MOP exposes real safety concerns of GM crops;
Coalition demands that India should not allow any open-air field trials or release of GM crops.
A comprehensive Biosafety Law be enacted with strict liability and redress provisions.
The CBD MOP6, has for once, exposed the Global Biotech industry’s attempts to sabotage the Supplementary Protocol by attempting to discourage and dissuade parties from ratifying it and instead lobbying nations to adopt the industry sponsored voluntary compensation mechanism under the Compact. This follows years of attempts by the Global (and Indian) industry led by Monsanto to assert the supposed safety of genetically modified (GM) crops. The Coalition also deplores the attempts of many members of the agricultural research establishment, both national and international, for toeing the industry line and trying hard to dismiss the real concerns raised by civil society and independent scientists across the world. The CBD-MOP6 discussions and the various side events exposed these lies in the full glare of public attention. The dangers of GM crops to health, environment and biodiversity occupied centre-stage – as policy-makers, scientists and activists from 193 countries spent 5 days discussing how to ensure bio-safety while dealing with this highly risky technology. The false propaganda of the industry regarding Bt cotton was also exposed in front of the international media during an industry-sponsored field trip. The Bt cotton farmers spoke about bollworm attack and other pest attacks, increased use of pesticides and low yields.
The Coalition urges the Government of India to take decisions on this technology, assigning the highest priority to biosafety and to applying the Precautionary Principle, instead of being led by false propaganda from the industry. It reminds the government of the Bt Brinjal moratorium and the events that led to it, the continuing disaster afflicting farmers’ lives by Bt Cotton, and the violations of biosafety happening across the country during various field trials of GM crops. The Indian government has announced that it will ratify the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress, and urged all countries to do the same. So far, 51 countries have signed this protocol, and the ratifications have just begun. This stand from the Indian government should be welcomed. However ratifying is only the first step – the crux is in implementation.
“The CBD MOP6 may have concluded, but the real work now has to begin at home.” said Shalini Bhutani, a lawyer working on law and policy issues around agriculture. “Decisions taken at the global level need to be followed through at the national level. This is particularly true with respect to designing a liability and redress (L+R) law for LMOs. The Supplementary Protocol on L+R requires countries to provide for L+R with respect to LMOs in their domestic laws.” She warned against letting the TNC-designed ‘Compact’ from pre-empting any legislative measures by countries on this critical subject.
“We are disappointed with the reluctance of the government to adopt a Biosafety Protection Law. Besides spending hundreds of crores in organizing the CBD COP & MOP, India is taking over the presiding role in the Convention on Biological Diversity for the next two years. It must therefore show real commitment to biodiversity conservation. It should fulfill its minimum responsibility to enact a National Biosafety Act which ensures practical implementation of all the commitments under the various Protocols that it is ratifying. It should immediately ban all field trials of GM crops, as strongly recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener, Coalition for GM Free India.
Amongst the 18 decisions adopted at the MOP6, the decision to establish an ad-hoc technical expert group (AHTEG) on socio-economic considerations is of particular interest to India. “We welcome the fact that socio-economic considerations have been given recognition by forming a Technical Group of 40 representatives to thoroughly examine the socio-economic implications of GM crops.” added Kiran Kumar Vissa, Convener, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA). “As we have always argued, GM crops should be looked at not only through the lens of technology but its socio-economic consequences should be seriously examined – including issues of impact on small farmers, their control and access to seed, impact on the costs and risks of cultivation, corporate control of seed sector, implications of proprietary rights over life forms, etc.” he said. This process should be truly participatory with proper representation of farmers’ organizations and civil society groups. Countries like the US have stayed resistant to this as they approach LMOs merely as a trade issue. “In a country like India the lives and livelihoods of several thousand people, especially tribal and local communities and small-marginal farmers, have to be considered when taking decisions about any application of potentially hazardous technologies. Infact, the safer alternatives that have now been clearly demonstrated through organic farming, non-pesticidal management etc, have to be considered before opting for this unnecessary risk of GM crops” said Dr Ramanjaneyelu, Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
Another substantive issue which arose from the Programme of Work of the COP-MOP and previous decisions is regarding developing guidance for parties on risk assessment. India’s claim to have established a mechanism for conducting risk assessments prior to taking decisions regarding LMOs is unacceptable, as the real experience on the ground and submissions in the ongoing PIL in the Supreme Court have pointed to the egregious gaps in the regulatory regime in India, which will need to be addressed.
It is deplorable that some European nations also showed great resistance to the requirement of “Identification” where any package containing Living Modified Organism(LMO) will be clearly identified for handling and transport. This shows the hypocrisy and manipulation by these governments backed by the biotech industry; having acknowledged the risks of Living Modified Organisms and evolving an entire Protocol for biosafety, identification and labeling of LMOs should be the very first step.
The MOP6 also saw the continuing influence of big biotech industry lobby spending millions of dollars to be present in the Convention simply to weaken the protocols, the continuing influence from strong non-parties like the US and the resistance from some European countries in strengthening the implementation of the protocol, the delay in most countries in ratifying the protocols, the lack of sufficient budget for capacity-building and ensuring the implementation of the protocols in the member countries after ratification. The Coalition calls for all countries to ratify the Supplementary Protocol and, implement strict biosafey laws. The Coalition also raised serious concerns about the apathy among global leader nations to contribute towards ensuring adequate financial resources for the implementation of the world’s biosafety protocols and decisions related to them.
What Indian national and state governments should do
We demand that the Indian national and state governments should treat the CBD conference and the MOP6 as the beginning of a new phase where Bio-safety will be given highest priority while dealing with GM crops.
(1) Indian government should enact a comprehensive National Biosafety Protection Law to address the risks posed by Genetic Engineering technology. Any future consideration of release of GM crops should be only after such a biosafety regime based on precautionary principles, complete consideration of socio-economic realities and strict liability and redress is implemented. The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India(BRAI) bill should be discarded completely, as it violates the key commitments being made by India under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and its Supplementary Protocol.
(2) All open-air field trials of GM crops constitute an “environmental release”, and should be stopped forthwith, as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture.
(3) No GM research and development should be allowed on crops in their centre of diversity, especially for important food crops. This applies to rice, brinjal, jowar, red gram, brinjal and so on. Indian diploid (desi) cotton varieties should be protected from GM, and non-GM development should be taken up.
(4) Comprehensive process to assess the socio-economic implications of GM crops should be initiated in India, in light of the formation of the Technical Expert Group in MOP6.
(5) The Department of Biotechnology and its association with Biotechnology Consortium India Limited (BCIL) should immediately stop funding and facilitating the development of this risky technology of GM crops and focus more on capacity-building about the risks of the technology.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener, Coalition for GM Free India: 09995358205, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture: 09000699702, email@example.com
Kirankumar Vissa, co-convenor, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA): 09701705743, firstname.lastname@example.org
PRESS RELEASE PUT OUT BY THE COALITION FOR A GM-FREE INDIA, ON OCTOBER 6TH 2012