Sunday, April 26, 2009

Frankenstein goes purple by Kavitha Srinivasa, 25 Apr 2009

THIS VEGGIE BURNS: According to Wealth of India, published by the CSIR-New Delhi, Brinjal is reported to stimulate the intra-hepatic metabolism of cho


It’s just a vegetable, a variant of the humble brinjal all of us know so well, but it’s creating great outrage, great expectations and great apprehension. This is Bt brinjal, a hybrid mothered by the agribusiness giant Mon­santo, and it is on the verge of becoming the first genetically modified food crop to be introduced into India. Its promoters obviously feel a successful start will create conditions for many more corporate-owned hybrids. Its opponents fear the consequences, both long-term and short-term.

In simple terms, Bt brinjal is different in that it carries a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. It is supposed to protect the plant from a variety of insect infestations. But the full consequences of ingesting the hybrid are unknown and untested, acc­ording to its opponents.

One of the more articulate opponents is filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt who took a sabbatical from the silver screen to make Poison on the Platter with director Ajay Kanchan to address the issue of GM foods in general. It’s awaiting approval for release, but it’s in time because Bt Brinjal — or Franken food as these things are called — is also due to be released shortly.

But Bhatt, an outspoken Mumbaikar, is neither the only nor the most formidable opponent of GM foods. For instance, the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) in France has submitted to India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) that Bt brinjal’s release into the environment for food and feed in India may present a serious risk for human and animal health. It has said Bt Brinjal’s commercial release should be forbidden.

The hybrid has been developed by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company), the India arm of Monsanto. A Mahyco spokesperson had this to say: “Bt brinjal is identical to brinjal in every respect, except for the additional Bt protein, targeted only against the Fruit and Shoot Borer, which is the most destructive insect pest for brinjal.”

In January, Mahyco submitted the test results of Bt brinjal to the Genetic Engi­neering Approval Committee (GEAC), the clearing house for all GM crops in India. Generally, the regulatory body would have passed a decision by now. But it has been delayed thus far because its opponents got hold of Mahyco’s test results by filing an RTI (Right to Information).

GEAC’s sub-committee is likely to examine two scientific analyses and Mahyco’s res­ponse. “The first report, by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a CRIIGEN biochemist found that Mahyco had left out statistically significant differences between GM and control groups in its report to the GEAC,” says Sangita Sharma, a farmer and state coordinator for the My Right to Safe Food campaign. Seralini’s analysis says Bt brinjal produces a protein that could induce resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin, which could be a major health problem. This analysis was commissioned by Greenpeace.

The other report reviewed Mahyco’s food safety evaluation of Bt brinjal. Judy Carmen, director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, a non-profit body working on genetically modified organisms found errors in Mahyco’s research methodology. “Carmen said Mahyco had not assessed the likelihood of a change in the genetic expression of the plant after the insertion of a gene and that no tests were conducted

to determine whether the modified genes could degrade upon cooking or it was digestible,” says Sharma.

Genetically modified food brings along a trail of safety concerns. For its part, Bangalore played host to the first-ever Brinjal Fest last month to caution consumers about the hazards of Bt brinjal. “Mah­yco’s data give no clue on chronic impact or what happens if it’s consumed in small doses. It’s unsafe for human consumption, animal feed and the environment,” says Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, a countrywide network of farmers’ unions, environmental organisations, women’s groups, organic farming groups and consumer groups.

“Bt brinjal will erode our productive resources and will impact brinjal farmers badly. It will increase fertiliser consumption. Pests, especially sucking pests will transmit disease from plant to plant. Seed consumption is higher and demand for irrigation will also increase,” she adds.

Mahyco’s insists that Bt brinjal is as safe as can be. “Bt brinjal has been in development for nine years and has been tested on every count to ensure it is safe for human consumption. It is the most rigorously tested vegetable with 25 environmental biosafety studies supervised by independent and government agencies. It has been tested on fish, chicken, rabbits, goats, rats and buffaloes. Results show it’s not toxic to any of them, as the Bt gene has no effect on humans or animals because its effects are specific to the insect gut,” its spokesperson says.

What if a consumer doesn’t want the GM brinjal, but the unmodified aubergine? Can he tell between the two? The two look the same, unfortunately. In other ways too, people seem to know very little about GM foods. Last August, a survey of 500 people in Hyderabad showed only 8.3 per cent of them knew about GM crops.

If Bt brinjal does measure up to GEAC expectations, it may be the world’s first GM food crop. So far, crops like GM corn and soybean have been cleared only for animal feed in the US. “Indians are the first guinea pigs for Bt brinjal. Even if it enters the market, there needs to be a Labelling and Liability Law for the consumer and farmer to make their choice. But product approval shouldn’t depend on labelling,” says R Jai Krishna of Greenpeace, the international NGO.


Earth Day Exclusive: Session on Genetically Modified Food at Perot Systems, Whitefield

Greetings from "My RIGHT TO SAFE FOOD"

We were most delighted and highly appreciative of the concerted efforts, steered by Shobha Nagathihalli to screen the recent updated film "Poison on the Platter" and followed by a 25 min speech by Sangita Sharma on "Indian versus Global Scenario on GM foods" to the P.S green Ambassadors (Preserving & Sustaining the Environment) of Perot Systems, a leading software corporate on 22nd April at 11.30am.

On the occasion of the World Earth Day, special invites ( see below) were sent to the PS Green Ambassadors by an energised team comprising of Rima Mukherjee and Namrata Shetty where efforts were made to link the talk via a video conference to headquarters, to reach the PS Green Ambassadors in their network.

A special display of Annadana collection of Open Pollinated Seeds decorated by varieties of red and yellow freshly grown corn (from Ishana Farms) provoked much interest. Host of books displaying biodivesity that will be lost should GM crops enter our fields. Handouts of booklets -MY RIGHT TO SAFE FOOD, along with car stickers, consumer alerts were part of the display.

Sangita Sharma addressed an auditorium packed audience, pleasantly surprised even the organising team, given such short notice. The concerns shown by
their sheer presence was very encouraging. The concerns and questions raised soon after were clarified to an alert audience and the way forward.
The follow up thereafter led to a pristine arrangement of lunch with a special note of thanks to Shobha, Sujata Puranik Rakhra and Sanjay Ketkar.

A Refreshing outcome

1. A list of all alerts, handouts via email will be circulated on "My Right to Safe Food" to all employees.
2. Stickers on SAY NO TO GM FOODS given to PS Green Ambassadors to put on their vehicles
3. Employees were requested to contribute by keeping us informed if they knew of any gathering to carry forward our awareness campaign.
4. Volunteers have come forward to help us in our campaign by distributing the material on GM foods to their families, co workers and friends.
5. PS Green team took the responsibility of getting the petition to the PM signed by the employees.
6. There will be GM posters and articles posted on the information board of the company's library.
7. A suggestion put forth by Sangita on directly linking the farmers produce to the inhouse consumers was taken well onboard.
Attempts to pursue a "Syndicate Buying" to ascertain the response and quantities.
8. It was suggested that perhaps a weekly stall on organic produce be made available on the premises to encourage safe foods.
9. An interest was shown to transform half an acre in their premises to an organic vegetable and herbs garden to make available to the staff.
These areas were shown to us by a very keen Shobha, striving to carry the message of safe foods and along with the PS green ambassadors a proposal will be
send out to a receptive management for clearances along with small budget allocations. Support will be extended by Annadana on making this effort viable.
10. Mr Naga Siddharth approached Sangita to propose on a monthly green activity for the employees with his team of PS Green Ambassadors.
11. A few came forward who showed interest in taking a few OP seeds for home gardening, they were distributed.

We thank the management of Perot Systems for taking this step forward as a corporate which sets a precedent in encouraging Safe foods.

In strength and conviction, we grow to fight this ongoing battle to safeguard our food.

Thanking you

In solidarity

Kuldip Gill

Bt brinjal launch likely to be delayed

Apr 16 2009 2231 hrs IST , Goa
Bt Brinjal, Launch, Transgenic food crop, Companies
Source:Financial Chronicle
By Nayanima Basu

Commercial launch of the country’s first transgenic food crop — Bt Brinjal — might take much longer than expected with the government still awaiting the required data for analysis. Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) had planned to launch Bt Brinjal by 2009-end.

Bt brinjal has been embroiled in several controversies in the past three years over health-related issues. Mahyco is the first private firm in India to produce and market hybrids of cotton, sorghum, pearl millet, sunflower and wheat. It was also the first Indian firm to commercially grow and market transgenic Bollgard cotton (Bt cotton), India’s first transgenic crop in 2002, which was introduced after much controversy.
Bharat R Char, head of biotechnology research at Mahyco, said at a workshop that the company expected a final approval by year end. He said application for commercial release of Bt brinjal seeds to genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) has been completed, though a committee member said it would take more time.
Ranjini Warrier, member secretary of GEAC, said in New Delhi, “It might take one more year to introduce the crop. A lot of data still needs to be collected because trials have, so far, been conducted in confined environment.” He said the government would form a committee in the next couple of weeks, mainly to review various questions raised by NGOs, evaluate international reports on genetically modified crops and check compliance with OECD norms. The committee works under the environment and forest ministry.

The identified areas for growing Bt Brinjal are north Karnataka, south Maharashtra and Goa with the local varieties such
as Manjarigota, Udupigulla, Malapur local, Kudachi local, GO 112 and Rabkavi local. Many NGOs and farmer organisations have protested against Bt brinjal as they felt it was hazardous and does not reduce farmers’ dependency on pesticides.

The reporter's trip was sponsored by Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II South Asia, funded by USAID

Monsanto seeks end to German GMO maize ban for '09 crop By MichaeL Hogan Reuters, April 22 2009

1.Monsanto seeks end to German GMO maize ban for '09 crop
2.German Minister Pushed to Ban GM Potatoes, Suedddeutsche Says

NOTE: The German Government's GM maize ban has not just popular support, but political support across party lines, and the support of most commentators. Monsanto has its lawyers.

*Legal action to get GMO ban lifted for German 2009 harvest
*Says Germany presents no new data to justify GMO ban

1. HAMBURG - Monsanto, the world's biggest seed company, said on Wednesday it hoped legal action to end Germany's ban on growing its genetically modified (GMO) maize would allow the variety to be sown for the 2009 harvest.

On Tuesday, Monsanto said it had started legal action against the decision on April 14 by German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner to ban cultivation and sale of Monanto's MON 810 GMO maize which stopped it being sown for this year's harvest.

Monsanto hoped a court decision would be available by mid-May which would permit the maize to be sown for this year's harvest, a Monsanto spokesman said.

An application for an urgent hearing had been made in a German district court. German maize is planted in April and May.The company would contest the ban because it believed the decision damaged its legal rights as the European Union had approved the maize as safe, he said.

Aigner had said she decided to issue the ban as information showed there was a justifiable reason to believe GMO maize presented a danger to the environment.
Such decisions must be based on new scientific information, the Monsanto spokesman said.

"The explanation that we received from the BVL (German federal food safety agency) last Friday contains no new scientific findings and the study that the BVL puts forward has already been examined by the European Food Safety Authority and other agencies," he said.

The EFSA is the EU risk assessment agency for food and animal feed safety.

A spokesperson for Germany's Agriculture Ministry said: "We have taken note of this lawsuit, which is not a surprise." The ministry would not make detailed comment on legal cases.

The ban put Germany alongside France, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg, which also banned MON 810 maize despite its approval by the EU as safe for commercial use in the bloc.

The EU Commission, the bloc's executive arm, has tried without success to get the bans in other countries lifted.

German farmers have registered intentions to cultivate some 3,300 hectares of maize for the 2009 harvest, up from 3,100 hectares in 2008.

But the total is an insignificant part of Germany's annual maize crop of around 1.8 to 2.0 million hectares. (Reporting by Michael Hogan; Editing by Peter Blackburn)
2.German Minister Pushed to Ban GM Potatoes, Suedddeutsche Says Suedddeutsche
By Jeremy van Loon
Bloomberg, April 22 2009

German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner is under pressure from her Christian Social Union party to ban planting of genetically modified potatoes, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, citing unidentified people.

A ban would put Aigner and the CSU in conflict with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who heads the Christian Democratic Union, and Annette Schavan, the country’s research minister, the newspaper said. Both Merkel and Schavan favor allowing planting genetically modified potatoes.

Earlier this month, Aigner outlawed the planting of a strain of corn made by Monsanto Co., joining a widening European ban on GM crops that threatens to trigger U.S. trade retaliation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy van Loon in Berlin at

Monday, April 20, 2009

GMOs and JEWS ... Muslims, Christians, Hindus by Linn Cohen-Cole

Linn is an American grandmother who keeps late hours working night into day to educate us lot by her research on GMOs, corporations taking over our entire food systems and about small and family farms in the USA. The intense support she provide to groups supporting ecological farmers and farming is a refreshing awakening call to consumers.

Linn is the most inspiring agent of change.

Thought provoking research as always from a dedicated Linn. Can't thank her enough.

Sangita Sharma

GMOs violate fundamental religious principles across all four major world religions:


What does Kosher even mean if there is human DNA in rice?

[T]hese age-old laws continue to have a significant impact on the way many observant Jews go about their daily lives. One of the more well-known restrictions is the injunction against mixing meat with dairy products. Not only do most Jews who observe kashrut avoid eating any meat and milk products together, many also wait a certain amount of time-30 minutes to a few hours-between eating meat and dairy. Everything the foods touch must be kept completely separate. A fully kosher household, for example, might have two or more different sets of flatware, tableware and cooking ware for making and serving meat dishes separate from dairy-based dishes. ...Outside the house, some Jews keep kosher by eating only at kosher restaurants....

Rice pudding - a sweet concoction of milk and human DNA - becomes a profound religious violation.

And how does one organize a kosher kitchen to keep milk and "meat" from touching the same utensils when 70% of food in the grocery now contain GMOs? Corn and soy, the two major US crops, are the bases of our processed food diet, yet are genetically contaminated with Bt, a bacteria. Bacteria is animal, not vegetable. Must one get down to DNA to sort things out in a kosher kitchen?

Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)

And how would one do that?

Or must observant Jews simply accept Monsanto (and others) has made a mockery of Jewish dietary laws, making them not only impossible but subjecting Jews to the nightmare of keeping milk separate from ... human DNA?

Lubavitch Rabbi Yossi Serebryanski ..., a kosher supervisor ... said he has "stopped eating tomatoes and only eats potatoes he knows are organic. ... he fears that genes from non-kosher foods, such as pigs or insects, could be implanted in vegetables and Jews may unwittingly break kosher laws by eating them."... One Jewish man has even sued the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to require labeling of products containing genetically modified foods, on the grounds that because of the laws of kilayim , his religious freedoms as a Jew are being violated if he cannot distinguish between GMO foods and non-GMO foods.


Muslims are already studying dietary religious issues with GMOs.

According to the Islamic Jurisprudence Council (IJC), foods derived from biotechnology-improved (GMO) crops are halal - fit for consumption by Muslims. Some scholars, though, have suggested that foods derived from biotechnology-improved crops could possibly become haram (non-halal) if they contain DNA from forbidden foods. For example, swine DNA in soy could make the soy product haram. This issue is still the subject of some debate among scholars and certifying organizations. Should a product be brought to market with a gene from a haram source, today it would at least be considered Mashbooh -- questionable -- if not outright haram.

What is considered a haram source?

(1) [A]nything that is harmful to the human body is Haram; (See the list of diseases above.)

(2) Four types of food are clearly Haram-carrion, blood, swine, and dog flesh, and anything immolated to anyone other than God. (Where would food from human DNA fall?)


"One cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate – animals, plants, the natural elements – as one wishes, according to one's own economic needs." Pope John Paul II, 1987 Social Concern of the Church, # 34

"Common good: ... The ethic of the common good is recognized in the social teaching as a restraint on the operations of the free market. It raises questions such as: can seeds of life be patented or subjected to "terminator" processes if this endangers the common good? The Church's Social Teaching (CST) says no!

"Option for the poor:
CST emphasises ... political decisions governing policies in and between countries must ... be made on the basis of ... a priority question: what impact does this have on the poor...? ...

First, ... commercially promoted GMOs [are] based on an industrial model of agriculture [favoring] large farms ... at the expense of smaller family farms. ... The ancient tradition of saving seeds each year for replanting is abrogated. In Zambia, it threatens the continued existence of the small-scale farmers ....

"Secondly, the frequently advanced grounds for introducing GMO crops – that its supposed increase in productivity will lessen the problems of hunger – is open to direct challenge. ... It is clear that hunger is not primarily a matter of scarce food resources but of the economic structures ... and accessibility .... In short, hunger is directly related to poverty. ... "In Africa ... more than two thousand native ... plants ... have been feeding people for thousands of years, but most are receiving no scientific attention whatsoever ..."

[D]ecisions that can be made responsibly and effectively at the local level should not be taken by a higher level. The presumption is that those closer to the issues will have both the wisdom and the concern to make the best decisions. ... [T]his principle still has political and ethical value. Indeed, in the age of globalisation, it assumes a fundamental importance relating to ... national sovereignty.

"Zambia ... faced in 2002 ... a food shortage because of poor weather conditions. The President had to resist very strong international pressures, primarily ... from the USA, to introduce GMO crops before any adequate bio-safety policy was in place. After a thorough study ... – paid for by the USA – the President was ridiculed for accepting ... that study and maintaining ... the "precautionary principle."

This is the recognition of the interconnectedness -- ethical as well as empirical -- of personal and institutional activities that make up the social fabric of human existence. ... When economic activity undercuts community ... then solidarity is destroyed.

"This understanding of solidarity ... drives the ... papal concerns about ... globalisation. ...Zambia's resistance to GMOs is a classic example of ... forces of globalisation ... trivializ[ing] Zambian concerns and marginalize Zambian decisions. ... [E]xclusive ... non-solidarity-oriented globalisation [was] strongly criticised by the Vatican at WTO meeting in Cancun."


Food is the essence of life, from which things unfold. "Everything is centered in food, the evil deeds of man resort to their food."

"A love of nature and the importance of living a simple, natural life are the basis of Hinduism .... Like Buddhism, ... and other religions that promote a vegetarian lifestyle, the Hindu faith encompasses a number of health beliefs and dietary practices arising from the idea of living in harmony with nature and having ... respect for all of God's creations. ...

"Hindus believe ... food affects both body and mind. Food is ... a source of the body's chemistry, which affects one's consciousness and emotions. Thus, expression of the soul depends on the body, which depends on the food. A proper diet is considered vital for spiritual development in Hinduism. Hindus believe that for true service to God, purity of food is necessary to maintain the desirable state of mind that leads to enlightenment. Food is consumed not only to survive.... By eating a purer quality of food ... one can ensure a pure heart, long life, cheerful spirit, strength, health, happiness and delight. Good and pure food promotes a peaceful-not agitated-mind ... needed to see the Truth as the Truth.

In Hindu religion, there is a story of "parallel creation" engineered by Rishi Aagust, and how he was stopped ...from interfering in the existing Creation. Hinduism does not sanction human beings donning the mantle of spiritual authority, and this applies to the manipulation of species and their genetics.

"The [US] declared a war on Indian rice ... in the early 1960s when ... Dr M.S. Swaminathan, stole the gene bank of rice, evolved over decades by Dr Riccharia, and passed it over to the Americans. Activists say that Monsanto, operating through its Indian Joint Venture partners ...have committed crimes against humanity with the full connivance of [Indian] officials.

"India had 120,000 varieties of rice seeds; today, no more than 50 are available."

What does "vegetarian" even mean if rice has human DNA in it and brinjal (eggplant) has Bt spliced into its DNA?

In a country like India for which rice is not only a staple but possesses deep religious significance, this treatment of it defies the limits of outrage. And it was just such outrage over contamination through pig and cow fat (used in British cartridges) which triggered the massive rebellion in 1857 against the British.

When GMOs aren't being associated with a threat to fertility, or with diabetes, allergies, asthma,, cancers, and deaths, or with biosurfdom, if not outright destruction of farmers, or bribery, or takeover of universities, and land grant colleges, or removing democracy itself,,

US Government Busts Monsanto for Bribery

Posted on February 15, 2009 by vegancowprotect

According to online news bribery and corruption allegations involving Turkish officials and Monsanto were settled today with a US$300,000 payment.

Furthermore the US Government will once again monitor Monsanto’s dealings. The Government ordered monitoring of Monsanto’s external dealings after a previous conviction for bribery in 2005.

This follows closely in the wake of the announcement by the industry front Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO), on Wednesday,of their latest clean up plans to introduce third-party auditing “to help agricultural players around the world feel confident that biotech crops are subject to stringent safety standards.”
According to Carey Gillam, REUTERS, Kansas City, Missouri, agro-chemical giants Monsanto and DuPont endorsed this plan.

Forbes Insider Trading reported on 17 July that Monsanto’s top executives had begun selling off their Monsanto shares. This was followed on 24 July 2007 by an announcement that 4 key Monsanto patents asserted against farmers were rejected by the Patent Office.

The new PR policy is in reality directly aimed at assuring ordinary shareholders that “We will walk out of this as clean as a whistle.”
Monsanto has consistently shown disrespect for biosafety rules and a persistent reluctance to reveal information on the safety aspects of its products.It has a record of systematically bribing government officials to ignore safety regulations.

In 2005, Monsanto bribed Indonesian officials to disregard safety regulations and was caught smuggling South African grown GM Bollgard cotton seed into Indonesia. The GM seed was disguised in crates labled “Rice”. Monsanto was fined US$1 million for a US$50,000 bribe to a top Indonesian official after the CEO of Monsanto ordered it to be disguised as a “consultancy fee”. At the time South Africa was a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol which requires exports of GM seed to be properly labled. Heading this operation was Monsanto’s Asia and Pacific CEO, Hugh Grant. At the same time was member of a British Government sponsored advisory committee. The International Advisory Board, was set up by Scottish Enterprise to advise businesses on how to expand overseas.

In the same year, 2005, Monsanto joined the South African Department of Agriculture in opposing a High Court application by Biowatch for information on safety aspects of GM crops. Monsanto claimed that they were protecting “confidential business information“. The Court ruled that access to this information was in the public interest and was a necessary part of the proper administration of the GMO Act.

In Europe Monsanto, supported by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), kept the study from public scrutiny once again under a false claim of confidential business information until a German Court Order forced Monsanto to release the full report.

The EFSA has more recently been criticised by the medical and veterinary professions for downplaying the role of Monsanto’s patented anti-biotic resistant marker gene npt11. This antibiotic is water soluble and is therefore used extensively in aquaculture,quail, pigeon, rabbit, chick, piglet and calve rearing industries. Monsanto have been using this gene in a number of products including the highly controversial GM potato. Anti-biotic marker genes were supposed to be phased out in terms of European Union Directive 2001/18EC and Revising Directive 90/220/CEE.
The controversy about the GM Potato started in Egypt when researchers (Toxins Volume 6, Issue 6, 1998. Pages: 219-233) found that GM potatoes caused cancerous damage to part of the small intestine in rats.

More recently Monsanto was ordered to remove false claims on the safety testing of GM foods in South Africa. In this cvase Monsanto claimed to conduct it’s business according to a strict Code of Ethics. It can be deduced from their actions that they conduct their business according to the philosophy that

Crime Pays.

Bribes, corruption and relatively insignificant fines are small change for Monsanto compared to the huge prize of monopoly position in countries with large agricultural sectors. And once GM crops are planted in a country, any contamination of non-GM crops means Monsanto can also claim royalties from these farmers.

Taken From:
One Response to “US Government Busts Monsanto for Bribery”

Ingrid Blank, on March 3rd, 2009 at 11:13 pm Said: South Africa is the only country on the African continent that grows its staple food (white maize) in genetically modified form. Our government has been and keeps force-feeding its citizens with Monsanto maize without our knowledge and above all CONSENT, which constitutes a gross violation of our constitutional rights, notably our right to bodily integrity and , given the fact that no human safety study with GMOs has ever been conducted establishing their safety for human consumption, effectively turns its citizens into human guinea pigs in violation of the Nuremberg Code and Helsinki Declaration. South Africa also has about 5 million allegedly HIV positive people, which have two common denominators: a) the majority of them is poor and black b) the consumption of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize, containing antibiotic-resistant marker genes and CaMV (cauliflower mosaic virus) as a viral promoter, which is closely related to the Hepatitis B and HIV virus! . The immense health hazards of the cauliflower mosaic virus have been amply documented in scientific literature It has also been established that “horizontal transfer of the CaMV promoter not only contributes to the known instability of transgenic lines (30), but has the potential to reactivate dormant viruses or creating new viruses in all species to which it is transferred, particularly in view of the modularity and interchangeability of promoter elements (8). In this regard, the close relationship of CaMV to hepadnaviruses such as the human hepatitis B is especially relevant. In addition, because the CaMV promoter is promiscuous in function (see above), it has the possibility of promoting inappropriate over-expression of genes in all species to which it happens to be transferred. One consequence of such inappropriate over-expression of genes may be cancer. Furthermore, the recently published peer-reviewed Italian government study strengthened my suspicion that genetic engineering and notably the consumption of Monsanto maize (SA’s staple food) and NOT HIV is the direct cause of the immunodeficiency acquired by millions of poor and black people, consequently poisoned to death by ARVs such as AZT, a known DNA-chain terminator, and Nevirapine given to pregnant women and newborns. GM maize disturbs immune system of young and old mice “The total number of white blood cells in the small intestine, spleen and blood were not different. However, there were significant differences in the percentages of T and B cells, and of CD4+, CD8+, gdT+, and mbT+ subpopulations in both weaning and old mice that were GM-fed for 30 and 90 days respectively compared with controls. These changes appeared in the gut, spleen and blood, and were accompanied by increase in blood cytokines IL-6, IL-13, IL-12p70, and MIP-1b, all involved in allergic and inflammatory responses. These changes were not detected in the mice fed the commercial non-GM pellet diet.” The above revelations bode the urgent question and call for an investigation to what all these allegedly HIV-positive people are actually reacting - HIV or Monsanto’s toxic maize depleting their CD4+ cells! Ingrid Blank/South Africa

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Political Parties' manifestos on GM crops/foods issue

A nation wide campaign for over years now by concerned citizens like farmers, NGO's, consumers, students, bureaucrats State wise are joining in the efforts of Coalition for GM-Free India. "My Right to Safe Food" - "I am no Lab Rat" - "Safe food Alliance" and many more are the extensions of the Coalition working towards safeguarding our food and biodiversity.

Our aim is to create awareness and awaken political parties re GM issues so that it becomes part of their electoral manifestos. Please find attached a tabulation for ready reading on different parties' articulations on different aspects related to Indian farming.

Food for thought

Meena Menon

While the Congress is silent in its manifesto on genetically modified crops, other parties have dealt with it in their own ways.

The BJP manifesto declares: “No genetically modified seed will be allowed for cultivation without full scientific data on long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers. All food and food products produced with genetica lly modified seeds will be branded as ‘GM Food.’

The CPI says: “With regard to GM crops/foods, we will take a precautionary approach and will demand a moratorium until all pending issues are resolved satisfactorily.

Further, the CPI will demand a review of the Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA).”

The CPI (ML) too says: “No introduction of genetically modified (GM). Immediate stop to all field trials of GM crops.”

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also targets the KIA. The Pattali Makal Katchi (PMK) says it will oppose all GM seeds and GM foods, and demand a moratorium on GM crop field trials, apart from opposing collaborations between MNCs and agricultural universities.

Even the manifestos of the TRS, the AIADMK and the MDMK have touched on GM food. Only one party seems silent.


The Congress government signed the KIA with the Bush administration and has supported industrial agriculture, privatization of agriculture, "farm to fork" vertical integration to promote "big-box" stores, and GMOs with specific support for U.S. agribusiness giants, three of which sit on the board of KIA: Monsanto, Wal-Mart and Archer Daniels Midland. Why should the party say anything on this topic?

Author Planet India
Mira Kamdar
Senior Fellow
World Policy Institute
Associate Fellow
Asia Society


Equador might accept Terminator technology
Saturday, April 18, 2009

"This brings me to the controversial issue of terminator seeds. The ever-agile ETC has issued an alert today, which tells us that Equador, a biodiversity rich country in Latin America, has possibly opened its door to the terminator technology. The new President, Rafael Correa has made certain changes in a proposed legislation, and sent it back to the Congress. Obviously, the President is under pressure from the biotech industry, and as we know the industry prefers to wait for the day when a 'right kind of leader' takes over".

Who says perseverance doesn't pay?

Elizabeth Bravo of Accion Ecologica in Equador is really a brave person. She is quick to understand, and among the first to react to the Presidential amendment, and her warning may save the Equadorians from an impending (un)natural disaster. I remember the days when ETC (it was then called RAFI) had first issued an alert on the terminator seed, The Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security in New Delhi was quick to analyse its implications, and issue a warning. Within a fortnight, the then Agriculture Minister Mr Sompal made a statement in Parliament saying that India would not allow terminator. And subsequently it became such an emotive issue that terminator was finally outlawed. The Indian Plant Varieties Protection & Farmer Rights Act (PVPFA) explicitly states that.

Brazil is another country that has outlawed terminator technology.

But let us not be complacent. The biotech companies have not given up......

We as consumers need to act and say NO to GM foods. This is our only chance before it is too late. We cannot afford to be complacent and allow greed driven agri-business giants to use our bodies as guinea pigs or for that matter leave the decision too late and be at the mercy of policy makers on GM commercialisation.

Should you wish for Safe food choices, it is your time to act now.

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Feedback after the screening at the Atmayaan in J.P Nagar, Bangalore on 11th April

Greetings from "My RIGHT TO SAFE FOOD"

Screened the updated Film "Poison on the Platter" and followed by a 20 min talk by Sangita Sharma on "Politics behind GM foods"at The Atmayaan yoga centre.

Sangita Sharma addressed a proactive audience of 50 health conscious people at the Atmayaan yoga center founded by Christopher Schaser. An enterprising team from Satya Ramana, Prabha Krishna, Dr Babita gave the centre, a vibrancy. This centre also facilitates yoga sessions to corporates by their in house certified yoga therapists.

A special note of thanks to an enterprising Anuradha Adhikari who facilitated this event with an enthusiastic Prabha Krishna. Anuradha ensured along with the Iskon Eco Agri team Mr Venkatesh and Yohesh who displayed Organic Lifestyle products like legumes, oils, spices etc versus the conventional waxed produce. Consumers viewed the difference with much interest. Annadana displayed and distributed to consumers free of charge their organic vegetable seed collection and stressed on the need to be sustainable.

Soon after we indulged in an organic snack of savouries.....

Below is the outcome of the seminar.

1. Stickers on SAY NO TO GM FOODS given to audiences to put on their vehicles
2. 50 people signed petitions to the PM
3. Audiences were requested to contribute by keeping us informed if they knew of any gathering to carry forward our awareness campiagn.
Two leads given already - Tapovan a yoga centre as well a women's forum in Koramangala will confirm dates for the screening.
4. Volunteers have come forward to help us in our campaign by distributing the material on GM foods to their co workers and friends.
5. The Director Satya of Atmayaan has also taken the responsibility of printing the GM food materials and Consumer alert to distribute it to everyone who walks into the yoga center.

We have the activities marked for the volunteers coming together to take this campaign forward to spread the awareness.

In solidarity

Kuldip Gill

Germany bans Monsanto’s BT Corn

’Pay heed to people’s demand now, stop GM food’, Greenpeace urges political parties as Germany bans Monsanto’s BT Corn

New Delhi, 15 April 2009: Following the German government’s decision to ban Monsanto’s 810 BT Corn, Greenpeace India today urged all Indian political parties to take a similar pro-active stand against all GM food and pay heed to bio-safety concerns of millions of voters across the country. The ban on the hazardous 810 Corn variety was invoked under immense pre-election public pressure.

“This is a victory for the environment, for consumers and farmers who want to avoid GMOs as well as for independent science”, Said Alaxander Hissting, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace Germany. “The ban sends a powerful message to biotech corporations like Monsanto which are aiming to take control of the global food chain: Hands of our maize, hands of our rice, hands of our food!”, said Alaxander.

Earlier, Ilse Aigner, the German Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection was quoted as "I have come to the conclusion that there are legitimate grounds to accept that genetically modified corn from the MON810 strain constitutes a danger to the environment" .The Minister based her decision on the safeguard clause from the EU law (Directive 2001/18) which allows member-states to use the precautionary principle and prohibit GMOs in the light of new evidence.
Germany is the sixth EU country to ban the cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) maize MON810. The other five countries which have already banned its planting: France, Greece, Austria, Hungary and, most recently, Luxembourg.
However, even as country after country gives the boot to Monsanto’s hazardous corn, the same in India is undergoing field trial in no less than 3 public sector institutions - the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, Rajendra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Samastipur, Bihar and Mahatma Phule Krishi Vishwavidyalay(MPKV),Rahuri, Maharastra. The field trials have ignited intense protest in past few months across the country, leading to brutal police action, and arrest of hundreds of protesters.

Lauding the ban by Germany, Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace India said, ‘Germany’s decision to ban the harmful BT Corn is truly commendable. In a true democracy, the voice of the mass is of utmost importance. Now, as we too prepare for the election, all political parties must ensure that the voice of the majority is heard and all GM food crops are banned as they violate people’s rights to safe food’.

It can be pointed out here that GM food crops have recently emerged as an election issue and several political parties including BJP, CPI, CPI(M), CPI-ML, and PMK have promised a strong stand against GM food in their manifestos. However Congress, the leader of the UPA Government has surprisingly maintained complete silence on the whole issue.

For more information, contact:

• Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India, email: , Mob: +91 9845650032

• Stella Paul, Media Officer, Greenpeace India, email: , Mob: +91 9845068125

Germany to ban cultivation of GMO maize-Minister,1518,618913,00.html

Finally after France, Germany also makes the GM ban formal.

Del Spiegel is one of the most popular German newspapers.

German national elections are to happen in September and the Government cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the public sentiments. Similar to what is happening in India where important political alliances except for the ruling coalition others like BJP have put a ban on GM in their manifestos.

Sangita Sharma


Tue Apr 14, 2009 5:14am

BERLIN/HAMBURG, April 14 (Reuters) - Germany is to ban cultivation and sale of maize with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said on Tuesday.

The ban affects MON 810 maize which may no longer be sown for this summer's harvest, Aigner told a news conference.

Aigner, who took office in October 2008, said previously she would review approval for cultivation of GMO maize in Germany before this year's sowing took place in late April.

MON 810 maize, developed and marketed by U.S. biotech company Monsanto (MON.N), is the only GM crop that may be commercially grown in the EU after the bloc ruled that it is safe.

Several other European Union countries including France have banned GMO maize cultivation in the face of EU approvals. But the bans are controversial and face action from the EU Commission to get them lifted. (Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Michael Hogan; Editing by James Jukwey)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The City that Ended Hunger by Frances Moore Lappé

Photo by Leah Rimkus

More than 10 years ago, Brazil’s fourth-largest city, Belo Horizonte, declared that food was a right of citizenship and started working to make good food available to all. One of its programs puts local farm produce into school meals. This and other projects cost the city less than 2 percent of its budget. Above, fresh passion fruit juice and salad as part of a school lunch.

City of Bello sure has set a precedent, inspirational it strengthens and ignites the hope that we can strife towards this provided we are single pointed and unified in our mission to safeguard our food, environment...


Wonderful lesson!

This is the sort of project that Indian NGOs and politicians of all hues and stripes should develop as critical training for all primary school to Ph.D. students across the country. In doing so, not only can they abolish hunger among the poor but also provide wholesome and nutritious food for all. Time for that could not be any more propitious than now when the entire world economy is in collapse.

Shiv Chopra

Spring 2009: Food for Everyone

A city in Brazil recruited local farmers to help do something U.S. cities have yet to do: end hunger.

“To search for solutions to hunger means to act within the principle that the status of a citizen surpasses that of a mere consumer.”

In writing Diet for a Small Planet, I learned one simple truth: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy. But that realization was only the beginning, for then I had to ask: What does a democracy look like that enables citizens to have a real voice in securing life’s essentials? Does it exist anywhere? Is it possible or a pipe dream? With hunger on the rise here in the United States—one in 10 of us is now turning to food stamps—these questions take on new urgency.

To begin to conceive of the possibility of a culture of empowered citizens making democracy work for them, real-life stories help—not models to adopt wholesale, but examples that capture key lessons. For me, the story of Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, is a rich trove of such lessons. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market—you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.

The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.

The city of Belo Horizonte puts “Direct From the Country” farmer produce stands throughout busy downtown areas.

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.

When my daughter Anna and I visited Belo Horizonte to write Hope’s Edge we approached one of these stands. A farmer in a cheerful green smock, emblazoned with “Direct from the Countryside,” grinned as she told us, “I am able to support three children from my five acres now. Since I got this contract with the city, I’ve even been able to buy a truck.”

The improved prospects of these Belo farmers were remarkable considering that, as these programs were getting underway, farmers in the country as a whole saw their incomes drop by almost half.

In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.

ABC bulk produce markets stock the items that the city determines will be sold at a fixed price, about 13 cents per pound.

“For ABC sellers with the best spots, there’s another obligation attached to being able to use the city land,” a former manager within this city agency, Adriana Aranha, explained. “Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so everyone can get good produce.”

Another product of food-as-a-right thinking is three large, airy “People’s Restaurants” (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal. When Anna and I ate in one, we saw hundreds of diners—grandparents and newborns, young couples, clusters of men, mothers with toddlers. Some were in well-worn street clothes, others in uniform, still others in business suits.

“I’ve been coming here every day for five years and have gained six kilos,” beamed one elderly, energetic man in faded khakis.

“It’s silly to pay more somewhere else for lower quality food,” an athletic-looking young man in a military police uniform told us. “I’ve been eating here every day for two years. It’s a good way to save money to buy a house so I can get married,” he said with a smile.

The line for one of three “People’s Restaurants” a half hour before opening time. Meals cost about 50 cents; diners come from all socio-economic groups. Photo by Leah Rimkus
The line for one of three “People’s Restaurants” a half hour before opening time. Meals cost about 50 cents; diners come from all socio-economic groups.
Photo by Leah Rimkus
No one has to prove they’re poor to eat in a People’s Restaurant, although about 85 percent of the diners are. The mixed clientele erases stigma and allows “food with dignity,” say those involved.

Belo’s food security initiatives also include extensive community and school gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers.

“We’re fighting the concept that the state is a terrible, incompetent administrator,” Adriana explained. “We’re showing that the state doesn’t have to provide everything, it can facilitate. It can create channels for people to find solutions themselves.”

For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to “keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,” Adriana told us. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops, online, on television and radio, and in newspapers so people know where the cheapest prices are.

The shift in frame to food as a right also led the Belo hunger-fighters to look for novel solutions. In one successful experiment, egg shells, manioc leaves, and other material normally thrown away were ground and mixed into flour for school kids’ daily bread. This enriched food also goes to nursery school children, who receive three meals a day courtesy of the city.

“I knew we had so much hunger in the world. But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”

The result of these and other related innovations?

In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 percent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up.

The cost of these efforts?

Around $10 million annually, or less than 2 percent of the city budget. That’s about a penny a day per Belo resident.

Behind this dramatic, life-saving change is what Adriana calls a “new social mentality”—the realization that “everyone in our city benefits if all of us have access to good food, so—like health care or education—quality food for all is a public good.”

The Belo experience shows that a right to food does not necessarily mean more public handouts (although in emergencies, of course, it does.) It can mean redefining the “free” in “free market” as the freedom of all to participate. It can mean, as in Belo, building citizen-government partnerships driven by values of inclusion and mutual respect.

And when imagining food as a right of citizenship, please note: No change in human nature is required! Through most of human evolution—except for the last few thousand of roughly 200,000 years—Homo sapiens lived in societies where pervasive sharing of food was the norm. As food sharers, “especially among unrelated individuals,” humans are unique, writes Michael Gurven, an authority on hunter-gatherer food transfers. Except in times of extreme privation, when some eat, all eat.

Before leaving Belo, Anna and I had time to reflect a bit with Adriana. We wondered whether she realized that her city may be one of the few in the world taking this approach—food as a right of membership in the human family. So I asked, “When you began, did you realize how important what you are doing was? How much difference it might make? How rare it is in the entire world?”

Listening to her long response in Portuguese without understanding, I tried to be patient. But when her eyes moistened, I nudged our interpreter. I wanted to know what had touched her emotions.

“I knew we had so much hunger in the world,” Adriana said. “But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”

Adriana’s words have stayed with me. They will forever. They hold perhaps Belo’s greatest lesson: that it is easy to end hunger if we are willing to break free of limiting frames and to see with new eyes—if we trust our hard-wired fellow feeling and act, no longer as mere voters or protesters, for or against government, but as problem-solving partners with government accountable to us.

Frances Moore Lappé wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Frances is the author of many books including Diet for a Small Planet and Get a Grip, co-founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, and a YES! contributing editor.

The author thanks Dr. M. Jahi Chappell for his contribution to the article.

If pesticide effects can be passed on for generations, what ...

This is disturbing news. A report published in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail (April 1, 2009) quoting a study published in an American medical journal Acta Paediatrica says that the harmful effects of chemical pesticides can be passed on from generation to generation.

The report quotes Paul Winchester, a professor of clinical paediatrics at Indiana University's School of Medicine, and also a practising neonatologist at the Riley Hospital for Children, as saying: In one study baby rats exposed to atrazine, an herbicide that is banned in European countries, were born with no birth defects. But they developed problems including infertility, kidney and prostate problems, cancer and shortened lifespans as adults - and passed them on to their offspring.

Atrazine, a persistent pesticide, is widely used in India.

This study is shocking indeed. So far we were made to believe that the harm pesticides cause is immediately apparent. But Dr Winchester's study goes much beyond and explains how pesticides can have long-term problems in humans. Maybe I alone was unaware of the long-term impact of some of the pesticides, and I therefore thought it would be useful to share this disturbing news report. I am sure you will agree the urgent need for more long-term studies to ascertain the effects of pesticides before the approval for its application is given.

If this is true of pesticides, I wonder how can the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) be satisfied with the so-called long-term tests done by Mahyco on Bt brinjal. The longest toxicity tests, which are for only 90 days, cannot assess long-term effects like the development of tumours or cancers from genetic modification. No safety can be concluded about Bt Brinjal based on this, and considering the above mentioned study on atrazine exposure in rats, it is obvious that the true impact can only be known when research spans for a few generations.

In the laboratory studies, the first generation of baby rats born with exposure to atrazine herbicide carried no birth defects, but as they grew old they developed serious problems, and then passed it on to their next generation. In the case of GM crops, we need experiments on rats to continue for several generations to know the real impacts. I don't understand why should the GEAC be in a tearing hurry to sweep scientific scrutiny under the carpet?

The news report entitled Risk of birth defects linked to month of conception is pasted below.

Babies conceived in the spring and summer are more likely than others to be born with a range of birth defects, according to new research. A possible reason: The levels of pesticides and other agrichemicals in surface water happen to peak at the same time.

The U.S. study, published in this month's issue of the medical journal Acta Pædiatrica, relies on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the birth certificates of 30.1 million babies born in the United States from 1996 to 2002.

Lead author Paul Winchester, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Indiana University's school of medicine, and his colleagues found a strong association between the increased number of birth defects in children of women whose last menstrual period occurred in April, May, June or July and elevated levels of nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides in surface water (streams and rivers) during the same period.

This correlation was statistically significant for half of the 22 categoriesof birth defects reported in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database from 1996 to 2002, including spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot and Down syndrome.

"No one has ever said to a pregnant woman, 'Your month of conception putsyou at risk,' " Dr. Winchester says. "It's not in any textbook." Even mothers who did not report well-known risk factors, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, diabetes or advanced age, had higher overall birth-defect rates for babies conceived from April to July.

In addition to babies born with severe medical problems, birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the United States, accounting for about 20 per cent of all deaths.

Dr. Winchester says his interest in a possible connection between chemicals commonly used in agriculture and birth defects was piqued when he moved to Indiana, where he is also a practising neonatologist at the Riley Hospitalfor Children.

"What most impressed me when I came to this region of the corn belt is how many birth-defect babies I was seeing, compared to other places I've practised," he says.

But he found that the effects appear not to be limited to farming communities. "Everyone wants to believe 'it's not going to affect my life over here in the suburbs,' " he says.

The study shows only a correlation between pesticides and birth defects. More research is necessary to prove causation, Dr. Winchester says. Still, without the parallel spikes in water contamination and birth defects, the study could have exonerated those pesticides measured. "It didn't do that,"he says.

There is a growing body of research raising concerns about agrichemicals. A study found that women exposed to pesticides through gardening or proximity to agricultural crops have an increased risk of giving birth to offspring with neural-tube defects and limb anomalies. One current limitation of research in this area is a lack of consistent data- for instance, many states, including Indiana, do not routinely collect information on the levels of agrichemicals in drinking water.

Researchers hope that they can identify possible biological mechanisms that might explain how pesticides could cause birth defects and other long-term developmental problems.

Preliminary evidence suggests that pesticides may function in the same way as the controversial chemical bisphenol A, a plastic-making compound able to act like a female hormone. Not only can it disrupt the hormonal systems of living organisms, but it does so at very low doses.

And similar to BPA, pesticides' harmful effects may not be immediately apparent.

In one study, Dr. Winchester says, baby rats exposed to atrazine, an herbicide that is banned in European countries, were born with no birth defects. But they developed problems including infertility, kidney andprostate problems, cancer and shortened lifespans as adults - and passed them on to their offspring.

That means agrichemicals could have effects for generations to come, he says.

Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 4/04/2009 10:36:00 PM

Friday, April 10, 2009

From the Organic Consumers Association newsletter :

Will the Real "Monsanto Bill" Please Stand Up?

News of a "Monsanto Bill to Criminalize Organic Farming" has been speeding around the internet. The Organic Consumers Fund, OCA's lobbying partner in Washington, DC, analyzed the bill and determined that we could not support food safety legislation like this that could be applied in a one-size-fits-all manner to all farms, including organic and farm-to-consumer operations -- especially a bill that references the National Animal Identification System (a voluntary USDA animal tagging program that some influential members of Congress are trying to make mandatory for every owner of even a single farm animal). With these concerns, we put out this alert on March 12.

Nevertheless, we were alarmed by the misleading headlines attached to anti-HR 875 alerts. Even if this bill were passed as is today, it wouldn't criminalize organic farming. The bill would require farms to have a food safety plan, allow their records to be inspected, and comply with food safety regulations. To say this is tantamount to criminalization doesn't give organic farmers enough credit.

Worse, linking this bill to Monsanto (for no other reason than because the bill's sponsor Rosa DeLauro is married to political operative Stan Greenberg, who lists Monsanto as a past client) obscures the real damage Monsanto is doing in Congress. This past week, Monsanto got a bill passed in committee that forces GMOs on Africa.

The Terrible Truth About Plastic You Never Knew

As plastic ages or is exposed to heat or stress, it can release trace amounts of some of its ingredients. Of particular concern are bisphenol-a (BPA), used to strengthen some plastics, and phthalates, used to soften others.

These chemicals are used in hundreds of household items; BPA is in everything from baby bottles to can linings, while phthalates are found in children‘s toys as well as vinyl shower curtains. They enter your body through the food, water and bits of dust you consume, or are simply absorbed through your skin.

BPA and phthalates are endocrine disrupters, which mimic hormones. Estrogen and other hormones in relatively tiny amounts can cause vast changes, so researchers worry that BPA and phthalates could do the same, especially in young children.

To cut down on your exposure, avoid plastic bottles and toys labeled with the numbers 3 or 7, which often contain BPA or phthalates, and canned foods, especially those with acidic contents like tomatoes. You should also avoid heating plastic in microwaves.


Time July 10, 2008

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The dangers of plastic are fast becoming common knowledge. It’s amazing the number of blogs and news articles now devoted to reducing plastics’ use, when just a few years ago most people never thought twice about it.

In recent years, major changes have come about signaling that attitudes are changing about this pervasive toxin:
Whole Foods stopped using plastic bags
Canada has declared the plastics’ chemical BPA toxic and banned its use
You can now purchase reusable shopping bags in just about every U.S. grocery store (unheard of a couple of years ago)
Wal-Mart is phasing out BPA-containing baby bottles, Nalgene bottles have gone BPA-free and has an entire BPA-free section
This is a perfect example of the public’s actions and preferences dictating the direction of major corporations!

For Those Who Don’t Know … Why Plastics are a Big Problem

Plastic is not an inert substance as its manufacturers would like you to believe. It contains chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which mimic hormones in your body. Even tiny concentrations can cause problems, and you’re likely being exposed from all angles: food containers, plastic wraps, water bottles, personal care products, you name it, it contains plastic.

According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study, BPA was detected in the urine of 95 percent of people tested!

This is alarming when you consider all of the problems its been linked to like:
Structural damage to your brain Hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learningIncreased fat formation and risk of obesity
Altered immune function - Early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, and ovarian dysfunction

Changes in gender-specific behavior, and abnormal sexual behavior
Stimulation of prostate cancer cells, Increased prostate size, and decreased sperm production

Anytime you eat or drink something out of plastic, you risk exposure. Plastics that are worn out or scratched may leach even more chemicals into your food, as do hot beverages. Just by drinking coffee from a plastic-lined paper cup, you could be exposed to 55 times more BPA than normal.

As usual those most at risk are children and fetuses, which is why it’s appalling to think that these chemicals are commonly used in baby bottles and children’s toys.

I haven’t even touched on plastics’ impact on the environment, but this one statistic sums it up pretty well: when researchers tested the water of the Pacific Ocean, they found it contained six times as much plastic as plankton, by weight!

What’s Hidden in Your Plastic Products?

The Ecology Center in Berkeley, California has put together an excellent list that exposes just what kinds of plastic toxins are in the products you use. I think everyone should read the entire list, but here are some highlights:
Salad dressing and cooking oil bottles: This plastic container is made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which leaches plasticizers (lead, cadmium, mercury, phthalates and the carcinogen, diethyl hexyphosphate) into your food.
Soda bottles, water bottles, peanut butter jars and cooking oil bottles: Made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the leach acetaldehyde -- a probable human carcinogen, according to the EPA -- into your food and drinks.
Meat trays, foam take-out food containers and cups, foam packing materials: Made from polystyrene (PS), these materials leach styrene, which can damage your nervous system, into your food.
Moving Toward a Plastic-Less Life

Is it possible to go completely plastic-free?

Well, anything is possible … but it wouldn’t be easy. Plastic is in shoes, clothing, electronics, and just about every processed food package, not to mention cars, household items and personal care product packaging.
There are some things you can do though, and you won’t even have to sacrifice much to do them. Just imagine how much less plastic we could use if we ALL tried to do our part.

My top tips to reduce the plastic in your life are:

1. Boycott plastic shopping bags. Use reusable canvas or cloth varieties instead. (This also applies to the plastic produce bags in the grocery store.)

2. Don’t buy bottled water. Filter your own using a reverse-osmosis filter and put it in a glass bottle. I am going to be helping you in this area soon as my team is just finishing up a glass water bottle that you can use to carry around with you. It is covered with a neoprene sleeve to protect it from breaking and has a easy lid to drink from and is wide enough so you can easily clean the bottle. I hope to have them available in the fall as they are at the factory right now being produced.

3. Avoid using plastic cups, utensils, dishware and food storage containers. If you get a beverage while on-the-go, bring your own cup with you.

4. Buy toys made of natural fabrics instead of plastic.

5. Look for products that use minimal packaging, or buy in bulk.

6. Give up plastic wrap (and never use it to cover your food while it’s heating).

7. Avoid buying canned foods and drinks (the can linings contain plastic chemicals). Try your hand at canning fresh produce at home instead.

8. Parents, use cloth diapers instead of plastic ones.

9. Look for non-plastic home items like cloth shower curtains and wooden spoons instead of plastic ones.

10. If you have pets, use biodegradable bags to clean up after them

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

'Monsanto Quit India', say activists Protestors at TNAU, get arrested

Coimbatore, 2nd April 2009: The movement against Genetically Modified (GM) crops in Tamil Nadu took a dramatic turn today when a large number of protestors, led by Vellaiyan, the leader of Tamil Nadu Traders Association were arrested by the police for staging an active protest against the field trial of a GM corn plant inside the premises of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).

The protestors, under the umbrella organization of the Safe Food Alliance had come together to demand immediate destruction of the field where trial of BT corn, a hazardous GM food crop developed by Monsanto within the university premise was being carried out in secrecy for the last 3 months.

Genetically modified (GM) foods have been proved to be risky and can cause serious health hazards like hyper allergies, retarded growth, inflammation and liver and kidney toxicity. Studies have even predicted that long term consumption of GM foods like Bt corn can lead to serious reproductive problems and eventually to infertility. GM crops also are unanimously opposed by all farmers union’s across India, as they can contaminate the agri-biodiversity developed over thousands of years, while increasing corporate control over seed, impairing soil fertility and end the rights of farmers over their seed.

Despite these issues surrounding GM crops that have been raised by activists, the TNAU has been conducting open air field trials for the multinational company Monsanto on the public land held by the university - free of cost.

"We are tired of the strategy of silent destruction that this university has adopted," said Mr. Vellaiyan, President of the Tamil Nadu Vanighar Sangangalin Peravai while being dragged into the police van. "The university is acting against the welfare of the people of Tamil Nadu - both farmers and traders. It has sworn its loyalty to the MNC Monsanto by conducting this field trial, and has been defending its act by propagating lies and misleading the government and the people of this state," he added.

Earlier in March, the Safe Food Alliance had organised a rally against the continued allegiance of the University to the MNC Monsanto. On the same day, representatives form more than 11 Farmers organisaitons, Tamil Nadu Vanighar Sangangalin Peravai and Greenpeace had delivered a set of recommendations to the University- asking it to destroy the field trials immediately.

"When countries across the world like France, Italy, Austria, England, Poland and Romania have decided to keep a moratorium on GM crops, when states like Kerala can declare themselves GM free and chart a organic path to revive their farming sector, why can't Tamil Nadu? If we farmers don't need GM crops, why does the university continue signing agreements with foreign companies for collaboration?’ asked Aruchamy of the Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam..

Today's active protest carries a lot of significance to the fluid political situation in the State- as the 15th Lok Sabha Elections are fast approaching. Many parties, like the PMK- Pattali Makkal Katchi have taken a strong position against GM crops in the Manifesto. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) had also been supporting the demand for gm free India and for a state ban in Tamil Nadu.

Mrs. Ponnuthai of the Womens Collective, who is part of the team, said, "We are here to protest against the introduction GM food in the country. As responsible citizens, we are here to assert that we do not need such technologies. As consumers, our right to safe food cannot be violated and we cannot be made into lab rats in this experiment."

The protests against such anti farmer alliances made by public sector universities has also flared up at Kolhapur in Maharashtra recently. There also farmers have united against the leadership of legendary farmers leader N D Patil and have demanded immediate halt and destruction of the Monsanto’s BT Corn field trial which is currently going on inside the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyalaya campus in Kolhapur.

Today's active protest at TNAU university also was also addressed by many others including K. Ramakrishnan, of the Periyar Dravida Kazhagam, Balusamy, Secretary, Thondamuthur region, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, Selvam from the Erode district organic farmers collective and Jai Krishna from Greenpeace.

For further information, photos and video contact:
Mr. Gnanaguru – Affiliate Safe Food Alliance, Coimbatore +91 98426 44151
Ms. Stella paul: +919845068125, Greenpeace

Photographs and video footage are available on request

The SAFE FOOD ALLIANCE is a network of organisations and individuals who want to stop GM food from being approved as safe, from consumers and farmers losing a choice, from the nation losing its food security forever and for protecting the health and safety of citizens.

BJP manifesto mentions with clear position on GM crops and organic agriculture

Of all political parties after CPI[ML] BJP seems to be the party who has taken up the issue of GM crops seriously.Given below is the excerpts on GM seeds

"GM Seeds: No genetically modified seed will be allowed for cultivation without full scientific data on long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers. All food and food products produced with genetically modified seeds will be branded as ‘GM Food’."

TNAU refutes charges relating to Genetically Modified crops


Staff Reporter

GM maize trial is being conducted with the approval of Govt.

Coimbatore: Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) has refuted the
charges made by Safe Food Alliance pertaining to field trial of
Genetically Modified (GM) crop varieties.

No scientific basis

The university in a release referring to media reports about the
agitation conducted by the Alliance said that “allegation that Bt
Maize under research trial in TNAU is hazardous has no scientific

Similarly, genetically modified maize engineered to have insect
resistance and herbicide tolerance had been approved for commercial
cultivation in several countries.

Moreover, the products of GM maize were approved as food and feed in
several countries including Japan and European Unions.

No scientific study had proved that cultivation of GM crops or
consumption of GM produce had led to serious health and reproductive

TNAU also refuted the charge that the university was secretly
conducting field trials and pointed out that all GM crops under
development were regulated by the Government of India. The GM maize
trial was being conducted in TNAU with the approval of the

The claim of the group that GM crops were unanimously opposed by
farmers was far from truth as 82 per cent of the cotton area in India
was presently under GM cotton.

Within six years of approval, GM cotton had occupied almost the entire
cotton area.

The fact showed that the GM cotton, the only approved GM crop in
India, was highly popular among farmers. No farmer would adopt a
technology if it was found useless.

In 2001-02, the average yield of cotton was 308 kg/hectares with a
total production of 15.8 million bales.

Presently, under Bt Cotton the average yield increased to 591 kg/ha
with the total production of 32.2 million bales.

The GM maize trial laid out in TNAU was meant to study the
effectiveness of GM maize against stem borers and weeds. The impact of
GM maize against non-target pests and soil eco-systems would also be

The GM maize was still under research and development and would be
approved for commercial cultivation only after it passed all
regulatory (bio safety) requirements stipulated by the Government.

The release said that TNAU would never employ any technology that
would be detrimental to the farmers and Indian agriculture.

Agricultural scientists had a thorough understanding of the
intricacies of the technology and it was highly inappropriate for
certain groups campaigning against GM crops to decide upon what and
what not the scientists should do.

TNAU requested the public and farmers not to get misguided by the
erring statements issued by a few in this regard.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Outcome after the address at the Airforce technical College

Greetings from "My Right to Safe Food"

The platform provided by Air Commodore in Bangalore West, to screen the film Poison on the Platter to over 300 officers from all over India is much appreciated.
Thereafter followed by my talk for 20 mins on Indian versus Global scenario on GM foods and a healthy spade of Q&A's.

The outcome of yesterday's session:

1. Conduct workshops for Airforce command women on My Right to Safe Foods
2. Film to be shown across Airforce schools like Kendriya Vidyalaya and Central schools to educate teachers and children.
3. Air force canteens to outsource natural groceries from local farmers. My right to Safe food to provide links of network of farmer groups.
4. Airforce Bangalore to boycott GM foods (products as per the consumer alert list provided) for their canteens.

Last but not the least, to start with the keen interest shown by Air Commodore's wife on kitchen gardening, we will help her transform her garden into a model kitchen for others to follow - all technical inputs and organic vegetable seeds will be provided and supported by Annadana.

By lending us favorable support gives further impetus to carry the message of MY RIGHT TO SAFE FOOD to wider reach of audience. We hope to keep this momentum of concerns on GM foods going. We request all to continue to persevere in this march towards a GE FREE INDIA.

Copies of the DVD's are available for Rs 100 only plus actual delivery charges, please send in your requests and my colleague Kuldip Gill will do the needful


you may collect it directly from Mr Ramesh or Mrs Suchita with no delivery charges from - The Backstage Advertising -16, K.R Meridian, Murphy Roda, Ulsoor, Bangalore -560008 Ph - 41321375

Requests for screenings for the film are pouring in, we thank you all once again for the support rendered.

Best regards

In Solidarity

Sangita Sharma

GM battle hotting up by Devinder Sharma Saturday, April 4, 2009

From North to South, the battle for saving our favourite vegetable brinjal from being poisoned with genetic modification is heating up. The day (April 2) a large number of protestors under the banner of Safe Food Alliance, and led by Mr Vellaiyan, a leader of the Tamil Nadu Traders Association, were arrested for staging a peaceful protest against the field trials for GM corn being held inside the premises of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University at Coimbatore, Swami Ramdev launched a nation-wide campaign to protect the country from the influx of dangerous GM crops/foods at an impressive opening ceremony of the 2nd phase of the Patanjali Yogpeeth at Haridwar. A special debate on "swadeshi se swablamban talk" was beamed live on Aastha and Sanskar TV channels in 170 countries.

I had the privilege and honour of being invited to speak at this panel. There were some 10,000 people in the new auditorium, and millions watched it live on TV. We will talk about Swami Ramdev's vision of village self-reliance some other day, but let us first look at what is happening on the GM front.

The same day, Dr Rajaram Deshmuck, vice-chancellor of the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth in Kolahapur, announced his university's decision not to allow any more research trials of GM crops. This is perhaps the first agriculture university in the country that I know of which has taken this bold and beautiful stand. The same day, Sangita Sharma of Annadana, Bangalore, made a presentation on how safe is your food, after screening the film Poison on the Platter, to a large audience in the Ramchandrapuram math in Shimoga/Karnataka. A day later, Sridhar from Thanal and Dr V S Vijayan, chairman of the Kerala Biodiversity Board, spoke at an interactive session with lawyers in Cochin/Kerala, after screening the film 'Poison on the Platter'.

While all this may look very heartening to those who want to live in harmony with nature, and want to protect their future generations from being turned into slaves of the food companies (and their breed of pets, the insensitive scientists), there is a renewed thrust on pushing GM crops in the United States and Europe. In the last week of February, the Windsor Castle in London hosted a major conference where the focus was on why the need to take a relook at GM crops. And as you guessed it right, they used the guilt arguement that if UK does not go in to GM crops research, millions in developing world will die of hunger.

The US President Obama, who many believe to be an agent of change, has come as a big disappointment. Like Monsanto, which pollutes and contaminates the world with its risky and dangerous GM technology, but keeps its own canteen free of GM ingredients, President Obama too follows the same prescription. His wife Michelle Obama is laying out an organic garden in White House to feed her own children and her guests with safe and healthy food, but have no qualms when it comes to the people of America or for that matter people living in Africa, from where their ancestors came from. Treating the people as subjects who deserve only unhealthy food, because it bolsters the profits of agri-business companies, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a bill -- S 384 -- that marks a significant change in the US agricultural research policy. The US will now fund GM crop research for Africa.

This is in complete contravention of the Bumper's Amendment that the senate had passed in 1980's. I have written about the Bumper's Amendment (Bumper was the name of a US senator) in my book GATT to WTO: Seeds of Despair (Konark Publishers, New Delhi), and I will bring the salient features of the Bumper's Amendment to you in the days to come.

It is therefore quite obvious that your fight to save your food from the GM vultures not going to be easy. The biotech industry is gearing up to manipulate public opinion. Clive James, the chairman of a so called international NGO -- ISAAA --which in reality is an industry outfit, has sent a couple of DVDs to noted film maker Mahesh Bhatt, explaining how essential GM crops are for the world -- a clear indication that the documentary film 'Poison on the Platter' has surely unruffled some feathers.

What amazes me is that when 'Poison on the Platter' is screened at a number of places, some scientists and pro-industry supporters will stand up and ask that the film does not carry the 'other' opinion, it is therefore not balanced. While Mahesh Bhatt has very clearly said (and it is also in the film) that the industry was approached but they declined to participate in the film, the same question has never been asked to ISAAA or Monsanto. Show me one film produced by Monsanto/Syngenta/Du Pont or ISAAA that provides space for any dissenting voice? And I am not surprised that none of their own team of supporters have ever questioned the need to 'balance' out the debate by bringing in the other viewpoint in their own propaganda films. So much so for objectivity in science.

The print and electronic media does the same. When I and my colleagues hold a press conference, reporters are usually told to also take the industry viewpoint before they write the news report. I am have nothing against this approach. But why is that when Monsanto or Mahyco hold a press conference, my view or that of my esteemed colleagues is never taken? Why is it the same objectivity is very conveniently sacrificed when it comes to big business and multinationals?

I am sure you know the answer.

Meanwhile, the BJP election manifesto too comes as a whiff of fresh air. It has expressed confidence in India's traditional agriculture, has talked of assuring a fixed income for farmers, and has very loudly said that GM crops/foods will not be allowed unless its long-term impact on soil, human health and environment have been ascertained. Well, as expected, this has upset the dominant group within the party, and we will have to wait and watch as to which way the party swings after the elections.

While the GM scene hots up, I am keenly looking forward to a brinjal festival that a Karnataka NGO, Sahaja Samrudha, is planning to organise in Bangalore on April 5. It is with a lot of hope that I view such activities. Creating more awareness, and disseminating the right kind of message across the country is an urgent need. The people of this country have ample wisdom. They have demonstrated it time and again. They were not overawed by the 'Shining India' election slogan in 2004. They stood up, and voted the party out of power. They can certainly see through the infectious design of the food companies and agriculture scientists. They too need to be shown the door, and only the people of this great country can do that.

This is where I see Swami Ramdev showing us the path to self-reliance. Like millions in this country, and across the globe, I have tremendous faith in him. He is like a ray of hope emerging from the dark clouds, who has already acquired mass support. The manner in which people are joining him and feel drawned to his honesty and courage of conviction, clearly shows that people are fed up with the present economic, science and agricultural policies. They want a change.

Nevertheless, in the days to come the battle against GM will only get fiercer. Your silence has already cost the nation dearly. I call it as a conspiracy of silence, and you have been party to it knowingly or unknowingly. It is now your chance to stand up and be counted.

"Test Tube Brinjal" - Down To Earth cover story by - Savvy Soumya Misra And Kirtiman Awasthi

India is on the verge of clearing its first genetically modified food crop, Bt brinjal, with several others in the pipeline. Does India need GM crops? Are they safe? How much does the consumer know?

On January 14, a meeting happened in room 23 on the sixth floor of the Union environment ministry building in Delhi. On the ministry’s regulatory body’s agenda was a historic item: permission for the commercial cultivation of India’s first genetically modified food crop. Everybody expected the body, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac, the clearing house for all gm crops in India), to clear Bt brinjal on the basis of test results submitted by seed company Mahyco, which has developed the crop.

GEAC was forced to delay a decision on the approval till April 2009. This, because of two reports that found their way to the meeting.For India’s small but highly active and well-networked anti-GM lobby had managed to get their hands on Mahyco’s test results through a Right to Information petition. They sent the results to several independent scientists for review. Two scientists got back. Their analyses showed inconsistencies in Mahyco’s interpretation of the test results. They also showed the tests were inadequate.

The analyses reached the geac because of two important changes in how India regulates GM crops. One, the Delhi High Court ruled, in March 2008, that geac is bound to provide information on GM crop trials under the Right to Information Act. geac had refused previous requests for making public test results, arguing the seed companies were entitled to protect their intellectual property. Two, the Supreme Court appointed its representative, Pushpa Bhargava, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, as an observor to the geac. This the court did in response to a petition that questioned India’s handling of gm crops. Anti- gm groups have alleged that geac works under the influence of the gm seed industry, and hence its decisions are not independent. In 2006, it permitted Mahyco to carry out field trials of Bt brinjal, ignoring protests by non-profits (see timeline: Bt brinjal in India).

With Bhargava in the committee, and two scientific analyses questioning the company’s claims, the geac could not clear Bt brinjal for commercial cultivation. When geac meets in April, its sub-committee may examine the two analyses and Mahyco’s response. If it gives the green signal to the seed company, geac will give Bt brinjal the nod.

This is the sub-committee—with the same members—which had cleared the 2006 field trials. Bhargava has said repeatedly that such a committee is pointless unless it comprises experts independent of the body. Rakesh Tuli, geac member, claimed the sub-committee would not take any decision against the country’s interests. Bhargava assured Bt brinjal would not be commercialized till all the safety assessments were completed. But his influence in geac is limited since he has no voting rights. He can advise the committee and if the committee does not act accordingly he has the choice to take the case to the apex court.

G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, a non-profit in Hyderabad, said geac’s regulatory will is questionable.He gave the example that geac did not keep tabs on the seed stock of Bt brinjal from the initial trials. The gm seed industry defends geac. “There is nothing wrong with Bt brinjal seeds, otherwise the regulatory body wouldn’t have granted approval,” said Sanjiv Anand, director of the All India Crop Biotechnology Association.

So, Bt brinjal could be in India’s farms in a matter of months. And Indian consumers would not know if what they are buying is genetically modified brinjal or not—the aubergines would carry no labels, and would not be segregated from natural genetically unmodified aubergines. Because Indian regulators do not believe consumers ought to have a choice about eating GM food, and that GM crops are safe for humans and the environment. Are they to be believed?

Score card
The international debate on GM crops is highly polarized. Its proponents, mostly industry and governments, and think-tanks that lean towards the two, argue GM crops are safe because they are not too different from non-GM crops. This is called the principle of substantial equivalence, which is not very clear in itself, but holds that if a novel or GM food can be shown to be equivalent in composition to an existing food, it can be considered safe.

Anti-GM groups, mostly non-governmental and consumer rights outfits, say the precautionary principle should be used to regulate GM. This requires that proponents of any new technology that may pose a threat to people’s health or environment must prove it is harmlessness before it is accepted.

Bt brinjal could be the world’s first GM food crop. Crops like GM corn and GM soy are cleared only for animal feed in the US. But in their processed forms, they are used for human consumption
Given this polarization, and the fact that GM relies intensively on technology, scientific evidence becomes essential. The question is: what did the two studies say that GEAC had to withhold Bt brinjal’s clearance?

The first report, by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a biochemist with the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, found that Mahyco had left out statistically significant differences between GM and control groups in its report to the geac (see box: Seralini report).

In the other analysis, the researcher reviewed Mahyco’s food safety evaluation of Bt brinjal. Judy Carmen, director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, a non-profit working on genetically modified organisms (gmos), found errors in Mahyco’s research methodology, which, she said, needs correction (see box: Carmen report). She said Mahyco had not assessed the likelihood of a change in the genetic expression of the plant after the insertion of a gene and that no tests were conducted to determine whether the modified genes could degrade upon cooking or was digestible.

Mahyco claimed it did not find any significant difference between Bt brinjal and non-Bt brinjal in the biosafety tests. The company said it carried out toxicity and allergenicity studies on rats and its impact on soil microbes. It also assessed the impact on beneficial insects and the environment. Based on these, the geac cleared them for large-scale field trials. But the data is generated and analyzed by the company itself, said Suman Sahai, geneticist and convenor of the non-profit Gene Campaign. “There have been instances when companies have fudged data for obvious reasons.”

Brinjal factfile

India produces about 7.6 million tonnes of brinjal from 472,000 hectares with an average productivity of 16.3 tonnes per hectare

Major brinjal producing states are Orissa, Bihar, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh

India ranks second to China in the global production of brinjal with a share of 26 per cent

Its roots and stems are used in traditional preparations. This is used largely in treatment for rheumatism, asthma and heart disease

Brinjal is also considered a common home remedy for Type 2 diabetes

Bt brinjal in India

2000 Breeding for integration of Bt gene-Cry1Ac-into brinjal hybrids

2001-02 Preliminary evaluation to study growth, development and efficacy of Bt brinjal

2002-04 Field trials begin

2004-05 Data on the effects of Bt brinjal on soil microflora efficacy against fruit-shoot borer, pollen flow and chemical composition submitted to the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM)

2004 RCGM approves conducting multi-location research trials of eight Bt brinjal hybrids

2004-07 Multi-location research trials conducted by Mahyco and All India Coordinated Vegetable Improvement Project under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research

2006-07 Data submitted to Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)

2007-08 GEAC approved eight Bt brinjal hybrids for large-scale field trials. Trials conducted

2008-09 GEAC approved the experimental seed production of seven Bt Brinjal hybrids on 0.1 acre per hybrid

2009 Under consideration for commercial release

Is Bt brinjal needed?

Bt brinjal draws its name from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, also used in insecticidal sprays. In the 1980s, biotechnology companies identified the Bt gene that has insecticidal properties. They synthesized this gene, and inserted it in crops to give them in-built pesticides. When an insect feeds on a crop with this Bt gene, the Bt toxin disrupts its digestive system and kills it.

Its proponents argue it could save crops and benefit farmers. “The brinjal crop suffers 50-70 per cent damage due to the fruit and shoot borer (pest). This loss translates to Rs 1,000 crore per annum,” said M K Sharma, general manager, Mahyco, which is developing Bt brinjal under a licence from the US agri-biotech giant Monsanto. “Studies have shown that Bt brinjal farmers would use 70 per cent less insecticide to control the disease and 42 per cent less to control other insects.” Increased yields would mean higher profits and farmers are likely to earn at least Rs 16,000-19,000 per hectare, he claimed. But would there be a concomitant increase in the price of seed? Sharma refused comment.

Brinjal farmers agreed pests are a problem but they are also worried about the cost of transgenic seeds. Hidayat Ali, a farmer from Budaun in Uttar Pradesh, brings a truckload of vegetables, mostly brinjals, three times in 15 days to the Azadpur mandi in Delhi. The mandi is Asia’s largest vegetable market. He spends Rs 2,500 on pesticides and fertilizers on about an acre on which he grows brinjals. “I lose half my produce to the fruit and shoot borer. I have no knowledge of Bt brinjal,” he said. “Pest attacks depend on the weather. They are the worst in summers and monsoons. How can any seed variety fight weather conditions? Besides, buying Bt brinjal seeds would add to my costs,” he added, worried.

Fertilizers are also increasingly used in areas under transgenic crops. In 2008, the Andhra Pradesh state agriculture university recommended a 15 per cent increased fertilizer use to improve yields in Bt cotton. Monsanto spokesperson in India clarified that fertilizer requirement for GM crops is the same as that of non-GM crops. But then contamination of non-GM crops is also a problem. To avoid contamination, the land on which the GM crop is sown should not have grown a crop the previous year. GM crops follow a rigid crop rotation cycle and imposing it on small farmers is not practical, said farmers’ rights activists. To keep cross-pollination at bay, GM and non-GM crops need to maintain an isolation distance.

A 2008 study by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture did not find any Bt cotton production plot adhering to the prescribed isolation distance in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Self-pollinating crops like wheat and rice need smaller isolation distances and cross pollinating crops, like mustard, require isolation distances of three to four km. “This seems impossible to implement,” said Sahai. “Crops in adjoining fields are planted up to the boundaries so that they touch each other.”

Studies have also recorded that pests can resist the genetic technology. In 2006, a Cornell University, US, study had found that Bt cotton farmers in the US cut pesticide use significantly in the first three years of cultivation but had to spray as much as conventional farmers thereafter, and ended up with a net average income of 8 per cent less than conventional cotton farmers.

238 varieties of 56 GM plants are in various stages of trial. This includes 169 varieties of 41 food crops Bt cauliflower, Bt cabbage...… Bt rice, chickpea, groundnut, maize, mustard, okra, pigeon pea, potato, tomato, watermelon, papaya and sorghum have also got approval for field trials from the geac. There are 238 varieties of 56 GM plants at different stages of trials in India. This includes 41 food crops (see map). GM soy and GM corn were approved in the US as animal feed, though their processed forms like soy oil, degummed soy and corn chips have been cleared for human consumption.

“A food crop is consumed as a whole.
GM India Inc

In its processed form, the traces of genes are reduced below a level,” said said Bhaskar Goswami of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. “The US considers this level safe for human consumption but human field trials haven’t been conducted.”

GM rice is the next in line for clearance. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, insect resistant GM rice and golden rice would lead the new GM crops for commercial use. But the golden rice project has run into trouble and a group of scientists have said golden rice was inadequately characterized in the literature, unauthorized and untested on animals.

People working on the golden rice project acknowledged there were at least four human feeding trials in China and the US, which involved about 50 people including children and that no animal feeding trials were carried out before that. In the information posted on the US Clinical Trials website, it is not mentioned that golden rice is a GM crop.

GM rice could also mean losses in trade. “Various varieties are being modified, including basmati. The European Union has strict traceability norms and does not allow GM rice. That is a major market we might lose,” said Goswami.

Who needs GM crops?

In India, agri-biotech industry officials promote genetic modification as a means for food security. “We don’t need Bt brinjal or any GM food crop. gmos have nothing to do with food security,” said Rajeshwari Raina, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. She asked how could the companies claim that gmos are safe for consumption when there is not enough research. With the right agriculture practices, India can produce a lot more, she said.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, which worked to develop a new approach to world food production for five years, has also said that GM is not a solution for cheap food. Its director Robert Watson said more research is required to establish the benefits of GM crops—both to humans and the environment.

“Bt brinjal might be important for companies but not for the current food security status,” said Sachin Chaturvedi, international trade policy analyst with Research and Information System for Developing Countries. “Over the past 14 years, there has been a continuous stagnation in the green revolution crops so there is a need to wisely use genetic modification to improve productivity.” A part from Bt, there could be other technological interventions which could be explored, he said. Of the GM research in India over 40 per cent are based on just Bt. “We need to see what is viable for the country and whether we have the mechanisms for it in place.”

In 2005, the Indian government had accepted in Parliament that the country did not have analytical methods to detect GM ingredients in food or laboratory techniques for biosafety analysis. The statement was in response to a question on adequate infrastructure to detect gmos in food imports.

“There should be a government laboratory specifically for gmos,” said Bhargava. “I put up this point at the geac, the members asked for a blueprint of the lab which I prepared and submitted but nobody acted.” Sanjiv Anand of the All India Crop Biotechnology Association denied that India did not have analytical capabilities. “The data submitted by companies are analyzed by government or government-approved laboratories. For the foods for which we do not have the facilities, biotech companies get it done from abroad,” he said.

After a 2006 debate in Parliament, the country set up committees to look into the issue of safety of gmos and the regulations governing these. For example, in March 2006, the Planning Commission set up a task force, headed by Suman Sahai, to review the existing laws, policies related to gmos.

The report called for a vastly improved regulatory system and that until the step was taken, commercial cultivation of GM crops should not be allowed. The report also recommended that all alternatives to GM technology should be examined and the GM option used only when other options are not available.

Other options do exist, said Ramanjaneyulu. “What about non-pesticidal management? Under such practices, damages to a crop can be reduced by 10-15 per cent without using chemical pesticides so that the cost of plant protection is low,” he said.

In India, it is more about finding a market for GM crops rather than meeting the demands of the country after a well-researched analysis, said P V Satheesh, director of Deccan Development Society, a grassroots organization working on food sovereignty in Andhra Pradesh.

“We must remember it is becoming imperative for agri-biotech companies to push GM in India as more and more European farmers are moving away from GM crops.” In Europe, farmers are aware and can make an informed decision about implications of cultivating and using GM crops, he said. “The biotech industry is thus focusing on Asia and Africa where farmers are less suspecting and less critical of the GM technology.” Developing country governments tend to be more pliable.

That leaves little choice to a consumer who can’t tell the regular brinjal from the Bt brinjal just by looking at it. The government, it seems, is not ready to give people that choice.

Seralini report

What Mahyco didn’t report

In goats fed Bt brinjal, blood took longer to coagulate and the bilirubin count increased indicating liver damage

Changes in goats’ feed consumption pattern, weight growth

In rabbits, salt levels were modified as were the glucose, platelet count and the red blood cell percentage in the blood, used as an indicator of anaemia

In cows, milk production and composition was changed by about 14 per cent. There was more milk, which indicated that the animals were given a hormone

In broiler chickens, feed intake and glucose levels were modified

Rats fed on GM brinjal had diarrhoea and liver weight decrease

The longest toxicity test was for 90 days. It did not assess long-term effects such tumours or cancers

Bt brinjal produces a protein which can induce resistance to kanamycin, an antibiotic

Carmen report

Questions on Mahyco’s research

Feeding studies included animals that were not mammals—fish and chicken, for example. No description of the diets fed to the animals, either

Only seven blood biochemistry measurements. It is normal to take 18-20 in such studies

Sample size of three Bt brinjal and non Bt brinjal, an inadequate number, to determine the difference in the composition of the crops.

No data to show compositional difference in varying climatic conditions

Nothing on reproductive studies on animals. Some studies have found adverse effects on reproduction

Acute toxicity tests were not done using the GM protein as expressed in the GM plant that people would eat. Instead, Mahyco used proteins that were produced by GM bacteria engineered to produce the GM protein

Mahyco omitted from its report key statistical results

Biosafety v global trade

US pitched against EU

The US government has backed biotech companies, while European countries have reservations about transgenic crops—largely due to the presence of Green parties and strong consumer rights groups. Member states France, Greece, Hungary and Austria have banned cultivation of two GM maize varieties on grounds of safety, leading to a confrontation.

This despite the EU allowing cultivation of these crops in 1998, after it found that these posed no biosafety risks. The EU has been requesting these countries to lift the ban. On March 2, 2009, the European Commission (EC) met with the countries’ environment ministers but could not persuade them to lift the ban. The European Food Safety Authority, in December 2008, said the Austrian evidence did not constitute new scientific proof invalidating its previous risk assessments, clearing the varieties. A ban also violates WTO trade rules.

Countries supporting GM crops, led by the US, had challenged EU member states’ ban on import of GM food from 1999-2003. The WTO ruled the ban illegal in 2006. The EC is contractually obliged to enforce WTO’s decision or face high punitive tariffs. EU is also under pressure over their authorization procedure, which, GMO producing countries say, is not scientifically backed and takes long. The EC says it has approved more than 30 GMOs for marketing in the EU and any delays were because companies had not given the data to ascertain their biosafety.