Sharing with media copies of information obtained through Right To Information Act, activists of Coalition for a GM-Free India pointed out that the open-air field trials of GM maize permitted in Gujarat are violative of EPA norms and demanded their immediate destruction. Apart from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat is the only state to have allowed any GM food crop trials in the state, after a change in regulatory norms in 2011 allowing state governments to have a greater say in the matter. However, recent RTI responses from the state government’s Agriculture and Environment departments indicate that the EPA’s 1989 Rules are not being adhered to in the state of Gujarat. A State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) is supposed to be the state-level implementation arm of the apex regulatory body GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) as per these Rules. However, when asked about the SBCC in an RTI application, the Forests and Environment Department responded by saying that the Agriculture and Cooperation department is the nodal department in the case of Gujarat vide notification no. EPN-1099-GOI-64-P (Part-II) dated 4th February 2004, while the Agriculture Department responded first by saying that it pertains to the Forest & Environment Department, and later to say that the work of SBCC meeting is not being done by this (Agriculture & Cooperation) department!
Gujarat had issued No Objection Certificates (NOCs) to GM maize trials of Monsanto and Syngenta in addition to GM cotton trials of Dow Agro Sciences and Bayer BioScience. From the time that regulatory norms have been changed to include NOCs from the state governments before open air trials can be conducted, several state governments including BJP-ruled states, have decided to not allow any trials in their states. These include Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Karnataka. West Bengal has suspended trials that have been permitted while Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have not issued any NOCs on trials approved by the apex regulatory body – Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee or GEAC.
“When a vast majority of states in India recognize that this technology is controversial and unproven for its safety or benefit to Indian farmers, and therefore have not allowed any field trials in those states, Gujarat is now becoming the hub for many such trials being undertaken here. This is unfortunate since Gujarat already has a bad track record of showing that spread of illegal GMOs in the country originates here whether it is Bt casino online cotton or HT (herbicide-tolerant) cotton. Further, even though the state government seems to be vesting its confidence on the regulatory abilities of the Union Government’s GEAC and RCGM mechanisms, these bodies have proven themselves incapable of transparent, fair, unbiased or scientific monitoring time and again. The latest instance has been of illegal planting of HT maize by Monsanto that too inside an agriculture university, recorded by an official monitoring team set up by the GEAC itself, not being acted upon, as reflected by another RTI response. They are in fact protecting violators of the law and these companies are repeating their offences with impunity as many instances of violations have shown. How can the state government trust the Centre in this context?”, asked Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM-Free India.
Activists point out that Monsanto, which is voluntarily withdrawing from Europe due to democratic public resistance, is however trying out unneeded, unproven and unsustainable products here in India. They point out that there is much scientific evidence pointing to emergence of “super weeds” and insect resistance in USA due to usage of herbicide tolerant and insect resistant GMOs. Further, it is unwise for India to be bringing in herbicide-tolerant technology when the poorest in the country find their employment in manual weeding in agriculture even as the government is propping up rural employment by pumping in thousands of crores of rupees through NREGA! Whose benefits are being kept in mind in the promotion of technologies, they want to know.
“The RTI responses received from Gujarat government clearly show that the state government does not really have any mandated monitoring mechanisms in place in the form of State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (required to be put in place under EPA 1986, which is non-existent/dysfunctional in Gujarat, as revealed by the RTI) and is also relying on the RCGM/GEAC and their guidelines as the basis on which NOCs have been issued, which have been proven to be incapable, time and again. Further, the guidelines that the state government pointed to as the scientific basis, is no scientific basis! When open air trials of GMOs happen, one is talking about untested, new organisms being brought out into the open, which did not exist in Nature before. There is no scientific basis, given that these are untested! Further, has the Gujarat government done any need assessment for such a trial? How can the government refer to some guidelines as the scientific basis when the biosafety of these GMOs has not been established?. It is very surprising that Gujarat is moving ahead with such NOCs when many other state governments are treading very cautiously. Should we surmise that Gujarat puts MNC interests before that of public interest or environmental sustainability?”, asked Kavitha Kuruganti, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India.
In India, following a secret trial planted by Monsanto in Bihar and serious objections raised thereafter by the Bihar Chief Minister, regulatory norms now require No Objection Certificates issued by state governments. As more and more state governments are saying No to such field trials, states like Gujarat are becoming the hotbeds for such open air trials of GMOs. Critics point out that trials in agriculture university campuses pose a great threat of contamination given that these institutes also take up breeder and foundation seed maintenance in the campuses. “Even as the desi Bt cotton fiasco involving IARI, UAS-Dharwad and CICR is being investigated, with the ICAR officials offering an explanation of ‘contamination’ for the presence of Monsanto’s gene in public sector cotton lines, why should agriculture universities in Gujarat be allowing such trials in their campuses? Can AAU show any foolproof mechanims it has for preventing contamination? Has it done contamination testing at the end of trials in the past and if not, what kind of monitoring is in place?”, added Kavitha Kuruganti.
Press Release put out by Coalition for a GM-Free India: Ahmedabad/New Delhi, February 17th, 2012
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