Citizens’ groups force authorities to initiate a dialogue on GM field trials – People’s Movements in Maharashtra declare a Jan Andolan against GM field trials; Demand that the trials be halted immediately

October 29, 2014, Rahuri/Ahmednagar/New Delhi: The opposition to open air field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in Maharashtra, the only state in the country where such controversial experiments are being undertaken, reached a new height with representatives of numerous people’s movements from across Maharashtra assembling at the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri, demanding a dialogue on why it continues to do the controversial open field trials of Genetically Modified corn in its campus here. The people’s movements representing farmers, farm labourers, consumers, environmentalists, scientists and other social activists reached Rahuri after repeated communications with the university over the concerns with GM crops had failed to get any response. The University has now set a time for the third week of November to share their response to all the queries and evidence extended by the civil society groups, and hold a dialogue with the groups. Meanwhile, the former Agriculture Minister, Maharashtra Government Mr Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said that GM crops are a disguise to exploit farmers and felt that state agriculture universities should focus on developing traditional varieties.

“It is the silence of the University to respond to the great amount of scientific evidence that we have provided on the adverse impacts of GM crops in general and the GM corn of Monsanto that is being field trialed which brought us here” said Tanmay Joshi of Shetkari Sanghatana and a member of Coalition for a GM Free Maharashtra. He further stated that “We are here to engage MPKV in a dialogue to get them to explain to us the reason why they refuse to acknowledge the mounting scientific evidence as well as public opposition to these experiments”. The Coalition had earlier in a letter to the Vice Chancellor as well as the District collector who is supposed to be the chairperson of the District Level Committee, a statutory monitoring body that has been non-functional, urged that the trials should be halted immediately.

A delegation from the gathering once again submitted to the university authorities various scientific evidences establishing that GM crops are unneeded, unwanted and unsafe.

Speaking on the occasion, Subhash Lomte Convenor, National Rural Workers Committee, reminded the university that public sector institutions have been set up in the country to benefit the citizens of this country. “It is unfortunate that our SAUs are taking the side of Multi-National Corporations like Monsanto whose bottomline is only profit, to the point where they have not hesitated to sue and jail farmers elsewhere in the world, and in the process harming the interest of citizens”, he said.

Dr Suhas Kolhekar, a molecular biologist by training and the convenor of NAPM Maharashtra, pointed to the fact that it is not just people’s movements who have been saying No to GM crops. She stated that “the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture as well as the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee had already recommended against open field trials owing to the inherent risks that GM technology poses as well as the inadequacy of the regulatory system in our country. The University conducting these field trials against all such directions by credible agencies is uncalled for and unacceptable”.

The GMO being tested in Rahuri is Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant, insect-resistant maize, which has multiple genes inserted in it to produce a pesticide inside the plant and tolerate sprays of a patented herbicide of Monsanto (glyphosate/Roundup). Such crops/foods have been shown to be seriously detrimental to our health and environment. Media reports about the trial have already indicated that the trial violates laws and guidelines laid down. Senior scientists from within the establishment have also conceded that the situation of monitoring is unsatisfactory.

Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM Free India stated, “Field trials of GM crops constitute a deliberate environmental release of unknown, untested and presumably unsafe organisms that are new in Nature. GMOs released into the environment in the garb of field trials pose various risks including contamination of wild gene pool,contamination of other crops,undetected entry into the food chain and jeopardizing trade security. In India, time and again, it has also been established that field trials have happened and are happening in violation of the meagre biosafety norms laid down. Hence any field trials being permitted is unscientific and a threat not just to the people of the state but the nation itself.”

Owing to increasing public opposition as well as recommendations from important agences like the Parliamentary Standing Committee, Gujarat government has in the recent past joined many other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Karnataka; they formally announced their decision to disallow field trials of GM food crops in the state.

“Now Maharashtra becomes the only state where field trials of GM crops are currently taking place, in the country. Maharashtra has been made into a laboratory of risky GM crops and all of us laboratory animals” said Kumar Shiralkar, CPI(M) leader further stated, “The state committee set up to look at the GM field trials is a sham as it neither has biosafety experts like ecologists, health experts, toxicologists, socioeconomists etc in it who can assess the consequences of release of an untested GM crop into the open field nor does it have the intent to scrutinise the need for such risky crops.”

Speaking on behalf of consumers, Ashwin Paranjpe of Gorus, supporting farmers collectives with direct marketing to consumers, said that “this issue is not just a matter of concern for farmers, but also for consumers, given the existing evidence on the adverse health impacts of GMOs, as well as herbicides like Glyphosate. Consumers also have the right to safe food, and informed choices when it comes to food. GMOs in our food and farming systems affect the choices of both farmers and consumers and we are here to assert our rights”.

“While on the one hand the government is talking about promoting organic farming, on the other hand, the prospects of organic farming are being jeopardised by this baseless promotion of GMOs. When the livelihoods and organic status of an organic farmer – who is painstakingly ensuring that our environmental resources are used sustainably and non-toxic food is available to consumers – are affected by GM contamination, who is liable for the same? Will it be the government and the regulators or the corporations? Right now, there is no such liability regime in place and this is objectionable”, said Shamika Mone of Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI).

Urging the University to stick to its promise made in 2009 to civil society groups including farmers unions that it will henceforth not take up transgenic trials, Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said, that “We are here to wake up the authorities from their deep slumber; they seem to be living in ignorance of emerging scientitific evidence from around the world. In the process they are ignoring our sustainable development commitments and jeopardising livelihoods and health of citizens. They are in fact shunning any informed debates on the subject which in itself is very unscientific; further, there is no transparency or accountability apparent in their conduct. We want to let the authorities know that this Jan Andolan will only gather more strength; it is very clear that informed debates all over the world have only created major rejection of this technology and citizens in the state are educating themselves on the issue. In a democratic setup, it falls upon the establishment to heed to people’s voices”.

The people’s movements gathered at the University took a pledge to step up the Jan Andolan against GM field trials in Maharashtra. A delegation also went to meet the District Collector who is authorised as per EPA (Environment Protection Act) to stop any open air trials of GMOs, to demand an immediate halt to the trials.

For more information, contact:

1. Tanmay Joshi: 8087502186
2. Rajesh Krishnan: 9845650032
3. Tejashri Kamble: 8421542076
4. Dr Suhas Kolhekar: 9422986771
5. Subhash Lomte: 9422202203

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