan (Maharashtra), in Warangal (Andhra Pradesh). These  diseases have only affected the Bt. cotton varieties.

2.False Claim of Higher Yield

Bt. cotton was sold with the claim that it would give 15 quintals of yield per acre. However yields have been as low as 20 kgs in one acre. On average yields of Bt. cotton are 1.2 quintals per acre. Nowhere Bt. cotton yield can cross 4 - quintal/ acre at the end of the harvest. In most of the field visited, the Bt. cotton plants are in stage of maturity with its leaves getting red (and then it drops and the plant are dried). It is very apparent in plots with non-Bt. on fringes because non-Bt plant looks healthier, taller and are more green than Bt. plants.

So the highest yield in Bt. cotton could be upto 4 quintals which is much below the expected yield in other hybrids which normally goes upto 15 quintals per acre. The boll setting in Bt. cotton plant is not more than 60 bolls per plant while on Sasya or Brahma cotton variety there are upto 200-250 bolls on each plant which indicates good yield.

3.False Claim of Higher Incomes for Farmers

The failure of Bt. cotton has completely exposed the companies who are trying to market their genetically engineered seeds at the cost of the farmers‚ live and livelihood and calls into question the GEAC clearance given to an unreliable, untested hazardous  variety. Mr. Mala Rao Krishna Rao Thakre of the Both village in Pandharkawada (Kelapur) tehsil of Yawatmal has suffered a major heart attack when he found his 27 acres of Bt. cotton completely devastated by diseases and pests. He is still hospitalized in an Hospital in Bombay. He is big farmer and can afford better treatment but the failure of Bt. cotton can create a Warangal of December 1997 when hundreds of cotton farmers have committed suicides due to the failure of their crops.

There are some Bt. growers who have received very poor yield in Bt. For example Mr. Purshotam Kushalrao Kakre of Aloda village has got 86 kilograms in 1 acre, Mr. Pandit Rao Rathod has got 40 kilograms from three acres, Mr. Rai Singh Seva Rathod of Jamwari village in Yawatmal has not picked anything from Bt. cotton so far, Mr. Sharad Choudhury of Wani has only received 8 quintals in 7  acres while Mr. Ganeshjee Gupta of the same tehsil has got only 63 kilo in one acre so far. Each Bt. farmers have spent thousands of rupees on its cultivation and the poor return has made the farmers angry against the companies who have sold Bt. cotton. They would not get enough to even compensate for the seed cost and labour cost, which together comes to about Rs 3500 ˆ 4000/acre.

Cost Benefit Analysis of Bt. cotton vs other cotton in one acre

Bt. Cotton
(Planted by Anandwan Agriculture Institute, Warora)
Non-Bt. Hybrids
Brahma variety in a farmer field in Andhra
Desi varieties: AKA 5 & 7
(Growing in ZARC, Yawatmal)
A.Expenditure on Inputs Seeds
Rs. 3200
Rs. 450
Own Saved Seeds

Rs. 4000 (approx.)
Rs. 2800 (4 sprays)

Rs. 2500
Rs. 2500
Rainfed variety

Rs. 9700/-
Rs. 5750/-

Zero Expenditure

B. Total Yield

2 quintals
10 quintals
5 quintals

Output Value

Rs. 3300 (Rs. 1650/qtl)
Rs. 16500 (Rs. 1650/qt)
Rs. 8250 (Rs. 1650/- qtl)

C = B ˆ A
Loss of Rs. 6400/ acre
Profit of Rs. 10750/ acre
Profit of Rs. 8250/ acre

The failure of Bt. cotton in giving good yield exposes the false claim about higher yield by Monsanto- Mahyco as well as the GEAC, which said that a Bt. cotton grower would get an average increased income of Rs. 10,000/- per acre.

Since each farmer would have got an average yield of 10 quintals through normal non-Bt. hybrid and after cutting all costs, he would have got an income of Rs. 10750/, the Bt. cotton failure has cost the farmers a total loss of Rs. 11,28,750,000/- (Rs. 112.8  crores or Rs. 1128 million) in 105000 acres in one cropping season.

The company must be held liable for this loss to farmers until strict liability is brought into Seed Laws and Biosafety Laws, no further clearance should be given to any genetically engineered seed variety.

4.No Effective Safeguards for Biosafety

During the field survey of Bt. cotton it was found that there are quite a few farmers who have not planted refugia. Mr. Raju Ratnakar Gandhewar of Both village in Pandharkawada (Kelapur) tehsil clearly said that he has sold his non-Bt. seeds pouches and has not planted refugia at all. He in fact said that there are other farmers also in both village who have not planted refugia. Mr. Ingle, ADO, Yawatmal have also accepted that there are Bt. cotton growers who have not planted refugia on the borders of Bt. plot. Dr. Jalapathi Rao also said that there are farmers in Warangal who did not grow refugia because company did not pursue it.
However every farmer who bought Bt. cotton seeds was made to sign on a printed page in which it was said that if the buyer does not follow the conditions laid down by GEAC, they would be liable for it and non-compliance of the conditions will attract penalties under Environment Protection Act and the rules framed there under.
It clearly indicate that there was no effective means to ensure biosafety in Bt. cotton through planting of refugia which may help in checking genetic pollution and contamination through cross pollination as well as minimizing the pests resistance to Bt. toxin. The companies made the Bt. growers responsible for non-compliance of GEAC conditions.

Again the burden of non-compliance is being shifted by the company to the farmer and the GEAC is complicit in this unfair transfer of liability.
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology Demands:

1.  Monsanto-Mahyco should recall all Bt. cotton seeds from market and pay compensation of atleast Rs. 112.8 crores (Rs. 1.12 billion) to farmers whose Bt. crop has been damaged by pests and diseases.

2.  Strict liability for seed and biotechnology corporations should be introduced in Seed Laws and Biosafety Laws to ensure that disasters the Bt. cotton distress are not repeated.

3.  Ministry of Agriculture should ban commercial sales of Bt. since it has brought high risks and costs to farmers with no benefits, unknown risks to biodiversity.

4.  GEAC should immediately withdraw its conditional clearance given in needless hurry to commercial planting of Bt. cotton.

5.  A high level commission of inquiry should be set up with strong participation of independent experts, NGO‚s, specialists in biosafety and farmers organisations to both assess damage to farmers and the conditions under which GEAC gave clearance for Bt. cotton. No further application of GM crops should be allowed till this Inquiry Commission submits its report.

6.  GEAC should not give commercial clearance to the transgenic mustard of ProAgro in its forthcoming meeting on 7th November 2002, in the light of its irresponsible clearance of the Bt. cotton.

7.  The undue influence of seed and biotech corporations on government decision making has been the reason for unjustified clearance to GM crops by GEAC. In this context we demand that no seed MNCs be allowed on the board of CGIAR (Consultative Group on  International Agriculture Research, the global system under World Bank which coordinates national agriculture research systems). (The Financial Express, November 6, 2002)

Prepared by :

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
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