People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 43

October 25, 2009

AIKS demands addressing of unresolved
issues Before introducing Bt Brinjal


All India Kisan Sabha has issued the following statement October 14


THE Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) met on October 14, 2009 to discuss the Report of the Bt Brinjal Expert Committee and take a final decision on the environmental release/commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal in India.  Reports suggest that the GEAC has decided to approve the environmental release of Bt Brinjal from Monsanto/Mahyco in India which would for all purposes permit the use of transgenic and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and products for edible purposes. In the event of such a decision Bt Brinjal will be the first transgenic vegetable to be cultivated and sold in Indian markets. This is happening even as there are many unresolved issues surrounding the environmental release of the transgenic vegetable as well as genuine concerns expressed over its safety for human consumption. There is also the added threat of all future seeds and therefore Indian agriculture to come under the control of global MNC's and the charging of extortionate prices from Indian farmers.


The Brinjal in question also is part of an USAID programme called Agri-Biotechnology Support Programme [ABSP] where under a Public Private Partnership, three Indian institutions, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi, University of Agricultural Sciences,  Dharwad and Tamilnadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore are working with Monsanto and Mahyco. There are also serious misgivings about the GEAC itself which has been transgressing its role as a regulatory body and showing an inherent bias towards big monopoly companies like the Monsanto. It has been pointed out that some of the �experts� in the GEAC have conflict of interests. Certain experts on the committee are also reported to have expressed strong objections which were however not taken into account. If the GEAC carries forward the environmental release of Bt Brinjal floodgates will be opened for nearly 60 genetically modified food crops in India, some of which are already in the pipeline like rice, corn, okra etc. In this regard it may be noted that the European Union has followed strict norms and countries in the EU have banned the genetically modified food crops.


The monopoly of the MNCs like Monsanto over the seeds is another major concern. Seeds are no longer in the public domain as they are now the �intellectual property� of these MNCs. The withdrawal of State regulation has aided the creation of seed monopolies and the governmental policies are abetting the gradual elimination of the public sector seed corporations. In India today, MNCs directly or indirectly control a major share of the seed market. The government has made no efforts to generate self-reliance in seeds by combining the ingenuity of farmers and the technical know-how of scientists. Instead it has only sold out Indian agriculture to big agri-businesses, making IARI and other agricultural research bodies colloborate with global MNC's as virtual junior partners.


After the GEAC had given approval to Monsanto to launch its Bt Cotton technology between 2002 to 2005 Monsanto charged an exorbitant trait value (Royalty) of Rs 1200/- per packet of 450g. Bt Cotton seeds were being sold at an exorbitant price of Rs 1800/- to Rs 2000/- per packet. Based on the complaints of the Andhra Pradesh Ryotu Sangham, the government of Andhra Pradesh referred the matter to the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC). The MRTPC indicted Monsanto and passed an interim order stating that Monsanto is indeed following restrictive trade practices and this had resulted in some relief for the farmers. The MNCs however retain the monopoly over seeds and there is no regulation on them.


There has been no transparency in the discussions in the run up to this meeting and MNCs have violated rules for open field trials. In the case of Bt Cotton earlier Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka had protested against Bt Cotton trials by Mahyco-Monsanto. Kerala and Orissa have announced that they will not allow field trials of GM crops. Officials from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and West Bengal have written to the centre pointing out irregularities and violations in the conduct of field trials on GM brinjal, okra and rice. While hearing an appeal on safety of GM products, the Supreme Court, through its order on 8 May 2007, clearly upheld the importance of bio-safety. The need for rigorous bio-safety tests has also not been met in a manner so as to dispel doubts raised about the implications of these crops for humans, animals and the environment.


Concerns regarding the health and environmental risks associated with GM crops are too serious to be disregarded. The seed monopolies that threaten Indian agriculture and farmers� livelihoods should also be reined in. The All India Kisan Sabha demands that there be no hasty introduction of Bt Brinjal without addressing these concerns. It also demands complete transparency from the GEAC and making public the nature of the trials carried out and the bio-safety of the products. Without a public examination and a debate on the safety of Bt Brinjal, this product should not be approved for environmental release.