ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
18 November 2002


Pro-Agro, part of Aventis, is seeking commercialisation in India of its GM mustard which it says will bring great benefits to farmers.

According to the AgBioIndia mailing below, however, the deputy director general of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) - India's umbrella organisation for public sector agricultural research - has categorically stated that only 4 field trials have been conducted under ICAR's supervision, against the company's claim of 69, and the data generated (on crop yield) so far 'does not substantiate' Pro-Agro's claims.

AgBioIndia Mailing List
18 November 2002

Subject: GM Mustard: ICAR refutes Pro-Agro's claims

The cat is finally out of the bag. And in this case, the bag of lies belongs to the multinational seed companies. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organisation for public sector agricultural research in the country, has refuted Pro-Agro's claims over the superiority of the genetically modifed mustard (whose approval has been 'deferred' for about a month) over the commonly grown mustard varieties.

ICAR deputy director general has categorically said that only four field trials have been conducted under ICAR's supervision, against the company's claim of 69, and the data generated (on crop yield) so far 'does not substantiate' Pro-Agro's claims. Pro-Agro had claimed that the ICAR had conducted trials at 69 sites. This is the second claim of the private seed company that has fallen flat. Earlier, the company had claimed that its herbicide 'glufosinate' is not approved for sale in India so the presence of a herbicide-tolerant gene in the GM mustard variety does not matter. But later it was found out that glufosinate is being used in tea gardens and is also being used for weed control along the highways and road tracks. It can therefore be easily diverted for use on mustard.

With such false claims being made by Pro-Agro, shouldn't it be obligatory on the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to black-list the company and at the same time question the go ahead granted by the two other committees: the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) and the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC)?
Why shouldn't both the
committees be dissolved and their members taken to task for 'approving' faulty data? Both the committees being under the Department of Biotechnology, why shouldn't the GEAC call for an enquiry into the functioning of the department? Already many NGOs have written to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner asking for an investigation into alleged corruption/ manipulation in the approval of GM crops.

This also questions the entire basis of entrusting the private companies with research and evaluation. How can the GEAC rely on the data submitted by the companies who are funding the entire research? After all, with the private companies spending Rs 600 million on GM research on nine crops, how can the GEAC expect the data submitted to be fair and honest? It is primarily for this flaw that Bt cotton, which was granted approval for commercial planting in march 2002, is faced with an attack of bollworm insect in certain parts of the country.

What emerges from this episode is very clear: the entire process of evaluating the performance of GM crops in India is a sham.

(For a background on the GM mustard issue in India, please see the AgBioIndia bulletin issued on November 8:


1. Ajit Singh, ICAR Call For More Trials On GM Mustards
2. Sarson da Saga
3. Make Field Trial Results Of GM Crops Public

1. Ajit Singh, ICAR Call For More Trials On GM Mustards

By Ashok B Sharma
Financial Express, New Delhi.

New Delhi, November 17: Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh appealed that utmost care should be execised to see that three types of genetically hybrid mustards developed by ProAgro are totally free from any stint of health or environmental hazards. If only these seeds are totally free from any hazards, then it should be released for commercial cultivation. Mr Singh also renewed his demand for restricting the imports of soyabean oil extracted from genetically modified (GM) seeds. He said, "GM soyabeans have not yet been tested in this country and we do not yet know for certain what health and environmental hazards it can entail. Imports of oils extracted from GM soyabeans should be subjected to vigourous tests before allowing it for commercial use."

He said there is no mandatory provision in the world trade for labelling of GM foods and in absence of such a provision the soyabean oils being imported into the country may be extracts from GM seeds. He said that even in India there is no provision for testing GM food items at the points of entry. He said that he had already written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last year to restrict the imports of soyaoils extracted from GM seeds and he is going to take up this issue again.

Deputy director-general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Dr Mangla Rai totally refuted the the claims made by the ProAgro research director Dr Paresh Verma that "the yield advantage of GM mustard hybrids has also been confirmed in the trials conducted by ICAR". Dr Rai said, "Only four field trials have been conducted under ICAR's supervision and the data generated so far do not substantiate Dr Verma's claims."

Dr Rai also refuted the GEAC chairman, AM Gokhale's contention that no further field trials are necessary to assess ProAgro's GM mustard hybrids as the company has agreed to provide more data required by GEAC. Dr Rai, in this context, said, "ICAR is a responsible public sector research institution having international reputation. ICAR cannot just abide by the dictates of GEAC for no further trials. It would suggest conducting of more field trials before giving its considered opinion on the issue."

Dr Paresh Verma, research director of ProAgro in Commodity Watch dated November 11 had claimed "based on the field trials of the crop conducted at a total of 69 locations over the last 4 years in both government sponsored and independent trials, it was established that these GM mustard hybrids give a minimum of 20 per cent increase in seed and oil yield compared to the best traditional open pollinated varieties currrently grown in India. This yield advantage has also been confirmed in trials conducted by ICAR."

Dr Verma further said, "when translated into actual productivity, these hybrids consistently give an additional productivity of about three quintal per hectare, which at current prices translates into an additional income of about Rs 3500 to Rs 4500 per hectare for the farmer. This yield advantage in GM mustard does not decrease under poor crop management conditions and benefits the big and small farmers alike."

Meanwhile three farmers' organisations namely Bharat Krishak Samaj, Kheti Virasaat, Shetkari Sangathana and four NGOs like Gene Campaign, Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security, Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity and Popular Education and Action Centre have jointly written to the Mr P Shankar, Chief Vigilance Commissioner alleging "the entire cost of so-called scientific experiments on nine GM crops under trials, estimated to the tune of Rs 60 crore, is being borne by the private industry. As this huge investment is being made by the private sector alone, there are ample scope for manipulation by the industry. The GEAC is relying solely on the data generated by the industry. The data generated has not been made public. This calls for a detail investigation."

2. Sarson da Saga

November 18, 2002, Times of India ediorial

The jury is still out on the issue of transgenic mustard: After its initial approval, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has now deferred its decision on commercial cultivation of genetically modified mustard in the country.

However, welcome as the deferral is, it will be entirely wasted if it is not utilised to address the issues raised by genetic modification of crops, including the manner in which decisions on their marketing are being taken. The GEAC's approval for transgenic sarson cultivation was based on the clean chit given by GM seed producer ProAgro Seeds. The company had furnished the committee with results of lab and field tests it conducted in India, but without government participation.

ProAgro reportedly supplied both the samples and controls for the tests, severely compromising the credibility of the results. Unsurprisingly, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research has expressed its reservations on flagging off GM mustard; this possibly prompted the GEAC to review its earlier stand.

Unlike GM cotton, GM mustard is a food crop. So any impact it might have on public health due to unknown risks might be far more serious than in the case of GM cotton. In fact, GM or Bt cotton was cleared for cultivation by the GEAC last year amidst similar confusion and indecisiveness. Yet Bt cotton-seed sellers' claims of saving poor farmers from high pesticide expenses seem to have come a cropper. Bt cotton was marketed as bollworm-resistant and hence was to yield much more per acre than non-Bt cotton. The logic was that it would save farmers from being driven to suicide.

Field reality, however, was hardly rosy: Bt cotton, farmers found, did not deter the Indian bollworm; they still had to use expensive pesticides and the crop turned out to be monstrously water-intensive. Moreover, GM seeds cost more than the desi variety. Meanwhile, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute is developing high-yielding hybrid (non-GM) mustard varieties which it claims would be far better suited to local conditions and more people-friendly than ProAgro's transgenic sarson.

Claims made by pro-GM lobbies that GM crops alone can stave off world hunger are also debatable: Our own experience points to faulty distribution rather than inadequate foodstock. But undeniably, frontier technology will perforce play a central role in agriculture worldwide all the more reason why bio-tech applications should be predicated more on public safety and development rather than on exploitative and short-term business interests.

3. Make Field Trial Results Of GM Crops Public

By Ashok B Sharma
Financial Express, Nov 18, 2002.

There has been a lot of hue and cry over the procedures being followed for the release of genetically modified (GM) crops in the country for commercial cultivation. There is a war of words between the so-called advocates of genetic engineering technology and the so-called opponents. This war of words only benefits the two warring camps to gain publicity while the common man who is likely to be impacted by this technology practically remains unaware of the actual benefits and possible adverse effects of the technology.

Let's examine why such a situation has emerged. This situation is not due to the absence of any institutional mechanism for approving releases of GM crops for commercial uses. In fact, we have an hierarchy of six institutional mechanisms in this country from bottom to top under the Environment Protect Act (EPA).

At the lowest levels are the district biotechnology coordination committees (DBCCs)  to monitor the safety regulations in installations engaged in the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in research and applications. The district collector heads this committee who can induct representatives from state agencies. Next up in the heirarchy are the state biotechnology coordination committees (SBCCs) headed by the concerned state chief secretaries where research and applications of GMOs are contemplated. SBCCs have powers to inspect, investigate and take punitive actions in case of violations of statutory provisions. It nominates state government representatives for field inspections and coordinates with Central government regarding GMOs.

At the central level there are four institutional mechanisms which directly or indirectly evaluate the GMOs before they are approved for commercial use. First to begin with is the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RDAC) under the department of biotechnology (DBT) in the Union science and technology ministry which submits recommendations from time to time regarding the safety regulations and research applications of GMOs and its products. RDAC prepared the first Indian Recombinant DNA Biosafety Guidelines in 1990 which has been accepted by the government and subsequently revised in May, 1994, August 1998 and September, 1999.

Next is the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under DBT which reviews controlled field trials of GM crops, monitors safety aspects of ongoing research projects involving GMOs and is mandated to bring out manuals of guidelines specifying procedures for regulatory process in relation to GMOs. RCGM can lay down procedures restricting or prohibiting production, sale, import and use of GMOs. For monitoring the contained field trials RCGM has set up a monitoring-cum-evaluation committee (MEC). Next is the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBSC) constituted by organisations involved in research in GMOs with a representative from the DBT. IBSC requires the approval of the DBT in research and trail programmes and reports to the RCGM. Finally is the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Union environment ministry which is usually in the eye of the storm as it is the absolute authority to give the green signal for commercialisation of GM crops. GEAC authorises largescale field trials before taking a final decision. GEAC can approve or prohibit any GMOs for import, export, transport, manufacturing, processing and for use and sale in the country.

If one looks at these plethora of regulatory institutions and laws one would likely to be convinced about the regulatory process in the country. But at the same time one can be shocked to hear Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh speaking out that there is no mechanism in country to check unlabelled GMOs and its products entering the country without proper checks at the points of entry. What Mr Singh says is that he is not against the science of genetic engineering as such, but it should be properly evaluated for safety reasons before use.

Not only Mr Singh the common people in a democracy has the right to know the effects of what he consumes. All the committees including the DBCCs, SBCCs, RDAC, RCGM, MEC, IBSC and GEAC are expert bodies drawing representatives from agricultural science, health and environment. The findings of these committtees should be made public so that the people of this country would themselves be in a position to evaluate the costs and benefits of this new technology.Genetic engineering is a new science and much remains yet to be known to scientists about its effects. But whatever be the little known scientific findings available with all these bodies in respect of GM crops under trials should be made public in genuine interests.
The AgBioIndia mailing list is an effort by the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security to bridge the yawning gap in our understanding of the politics of food. We believe this mailing list will create wider awareness and understanding of the compexities of the crisis facing Indian agriculture and food security. This list will keep you posted on the intricacies and games being enacted in the name of eradicating hunger.

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