ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
11 June 2002


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AgBioIndia Newsletter
June 10, 2002

The study by Chinese scientists on the adverse environmental fallout of Bt cotton has reactivated the GM debate in India. Soon after the demand by Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security for a though inquiry into the commercial approval of Bt cotton by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh has written letters to chief ministers of four states to stay the introduction of the crop till its safety is established. Here we reproduce the letter written to the chief minister of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Similar letters were sent to the chief ministers of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

1. Letter to the chief minister of Maharashtra.
2. Xinhua report on the damaging impact of Bt cotton.
3. Press Release demanding inquiry into commercial approval of Bt cotton.

1. Letter to the chief minister of Maharashtra

(Similar letters were sent to three other chief ministers where seeds of Bt cotton are being officially sold)

Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh
Chief Minister of Maharashtra
Mantralaya, Mumbai

6 June, 2002


Dear Shri Deshmukh,

Please find enclosed a new report from the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, quoting a study that only confirms what environmentalists have been warning about for years: the serious ecological damage that genetically engineered crops like Bt Cotton are likely to cause, and the
unsustainability of the crop&#8217ís stated benefits. We are sending this to you in the hope that, despite the clearance of Bt Cotton by the Government of India, your government will be wise enough to stay all introduction of this crop by farmers till such time as its safety for the environment and for human/livestock health are established. We also hope that you will put much greater thrust into agricultural practices that are inherently healthy and safe, and in particular in this case into organic cotton production.

The attached news report cites a study by the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, under the Chinese Government&#8217ís State Environment Protection Administration. The study had the following major conclusions:

1. In Bt Cotton fields compared to conventional cotton, there was a marked decrease in the diversity of insects, and a higher incidence of pests;
2. In Bt Cotton fields, there was a decline in the population of the natural enemies of the bollworm (the major pest that Bt Cotton is supposed to safeguard the crop against);
3. In Bt Cotton fields, populations of pests other than bollworm had increased, and some would likely become major problems for the cotton, against which Bt Cotton may have no resistance;
4. Bollworm was likely to develop resistance to Bt Cotton within 8-10 years of beginning the planting, thereby affecting the long-term sustainability of the production process.

Please note that many of these are fears that environmentalists have been raising, only to be dismissed by the corporate sector and by some scientists as being “speculative” and unwarranted. These fears can no longer be dismissed so lightly, we hope.

In addition, we would like to highlight the other possible consequences of Bt Cotton, including the claim that it will essentially remain out of reach of the small farmer, and will only increase the stranglehold of the corporate sector on the farming population.

We think it is significant that Chinese official agencies are beginning to acknowledge and demonstrate the dangers of Bt Cotton, for Indian authorities and the corporate sector including Monsanto have always used the Chinese example to “ show” that Bt Cotton is safe and effective. Now, we believe, there is even more cause and evidence to question the Chinese “model”.

Given the above, we would urge you to:

1. Immediately halt any plans of introducting Bt Cotton into the state, whether through official or private channels;
2. Initiate, or press the central government to initiate, further long-term studies on the ecological, social, and economic impacts of Bt Cotton, while ensuring that these studies are conducted in a transparent and participatory manner involving independent scientists, NGOs, and farmers;
3.  Encourage, through economic and other means, the further expansion and development of organic cotton, which has already been proven to be effective and productive by many of the state&#8217ís enterprising farmers;
4. Investigate, through an impartial and transparent process, claims that Bt Cotton was already illegally introduced into the state before the Government of India cleared it for cultivation.

We hope your government will show the foresight and abundant caution that is required before introducing any new technology, especially in the case of inherently risky technologies like genetic engineering. The future of agriculture lies in organic, biologically diverse, low input farming practices, practices that are already proven to be effective by thousands of farmers in India. It is time that the state also adapted a vigorous thrust towards such farmer-friendly, ecologically sensitive and sustainable practices.

Thank you,


(Ashish Kothari)


2. Xinhua report on the damaging impact of Bt cotton
Xinhua News Agency

BEIJING, June 3 (Xinhuanet) -- A genetically modified cotton plant which makes up 35 percent of China's crop, is damaging the environment despite its success in controlling the bollworm pest, according to a report released here Monday.

The plant, Bt transgenic cotton, was harming natural parasitic enemies of the bollworm and seemed to be encouraging other pests, according to the study by the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIES) under the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) at a seminar here.

Researchers have seen a significant decrease in populations of the bollworm's parasitic natural enemies.

Bt transgenic cotton, containing anti-bollworm genes from certain bacillus, is in large-scale commercial production in Chinaand the planting area was estimated to top 1.5 million hectares last year, accounting for about 35 percent of the total cotton area, according to the Cotton Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

The report says that the diversity index of the insect community in the Bt cotton fields is lower than conventional cotton fields while the pest dominant concentration index is higher.

The balance of the insect community is weaker in Bt cotton fields than the conventional crops as some kinds of insects thriveand this is more likely to cause outbreaks of certain pests, said Xue Dayuan, the NIES expert in charge of the report.

Populations of pests other than cotton bollworm has increased in Bt cotton fields and some have even replaced it as primary pests because the GM plant is slow at controlling those pests, the report says.

Scientists also verified with lab tests and field monitoring that cotton bollworm will develop resistance to the GM cotton and concluded that Bt cotton will not resist bollworm after being planted for eight to ten years continuously.

New GM organisms and products would benefit agriculture and many other industries, but people should always beware of the long-term and underlying impacts on the environment, said Zhu Xinquan, chairman of the Chinese Society of Agro-Biotechnology that jointly hosted the seminar with the NIES and Greenpeace China.

GM organisms will pass new genes borrowed from different species to local plants and creatures through reproduction when it is put into the natural environment, changing the natural gene structures, said Isabelle Meister, an expert from Greenpeace International, the international environmental campaign group.

"The changes are irreversible and the loss is likely to be damaging as the genes in nature, mostly existing in wildlife and some small regional species, are useful for people to develop new species of plants and animals with high quality or against certain disease," she said.

China is a center for diversity of several plants like soyabean and faces the problem of how to protect its original genes from imported GM products, Meister said.


3. Press Release demanding inquiry into commercial approval of Bt cotton



New Delhi, June 5,

Following the admission by Chinese scientists that Bt cotton is damaging the environment, the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security, an independent collective of well-known and distinguished agricultural scientists, biotechnologists, economists, farmers, and policy makers, has urged the Prime Minister to institute a high-level enquiry into the dubious role of Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Ministry of Science and Technology in supporting, promoting and hastily pushing the controversial genetically modified crops onto gullible Indian farmers.

The DBT, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Mahrashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), which is collaborating with the seed multinational Monsanto, had always used the example of China to push in an untested an environmentally-risky genetically modified technology. It has now become apparent that the DBT /ICAR were in league with the multinational in pushing in a faulty technology into the country.

Quoting a study by Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences under the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), the Chinese news agency Xinhua reports "the Bacillus thurengensis (Bt) cotton transgenic cotton, which makes up 35 per cent of China's cotton crop, is damaging the environment. The plant harms the population of natural parasitic enemies of bollworm and seemed to encourage other pests."

The report says the diversity index of the insect community in the Bt cotton fields is lower than conventional cotton fields, while the pest dominant concentration index is higher. Bt cotton did not resist bollworm after being planted to eight to 10 years continuously, the scientists found out.

This shocking disclosure comes at a time when the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment & Forests, is under tremendous pressure from the US Department of Agriculture to accord approvals to all kinds of GM crops presently under field testing. The GEAC, which has become a clearing-house for controversial GM technologies at the behest of the multinational seed companies, had approved Bt cotton for commercial planting along with dubious riders like 20 per cent mandatory refuge to be maintained by the farmer and to be monitored by the seed company.

The commercial approval has therefore paved the way not only for an influx of a large number of genetically manipulated crops into the country - crops, which do not benefit the farmers. It has also multiplied the possibility of introducing a large known of lesser-known pests and diseases by disrupting the ecological equilibrium. This is a clear pointer to the fact that such crops will only ensure further exploitation of the resource-poor farmers and pose a grave threat to the environment and human health.

"Moreover, much of the experimentation that has been conducted by Mahyco-Monsanto for the past three years has not been on scientific lines. The mere fact that such seriously flawed statistical data was approved by the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) and the Review Committee on Genetic manipulation (RCGM), both constituted by the DBT, points a finger towards the competence of the scientists. This is a clear cut case of scientific fraud," Devinder Sharma, chair of the Forum said in a statement.

"The research trials were sown two months late in 1999, and three months late in 2000 and yet the committees as well as the DBT found that to be in order is a clear pointer to the dubious way in which the genetically-modified crop is being pushed in the name of science and technology," Sharma said, and added "this is a fraud on the nation, and needs to be enquired by a high-level committee."

There were several other glaring lapses. More importantly, the fact that the entire data was being kept classified, is an indication that the DBT was reluctant to make it public for fear of exposure of its wrong doings. Interestingly, the secretary of the DBT, Mrs Manju Sharma, has been openly stating for the past three years that the department would be releasing the genetically modified seeds of cotton for general commercialisation in 2001, even before the trials were being conducted.  This demonstrates that the DBT was keen to bring in an untested technology to India.

In view of the great scientific fraud that has been unearthed, and following the Chinese report, the Forum demands:

*    Immediate removal of the Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, for promoting the unjust cause of the multinational and private seed companies in the name of promoting science and technology. The mere fact that the Secretary is being given an extension after extension is indicative of the reality that prevails.

*    A high-level inquiry into the working of the Department of Biotechnology. The department is busy according permission to all kinds of genetically modified crops for testing.

*    Disbanding of the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) and the Review Committee on Genetic manipulation (RCGM). Both these committees had deliberately overlooked and manipulated the faulty data in a completely unscientific manner.

*   Expansion of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to include environmentalists, activists and people's representatives to make it more broad based and accountable.

*   Re-experimentation to be for TWO years considering that the data supplied by the company for two years - 1999 and 2000 - is faulty and cannot be scientifically accepted. Also, immediate need for long-term studies on environment and human and animal health risks before according any commercial approval.

*   Removal of Mahyco's representatives from the numerous committees and boards of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the governing board of the international agricultural research centres, and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Devinder Sharma
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