People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 02

January 10, 2010

Statement on Bt Brinjal

 

The following is the statement adopted by the participants of national seminar on 'Bt Brinjal, Socially Responsible Science and Alternatives in Agriculture' held in Mararikulam (North) Panchayat of Alappuzha district on January 2, 2010 

WE, the participants of the national seminar on 'Bt Brinjal, Socially Responsible Science and Alternatives in Agriculture' held in Mararikulam North endorse the concerns expressed by the grama panchayat, its farmers and women's groups with respect to the commercial introduction of Bt Brinjal by the central government.

Mararikulam North Grama Panchayat is well known for its innovative methods for promoting vegetable production overcoming severe limitations imposed by the sandy soil and the other ecological constraints. It has also overcome the historical legacy of the drastic decline of agriculture as even a secondary occupation. It has not only succeeded in increasing vegetable production but has also trained farmers adopt organic agriculture and integrated pest management systems. The panchayat is home to a traditional indigenous variety of Brinjal known as Mararikulam Brinjal. As a part of its annual plan, the panchayat has undertaken a project to promote Brinjal cultivation in every homestead. It is at this juncture that the announcement regarding the commercial release of Bt Brinjal came. Worried over the growing concerns regarding implications of Bt Brinjal for the agricultural biodiversity and survival of Mararikulam Brinjal, the prospects for organic farming practices, the threat of multi-national companies like Monsanto monopolising the seeds and supply of agricultural inputs, the grama panchayat took the initiative to organise the national seminar. They were also concerned about the bio-safety aspects, particularly after, the Ayurvedic physicians of Kerala came out openly against Bt Brinjal. The national seminar is part of the larger Mararikulam Brinjal Festival to alert the people to the dangers of Bt Brinjal. The local government, prompted by the practical implications for local development is joining the national policy debate. The seminar considers this event as an important contribution to this debate.

The grama panchayat has stated that it is not opposed to the science of biotechnology and genetic engineering, a very important component of ongoing advance in science and technology. However, given the concerns already expressed it would emphasise the precautionary principle and public sector management of the new technology. The unanimous opinion of the seminar is that the precautionary principle has been compromised in the case of Bt Brinjal and US corporate interests have unduly influenced the decision making process.

The seminar notes that as per the practices of sound science, a large number of independent longer and medium term studies that were needed to consider all aspects of bio-safety are yet to be conducted in the case of Bt Brinjal. It disapproves the manner in which the regulatory system has been allowed to be captured by multinational companies like Monsanto by the ministry of environment and forests of the government of India. It calls upon the central government to prevent the use of science of genomics for profits.  It recognises that in order to protect the interests of Indian people as a whole, it is necessary that the central government strictly adheres to the precautionary principle.  

The seminar recognised that there is an enormous body of scientific evidence accumulating with regard to adverse environmental and health impacts. It is therefore quite regrettable that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has proceeded with the environmental release of Bt Brinjal without addressing concrete criticisms raised against the testing process, its adequacy and interpretation. It also notes that the clearance of GEAC has been provided on the basis of the data provided by Monsanto/Mahyco in India. It demands that the central government orders independent studies and puts to rest the controversy going on with regard to the bio-safety concerns within the scientific community on the introduction of genetically modified (GM) foods. It calls upon the central government to recognise that its decision with regard to Bt Brinjal has far reaching implications for permitting the use of GM foods and products for edible purposes.

It demands utmost care to be taken in respect of transgenic(s) for Brinjal because India is the centre of origin of biodiversity for Brinjal. The potential damage that the introduction of Bt Brinjal can cause to the Brinjal biodiversity was discussed in great detail by the experts and farmers alike. It was noted that an erosion of biodiversity will adversely impact on the livelihood security of farmers and associated groups. It was pointed out that even the company introducing Bt Brinjal is not able to rule out the development of resistance in target species and is proposing resistance management by offering the suggestion of a structured refuge of five per cent non-Bt Brinjal cultivation. It wanted the central government to recognise that the possibility of target species developing resistance is not a far fetched one in the Indian conditions.

It recognises the concerns being raised with regard to lack of clarity over the ownership of intellectual property on Bt Gene and biological materials used in respect of hybrids and varieties under consideration for introduction by Monsanto/Mayhco and its serious implications for the management of risks associated with the implementation of technology of Bt Brinjal. The Brinjal in question is part of an USAID programme called Agri-Biotechnology Support Programme [ABSP]. It has been developed under the arrangements made by Monsanto/Mahyco with the Indian research institutions namely, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad and Tamilnadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore. There exist serious misgivings about the contractual arrangements signed with regard to intellectual property by these organisations. 

The seminar noted that the government had earlier also given approval to Monsanto to launch its Bt Cotton technology between 2002 to 2005 under the belief that the rate of royalty charged would be reasonable. Bt Cotton seeds have been 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 had even referred this 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.

The seminar notes that the GEAC itself has been transgressing its role as a regulatory body and showing an inherent bias towards big monopoly companies like the Monsanto. It recognised that some of the “experts” in the GEAC have conflict of interests. It also took a serious note of this fact that the GEAC completely ignored the objections of certain experts whose independence and eminence is not in question. It did not want the GEAC to be led by the collective bias of interested group of scientists and ignore the dissenting opinion and strong objections of other experts. Ninety per cent of the members of the United Nations, including European Union, do not permit the use of GM foods. Therefore introduction of GM crops can adversely affect our exports.

The seminar also notes that 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. 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. The government of Kerala has unequivocally stated that it will not permit introduction of Bt Brinjal in the state.  The Supreme Court, through its order on 8 May 2007, clearly upheld the importance of bio-safety.

This seminar demands that there should be a moratorium on the introduction of Bt Brinjal and GM foods for a certain period. During this period the government should set up a creditable and transparent public sector institutional structure for undertaking longer and medium term laboratory and field studies. India has sufficient skills in agriculture and crop production like plant breeding and hybridisation. Therefore public-private partnership in agriculture will bring little benefit. Emphasis should be placed instead on developing our own technological strengths in keeping with our philosophy of self reliance in the sector. A comprehensive needs assessment for crops and traits required in different agro-ecological zones and agricultural problems faced by small farmers should be made a pre-requisite for framing the research agenda. R&D institutions must train a cadre of scientists in bio-safety assessment including the socio-economic dimension to do a competent evaluation of transgenic crops. India should make strong investments in the next generation technologies like Marker-Aided Selection and apomixis. It also calls upon the central government to support the efforts being taken for the development of alternatives like non-pesticide management of pests and diseases and practice of ecological agriculture.