IndiaGMInfo, 16 October 2014

photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Source: http://indiagminfo.org/?p=783

Press Release

Farmers, Scientists, Activists demand an immediate halt of open GM trials that pose a threat to food safety and environment of the entire nation

Pune,16th October, 2014: On World Food Day today, farmers, scientists, consumer activists, environmentalists, celebrities and citizens from all walks of life joined hands to demand that open trials of controversial Genetically Modified (GM) crops in Maharashtra be stopped immediately. A public statement on the same with endorsements from a wide cross section of organisations and eminent individuals in the state was released today at a press conference in the city by the Coalition for a GM Free India along with farmer representatives and leaders from various people’s movements.

The public statement points to the growing scientific evidence as well as experiences of adverse impacts of GM crops to human health, biodiversity and the socioeconomic fabric of our country and demands an immediate stop to all environmental releases of GMOs including those in the garb of field trials.[1]

Speaking at the occasion 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.”

Justice B.G Kolse Patil of Lokshasan, releasing the public statement along with others, condemned the manner in which the Maharashtra State Government has approved field trials of GM crops in the state when credible agencies like the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) in its final report have recommended against any open release of GM crops, including for field trials, owing to the inherent risks with GM crops as well as the inadequacy of the current regulatory system. He opined, “The hurry with which these trials are being conducted with no information to, let alone consultations with, the public in the state when the Hon’ble Supreme Court is to hear the matter shows that this is neither in the interest of the people nor the country.”

With neighbouring Gujarat government also formally announcing its decision to disallow field trials of GM food crops in the state, Maharashtra becomes the only state where field trials of GM crops are currently taking place, in the country.[2] “Maharashtra has been made into a laboratory of risky GM crops and all of us laboratory animals” said Tanmay Joshi of Coalition for a GM Free Maharashtra. He 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.”

“It has been conclusively shown that GM crops are a tool in the hands of Multinational seed companies to take control of our food and farming through their proprietary seeds.” stated Sunithi S.R, National Convenor of National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM). Pointing to the Indian experience with Bt cotton, the only GM crop allowed for commercial cultivation, she said, “ Within 12 years of its approval, cotton, a symbol of our freedom struggle, is now completely in the hands of Monsanto, the American multinational seed giant. It controls more than 95% of our cotton seed market through its proprietary Bt cotton. Through aggressive marketing and with the able support of our own government agencies it has monopolised the cotton market leaving the farmer no option but to buy its costly seeds year after year. One shudders at the thought of the same happening with all our food crops putting our food security and seed sovereignty under threat.”

Monsanto leads the list of GM crop developers in India the field trials of which have been approved by GEAC. 15 of the 47 field trials approved this year are for crops promoted by the Monsanto – Mahyco (Monsanto’s Indian affiliate) family. This includes a Herbicide Tolerant and insect resistant (HT/Bt) Maize which is undergoing advanced trials in Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri in Ahmednagar district and another Herbicide tolerant ( HT) Maize in Vasant Rao Naik Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth, Parbhani of Maharashtra. The Coalition has written to Shri. Prakash Javadekar, the Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change and the District Collector of Ahmednagar pointing to the rampant violations reported by media at this trial site and demanded that the GM crop trial be stopped immediately.[3]

The current field trials at MPKV Rahuri comes as a U-turn on an earlier decision by the University not to provide its campuses for trials of GM crops. This decision was taken in 2009 after hundreds of farmers and consumers led by eminent farmer leaders like N D Patil and Vijay Jawandhia, along with members of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, confronted the University for conducting a similar GM Maize trial of Monsanto. On April 2nd 2009, after instituting an Inquiry Committee and holding deliberations, the University promised the citizens that it will not take up transgenic crop trials henceforth.[4] This was also informed to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency for any approval of environmental release of GMOs in the country, by Monsanto and recorded in the minutes of their meetings 98 and 100.

“At this juncture, citizens demand to know from the University what fresh evidence they have to show that these GMOs are needed and safe, for them to go against their own promise to conduct such trials, while most emerging evidence shows greater risk.” asked Pandurang Shitole of the Gram Nirman, an organisation working towards sustainable rural livelihoods. He also stated, “It is completely unacceptable that public sector organisations, funded by public money, take up such trials on behalf of corporations like Monsanto. Our NARS (National Agricultural Research System)’s universities and their research stations are repositories of India’s germplasm wealth. This is a generous gift from our farmers to other farmers and the nation. All of this is being jeopardized through irresponsible open-air trials of GMOs.”

Madhav Pandit, Secretary of Maharashtra organic Farmers Federation ( MOFF) pointed to the fact that real alternatives to problems of farmers are being sidelined by the promotion of such false promises like GM crops. He stated, “GM crops are a continuation of the treadmill technologies that our farmers have been pushed into thanks to the policies of the successive state and central governments”. He hoped, “The new government in place will promote ecological farming which is socially just, economically viable and ecologically sustainable. This along with proper support for backward and forward linkages in farming is the only way to get our farmers out of the distress which has made Maharashtra the farm suicide capital of the country”.

The speakers urged the Maharashtra state govt as well as the Central Government to heed the voice of people and experts and immediately halt all GM crop field trials in the states. They also announced that they will continue to mobilise public opinion on the issue until this is done.

Notes to the Editor:

1. The public statement to stop GM field trials in Maharashtra http://indiagminfo.org/?p=781
2. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/gujarat-refuses-gm-field-trials-of-food-crops/article6485577.ece
3. Letter to the District collector Ahmednagar can be accessed at http://indiagminfo.org/?p=780
4. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/node/3433; http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/gm-corn-trials-in-kolhapur-stopped/442350/

For More Info:
1. Tanmay Joshi, Coalition for a GM Free Maharashtra,
Mob: 8087502186, email:tanmay_sj@yahoo.com

2. Rajesh Krishnan, Coalition for a GM Free India,
Mob: 09845650032, email:rajeshecologist@gmail.com