Thursday, June 25, 2009

Indian scientists dish up GM fish by Jacob P. Koshy

Yet another disaster coming forth, now a question to ponder since these trials on fish have been happening since 1980's to quote the author, then yet it is not fit for human consumption!!! Prior to announcing and releasing GM fish, we hope to await for bio safety test results.

Sangita Sharma

Scientists have begun the process of demonstrating the superiority of these fish, chiefly in yield and quality, over regular ones, as well as evolving a blueprint to test their bio-safety
Jacob P. Koshy

New Delhi: Even as genetically modified brinjal—the first transgenic food crop to be available in India—has reached the final stage of field trials, scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), a prominent Hyderabad-based research institution, have taken the first steps to steer genetically modified (GM) fish—now confined to their labs—to Indian plates.

Size does matter: A genetically modified rohu (top) alongside the normal, average-sized version. Kshitish Majumdar

They have begun the process of demonstrating the superiority of these fish, chiefly in yield and quality, over regular ones, as well as evolving a blueprint to test their bio-safety.

Though the genetic engineering approval committee has detailed guidelines and protocol for testing the safety of genetically engineered crops, none exists for genetically modified animals.

The fish in question is the popular variety of carp, known as rohu—the most farmed, and among the most widely consumed fish in India. With genetic manipulation, the scientists say they can increase production “manifold” and in half the time that it usually takes for these fish grow to consumable size. “Each pair of fish lays lakhs of eggs. These modified fish can now lay as many eggs in one-and-a-half years, as the normal fish do in three years,” said Lalji Singh, director, CCMB. However, the exact numbers and yield potential would be determined only after the trials were done, he added.

There’s way too much haste to get GM crops and organisms into our fields.
Pushpa Bhargava Former CCMB director “There’s no protocol defined. So, we’ve asked CCMB itself to design a protocol. We will review it and based on that, we may move ahead with allowing further tests,” said a scientist with the department of biotechnology (DBT), who didn’t want to be identified as he’s not authorized to speak to the media. The CCMB project has been funded by the department, which plays a pivotal role in approving GM organisms.

A protocol is a set of guidelines that detail how field trials must be conducted. They elaborate on which tests must be conducted, and what bio-safety aspects must be accounted for.

Transgenic or GM organisms are usually understood to mean living beings that contain genes from a foreign, unrelated species. This alien attribute is the reason why extensive trials are conducted to check the bio-safety and ecological impact of GM plants. But the CCMB fish are auto-transgenic, meaning the genes inserted into a fish’s genome are a mashed-up cocktail of its own genome.

In this fish, the synthesized gene stimulates production of a growth hormone that makes the fish bigger and grow faster, said the lead researcher associated with the project.

“Not only are we not importing genes from an alien species, we are not using DNA from even a related species. Several fish that we consume are products of interbreeding between species, and they are perfectly safe,” said Kshitish Majumdar, who’s been associated with the project for at least a decade.

Because there are no such genes involved, scientists at the institute say there’s no real requirement for bio-safety tests, just as fish grown via aquaculture don’t need to go through bio-safety tests. “The thrust of this programme is to produce genetically superior fish without using genes from foreign organism. So, there’s no real scientific need for conducting bio-safety tests,” said Singh.

But DBT thinks otherwise. “Though the modified gene is a natural product, it has nevertheless been artificially altered outside the fish’s body and re-inserted back into the organism. So, we really need to be sure that such fish are safe,” said the DBT scientist quoted in the first instance.

An expert said India’s first GM fish are unlikely to face too many regulatory obstacles, but advised caution.

“There are no foreign genes involved. Therefore, it’s unlikely that mere genetic modification could produce a toxic protein,” said S. Sridhar, a scientist at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research body. “But on the other hand, these fish shouldn’t escape into the wild and tamper with the native gene pool.”

If and when the trials proceed successfully, CCMB plans to tie up with the Andhra Pradesh fisheries department to scale up production. However, if bio-safety tests need to be carried out, the wait could get longer.

GM cotton had a nine-year incubation period in trials, before it was released in Indian fields in 2002. Whether crop or animal, genetic modification has always invited controversy.

Activists as well as industry lobby groups say the long-term effects of genetically engineered crops and organisms are unknown.
“There’s way too much haste to get GM crops and organisms into our fields,” said Pushpa Bhargava, a former CCMB director who’s critical of the biotechnology regulatory process in India. “Not enough tests have been done and we really don’t know what we are getting into.”

Carps constitute 87% of the total aquaculture production in India, said S. Ayappan, an aquaculture expert with the Indian Council of Agriculture. “We are only second to Japan in inland fish production. So, any new, safe method of becoming No. 1 is welcome,” he added.

India produces about 6.57 million tonnes of fish every year. The inland sector, which has a growth rate of 6%, contributes around 55% of it.

GM fish aren’t new. Since the 1980s, scientists in the US have reared GM fish using genes from related species. Some of these are pet fish that glow in the dark and the others, such as GM salmon, are programmed to grow up fast. But none has yet been released for human consumption.

“These salmon still use a foreign gene. The thrust of our research has been to avoid any foreign element. DBT should understand that,” said Majumdar.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Consumer can keep GM foods out by Malvika Tegta DNA June 14th 2009

Biodiversity is mankind's heritage, not the right of multinationals or seed corporations. A shift in consumer attitude is the need of the hour, Sangita Sharma, director, Annadana Soil and Seed Savers and practitioner of low-cost sustainable farming applying organic principles

We can do better than hybrids

Farmers have become so used to having high-yielding varieties that can generate crops for safety overnight that they don't think organic. But you are pumping in so many fertilisers and pesticides that the farmer cannot replicate the seed and is dependent on the seed corporations and companies for them. Whereas traditional organic seeds are replicable and are not designed for intensive farming that requires excessive use of chemicals.

The politics of GM foods
In Genetically modified (GM) foods, a gene of a soil bacterium is inserted into the DNA of say a brinjal. Pesticides can be washed off, but the constituents of GM food could go into the DNA of your body. So in other words you are creating a herbicide factory in your stomach.
Monsanto owns 93% of the world's GM seeds. They say GM foods will eradicate poverty as they are high-yielding. This is a load of lies. If 180 countries in the world — Germany, France, Poland included — have passed a moratorium on GM foods, why is India being the guinea pig? There are 56 GM crop trials happening in India. If these come to the market, we will be at Monsanto's mercy for our seeds. GM is disastrous for health. One is not opposed to science of genetic engineering, but it has to be done in a monitored environment and tested over a 7-8 year period. When you are messing around with the seed, you are actually going against nature.

We ingest what is available in the market. Yet, our leaders are making the choice to let GM foods into the country. So we must ask where our food is coming from - whether it is laced with pesticides or is it genetically engineered. Are we going to wait for the Supreme Court to decide about our food? GM food will come in so fast that by the time any ruling comes in, we would have lost our biodiversity and no real choice would remain.

Biodiversity is a right

Post Green Revolution, we started to lose a whole lot of traditional organic seeds. As we speak, about 150—200 superior species are being lost everyday because of climate change, hybridisation, heavy fertilisers and pesticides.
Syngenta has applied for patents on 30,000 genomes of rice out of the 37,000. What is going to happen to third world countries like India, which is heavily dependent on it? We are the world's largest biodiversity, with close to 80,000 species to our name. America is home to only five, and it is dictating what we should do on our fields. Biodiversity is mankind's heritage, not the right of multinationals or seed corporations.

Safeguarding traditional breeds
We have to safeguard our traditional breeds of cows and goats. Today, Brazil has a majority of our traditional high-yielding breed of cattle and we buy our own cows from them.
Every government should ensure we have access to traditional open pollinated seeds. Farmers should get the right price. Districts should have seed banks - right now only for hybrids - for traditional seeds. They can have a central system of seed sharing, like the traditional way that worked so beautifully. Why are we following the West? Agriculture is not their forte, it is ours.
Also, the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, chaired by Devinder Sharma, made a very apt statement that farmer must be ensured of a monthly fixed income. The government must think of a package of Rs10,000 a month or so based on land holdings.

We don't like to spend on food

Why is organic food expensive? It's because of the imbalance between demand and supply. How many of you say, 'I can't afford this'. You don't mind spending on cigarettes, branded shoes. But when it comes to food, why does it have to be very cheap? Why can't you spend 20% extra on a farmer giving you pesticide- free food? How about following a sustainable model of farming or growing your own organic tomatoes? Farming is not rocket science.
As told to Malvika Tegta

On Saturdays, DNA invites a Supercitizen (a person who has impacted the lives of people in the city) to interact with DNA's senior editors. The interaction aims to give readers a glimpse ofthe Supercitizen's perspectives on civic issues and the solutions s(he) has to offer. It also helps our readers understand how the city's influentials think and act.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

GM fire spreading in India by Devinder Sharma

The fire has spread to the Ministry for Environment and Forests. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not talking about forest fires. I know this is the season -- dry and hot months of the summer -- for forest fires. There is another fire that is spreading throughout the country. Yes, you got it right. I am refering to the GM fire that Mahesh Bhatt has been talking about.

Mr Jairam Ramesh, the Minister for Environment and Forests, on June 5 told a delegation of the Coalition for GM Free India that he too has concerns on GM foods and stressed the need for a comprehensive policy level decision on GM foods. He also promised to hold an environment audit of the Bt cotton experience. The Minister had earlier said that he was not in favour of the commercialisation of Bt brinjal, a food crop, and the jury about its safety is still out.

Far away in Thriruvanthapuram, the Kerala Agricultural Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran, launched a State-wide programme to protect and conserve natural resources and food cultures. Terming it as a beginning of a new agriculture in Kerala, God's Own Country, that a network of 100 neighbourhood groups were being formed to to encourage sustainable agriculture and thereby protect fields, waterbodies and trees.

Speaking at the inaugural address at a conference organised on the occasion of the World Environment Day, the minister accused multinationals of promoting 'food terror' through Genetically Modified (GM) crops. "Corporate agenda should not be allowed to dictate agricultural practices and dietary habits," he was quoted as saying in a news report.

On June 7, Mahesh Bhatt is travelling to Jaipur to formally launch his documentary film Poison on the Platter in Rajasthan.

The GM fire is spreading. Despite Mahyco's efforts to create public opinion through media conferences in various cities, the opposition to GM foods is growing. In fact, the media too has now begun to understand the politics behind GM crops. In New Delhi, Thiruvantapuram, Bhubaneshwar and elsewhere, reports say that Mahyco representatives faced really tough questions resulting in abrupt ending of the press conferences.

Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 6/06/2009 10:49:00 AM

Sowing Seeds of Starvation: Monsanto Hype in Growing Food Crisis

An ad that recently ran during the American Public Media show Marketplace, sponsored by Monsanto, the world’s largest corporate agribusiness chemical firm, touted how Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds are going to save the world from environmental catastrophe and human hunger.

The Monsanto ads are, quite simply, false. The premise of the ad is that Monsanto’s GM seeds are going to save the world from environmental catastrophe and human hunger, but the reality of Monsanto’s seeds and the company’s ethics and commitment to fighting world hunger have little to do with either.

Eighty-five percent of all GM seeds are engineered for herbicide tolerance, most of these being Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” cotton, corn, soy, and canola seeds. This allows plants to withstand significant amounts of pesticides being sprayed on it, in effect promoting pesticide use. As a result, there has been an increase in pesticide use in the United States since the introduction of GM seeds. Since the introduction of GM crops in the United States, more than 120 million pounds of additional pesticides were used.

At the same time, not a single GM crop has been commercially introduced that is intended to increase yield. Agronomists and plant scientists made far greater advances in yields through conventional breeding methods than they ever have with GM crops. In fact, there have been several studies which show that there are actually yield losses associated with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans. GM crops are not feeding the world, and they are not enabling us to produce more.

Monsanto wants you to believe their crops are feeding hungry children in Africa, and that they are allowing farmers to use fewer chemicals. But do their actions demonstrate that their concern lies solely in their profits?

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Anyone who believes Monsanto’s proclamations of saving the world from environmental catastrophe and hunger is clearly not paying attention to some very blatant signs that this is not true.

It’s unfortunate that the U.S. has yet to follow the decision of several other countries that have already banned genetically modified crops. Germany, for example, recently became the sixth country in the European Union to take a stand against GM corn. Meanwhile, tens of millions of acres of GM corn are being planted in the U.S.

According to the French Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, a molecular endocrinologist and a member of two French government commissions evaluating GM food, the corn variety in question, called MON 810, has shown statistically significant problems in animal studies.

They found the effects of the GM crops were similar to that of pesticides, causing inflammation disorders, and problems with livers and kidneys, two major organs involved with detoxification.

Another scientist, biology professor Bela Darvas of Hungary‘s Debrecen University, discovered that Monsanto’s Mon 810 is lethal to two Hungarian protected species.

So how does Monsanto respond to Darvas’ disturbing findings?

They simply refuse to give him any more Mon 810 corn to use in his tests. They’ve also refused his request for Mon 863, another GM variety. Is that really the enlightened action of an environmentally sensitive company that is looking out for not only your health, but the wellbeing of the planet?

Common GMO Myths

As The GM-Free Ireland Network points out, there are numerous GM biotechnology propaganda myths in circulation, and none of them are true. If you’ve been paying attention to the news about genetically modified plants, you’ve probably heard some of them already. (For the full list, please see this pdf.)

Myth #1: Genetic engineering is a continuation of traditional breeding methods

In fact, most GM crops are modified with the introduction of DNA from other species entirely. This never occurs in nature, or with traditional breeding methods.

Myth #2: Opponents of GM food are anti-science

Leading opponents of GM foods include the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Independent Science Panel, the U.S. Center for Food Safety, and numerous agronomic, environmental, and health scientists.

Myth #3: GM crops have higher yields

GM crop seeds currently on the market do not increase yields, and are not designed to. In fact, GM crops typically render lower yields.

For example, GM soya has decreased yields by up to 20 percent compared with non-GM soya. And up to 100 percent failures of Bt cotton have been recorded in India. This in turn has spurred a staggering number of suicides among India’s farmers. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, more than 182,900 Indian farmers took their own lives between 1997 and 2007, potentially due to GM crop failures. An estimated 46 Indian farmers commit suicide every day.

Additionally, recent studies by scientists from the USDA and the University of Georgia found that growing GM cotton in the U.S. can result in a drop in income by up to 40 percent.

Myth #4: Americans have been eating GM foods for 15 years without any health problems

This one is perhaps most deceptive as GM foods are not labeled in the U.S., which makes traceability and accountability impossible. There may or may not be obvious health problems, but it is carefully designed so that no one can find out for sure.

However, according to Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, what we do know is that between 1994 and 2001 – at the same time as GMO’s flooded the market – food related illnesses DOUBLED.

His findings show that GMO foods can be:

Although the major food giants are carrying on with their claim that GM foods are no different from conventionally grown varieties, the research says otherwise.

For example, GM peas were found to cause lung damage in mice; GM potatoes have been linked to cancer in rats; and bacteria in the human gut has been shown to take up DNA from genetically modified food under certain circumstances.

When viewed as a whole, GM foods are a disaster for the environment, an unviable solution to world hunger, and undoubtedly worse for your health.

GM Crops Fail to Live Up to Advertised Promises Again and Again

The fact remains that GM crops have failed to deliver on virtually every single promise and expectation. After 30 years of GMO experimentation, we have the data to show:No reduction in pesticides use; on the contrary, USDA data shows that GM crops has increased pesticide use by 50 million pounds from 1996 to 2003 in the U.S., and the use of glyphosate went up more than 15-fold between 1994 and 2005, along with increases in other herbicides to cope with rising glyphosate resistant superweeds.

GM crops do harm wildlife, as revealed by UK and U.S. studies.

Bt resistant pests and Roundup tolerant superweeds render the two major GM crop traits useless. The evolution of Bt resistant bollworms worldwide have now been confirmed and documented.

Unpredictable transgene contamination is completely unavoidable, as science has recently revealed that the genome (whether plant, animal or human) is NOT constant and static, which is the scientific base for genetic engineering of plants and animals.

Instead, geneticists have discovered that the genome is remarkably dynamic and changeable, and constantly ‘conversing’ and adapting to the environment. This interaction determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by what and how much, and for how long. They’ve also found that the genetic material itself has the ability to be changed according to experience, passing it on to subsequent generations.

How to Avoid GM Foods

Avoiding GM products in your diet means avoiding an ever-growing number of ingredients, or choosing organic versions of them. This is not an easy task, especially if you eat processed food. However, the four most prevalent GM ingredients to look out for are:

You’ll also want to avoid the offspring of these products, which includes items like maltodextrin, soy lecithin, and high fructose corn syrup.

You CAN Demand Better Food

It’s easy to sit back and think you can’t do a thing to change the current state of affairs, but the fact is, you CAN make a difference. You can demand something better -- food that is still food, grown the way nature intended.

First and foremost, you can vote with your pocketbook by avoiding everything that contains GM ingredients, and ask your local supermarket to stock their shelves with more natural organic foods. Some supermarkets will even allow you to special order food items.

And don’t forget about your elected officials. Let them know how you feel about it, and what kind of policies you’re willing to support.

People in certain professions can play a significant role to advance this cause as well:
Chefs, restaurants and food companies can switch to non-GM sources
Retailers can remove or label GM products or offer in-store Non-GMO Shopping Guides
Religious leaders can help to educate their congregation
Health practitioners can provide patient education materials
Those in the education world can help make school cafeterias GM-free
Reporters can expose the health risks
To get an idea of just how widespread GM ingredients are, I recommend taking a look at The GMO Food Guide. It lists 20 different food categories that include everything from baby food to chocolate.

And the incredible series Seeds of Doubt, written by staffers at the Sacramento Bee, can offer further guidance to fully understand the many problems associated with GM foods.

Monday, June 8, 2009

EC accepts Polish GMO regulations - 29.05.2009 12:48

Polish farmers will have the right to block genetically modified foods, commonly known as GMOs, as Brussels has agreed to a proposal put forth by the Polish government after 8 years of conflict on the issue.

One of Poland’s toughest negotiation points with the European Commission, before the 2007 elections, Civic Platform promised to make Poland a GMO-free zone, a promise supported by 66 percent of the population at the time.

However, the Polish government is not allowed to singularly ban GMOs from its territory without inciting reaction from the European Commission. European Union agricultural policy says that plants previously permissible on the single market (such as MON810 corn from the American concern Monsanto) can be grown on the terrain of the entire EU.

As such, the Polish government has been working to ban genetically modified foods from the bottom up by encouraging farmers to create ‘goodwill declarations’ that maintain that their fields will remain free of GMOs.

“A zone free from the growing of genetically modified plants creates an area of neighbouring parcels. Such a zone will create a group of farmers who, at their own iniciative [ban GMOs],” states the government’s proposal.

If a particular community of farmers does not initiate such a declaration, the Polish government has set up a strict network of rules for them to fulfill before they can begin to grow GMOs. First, the farmer would have to register the GMO crop with the local government to inform neighbours who have the right to reject a GMO crop in their vicinity. Such rejection would preclude the farmer from acquiring a license to grow GMO crops. Secondly, the farmer will be required to cultivate the crop on an isolated terrain and provide five years of records documenting the crop or face a 20,000 zloty fine (about 4,500 euro).

Additionally, the government’s regulation requires that after any GMO foods have been processed in a factory, storehouse or plant, all machinery that came into contact with the organisms will have to be thoroughly cleaned.

The government’s regulation also reserves the right for the Ministry of Agriculture to withdraw a farmer’s permit to cultivate GMOs if new information is released regarding negative health or environmental effects.

Not registering one’s crop of GMO plants would result in a prison sentence of up to three years as well as a 3,000 zloty fine (about 680 zloty).
“This regulation, even if it does not guarantee a 100 percent blockade of GMO cultivation in Poland, does lead to the result that Poland will, as a country, be a GMO-free zone,” Environmental Minister Maciej Nowicki told the daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

It was not easy to convince the European Commission to accept the regulation and there were many changes made in order to make sure that it is in accordance with European law.

The agreement underwritten by farmers must guarantee the possibility to back out of the GMO ban agreement and begin cultivating GMO crops. All farmers interested in cultivating GMOs must be notified of the fact that there are initiatives to create GMO-free zones in their region,” stated Carine Jeukenne from the press bureau of EU Environmental Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
“The most important is that the EC affirms that the regulation is in agreement with European law, because, the current regulation from 2001 was not and Poland faced punishment from the European Tribunal,” maintains Nowicki. “Up until the last minute, the regulation contained a clause that local governments have the right to declare GMO-free zones, but the Commission told us that it is absolutely illegal to pass such a regulation.”

The Polish regulation not only addresses the issue of growing GMOs but also research on and trade of genetically modified organisms.

Gazeta Wyborcza reports that the regulation was accepted by the European Commission on Tuesday. The Polish Ministry of the Environment plans to submit the regulation to the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, after 23 June. If passed, it is expected to be signed into law by the end of the year.

Poland is not the only European country facing issues surrounding genetically modified foods. Recently, several other countries, including Germany, Austria, France and Hungary, have faced problems with the EC regarding regulations on GMO cultivation.