Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dismantling Democracy, Science and the Public Interest to put GMO’s on Fast Track

Posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Reflections on the Proposed National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) and National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill, 2008

By Dr. Vandana Shiva

Genetically Engineered Organisms (GMOs) are transgenic organisms made by introducing genes across species boundaries. Thus Bt. Cotton, or Bt. Rice or Bt. Brinjal has genes for a toxin taken from a soil bacteria and put into the food crop. In addition, GMO’s use anti-biotic resistance markets, viral promoters and cancer genes as vectors. These new genes can have risks for public health and the environment. Ensuring safety in the context of genetically engineered organisms is referred to as Biosafety.

India has one of the most sophisticated Laws of Biosafety in the world. The “Rules for the Manufacture, Use / Import / Export and storage of Hazardous micro-organisms / genetically engineered organisms or cells”, 1989, notified under the Enviornmental Portection Act, 1986 is science based public interest oriented legislation created long before the commercialization of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and crops and long before the International Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity came into force.

The genetic engineering industry, in particular Monsanto, which controls 95% of all GM seeds sold worldwide, first tried to by pass India’s Biosafety Law when it started field trials without approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the statutory body for Biosafety regulation. The rules clearly state –

9(i) Deliberate or unintentional release of genetically engineered organisms / hazardous microorganisms or including, deliberate release for the purpose of experiment shall not be allowed.

Note : Deliberate release shall mean any intentional transfer of genetically engineered organisms / hazardous micro-organisms or cells to the environment or nature, irrespective of the way in which it is done.

Field trials of GMO’s are clearly a deliberate release. That is why when Monsanto – Mahyco started field trials of Bt. Cotton in 1997-98, without approval of the GEAC we initiated a case in the Supreme Court of India to challenge the illegal trials. As a result commercialization of Bt. Cotton was delayed upto 2002.

The sequence of events, which took place in implementing the illegal trials in India, can be briefly outlined as:
24th April 1998 Mahyco files to Department of Biotechnology for field trials
May 1998 Joint venture between Mahyco and Monsanto formed
13th July 1998 Letter of Intent issued by DBT without involving Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).
15th July 1998 Mahyco agrees to conditions in letter of intent.
27th July 1998 Impugned permission by DBT for trials at 25 locations granted.
5th August 1998 Permission for second set of trials at 15 locations granted
6th January 1999 PIL filed by Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology in the Supreme Court of India
8th February 1999 RCGM expresses satisfaction over the trial results at 40 locations.
12th April 1999 RCGM directs Mahyco to submit application for trials at 10 locations before Monitoring and Evaluation Committee
25th May 1999 Revised proposal to RCGM submitted by Mahyco.
June–Nov 1999 Permission granted for different trial fields
Oct–Nov 1999 Field visits
May 2000 Mahyco’s letter to GEAC seeking approval for “release for large scale commercial field trials and hybrid seed production of indigenously developed Bt cotton hybrids”.’
July 2000 GEAC clears for large-scale field trials on 85 hectares and seed production on 150 hectares and notifies through press release.
October 2000 RFSTE filed an application for amendment in the petition challenging the fresh GEAC clearance.
04.03.2005 GEAC orders uprooting of “Navbharat-15”, which was found to contain transgenic Bt.
26.03.2002 32nd Meeting of the GEAC was held to examine the issue of commercial release of Bt Cotton. Members of GEAC from ICHR, Health Ministry, Commerce Ministry, CSIR, ICAR did not attend the meeting. Inspite of the absence of important members of the GEAC, approval was granted to three out of four of Monsanto Mahyco’s transgenic hybrids.
05.04.2002 Formal approval granted to mach-12, Mach – 162 and Mach 184 by A.M. Gokhale, Chair of GEAC. Order of 05.04.2002 is a conditional clearance valid for three years. The stipulated conditions/restrictions are a clear implied admission on the part of the government that the tests are far from complete. In effect, the commercialisation was an experiment. Monsanto-Mahyco had been asked to gather further data and submit annual reports on the resistance that the insects develop over a period of time to GM seeds and to conduct studies on resistance to bollworm, susceptibility tests, and tests for cross pollination.
02.03.2005 In March, RFSTE releases results of continued failure of Bt Cotton, especially in Andhra Pradesh.
04.03.2005 GEAC rejects renewal of the 3 Bt Cotton varieties planted in the Southern States. However, other Bt varieties are cleared in Northern States.

In any case the Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) does not have the authority to approve field trials. According to the “Rules”. The RCGM “shall function in the Department of Biotechnology to monitor the safety related aspects in respect of on-going research projects and activities involving genetically engineered organisms / hazardous microorganisms”. Clearly RCGM is not an approving authority. The industry has repeatedly used the RCGM and the Biotechnology Department to subvert India’s Biosafety Laws. Now that citizens have used this law effectively, industry is trying to have it dismantled.

The latest attempt at Biosafety Deregulation by the Biotechnology Department is to float the proposal for a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority and a National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill, 2008. As the proposal states “DBT is considering to promulgate new legislation National Biotechnology Regulatory Act (NBR Act).

The false argument being used is that biotechnology regulation is currently spread over multiple acts. This is not true. There is only one Act, the Rules for GMO’s under the EPA, regulating GMO’s in all fields. It is also being argued that the NBRA will promote public confidence. The public will not and cannot have confidence in an industry driven, centralized, undemocratic, unaccountable law and institution floated by the agency which is a biotechnology promoting agency, and has done everything in the last decade to undermine citizens rights and the public interest. This is a direct attempt to replace India’s excellent Biosafety Law with industry friendly legislation, and to replace the GEAC as a Biosafety Regulation Authority with the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority to promote biotechnology, not biosafety.

The National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill refers to “consolidation of regulatory policies, rules and services under a single biotechnology authority”. There is already a single biosafety authority for all biotechnology approvals – the GEAC. It needs strengthening, not substitution and dismantling. Further, the proposal authority, like the GEAC is restricted to modern biotechnology or genetic engineering, defined as “the application of in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant direct injection of nucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.

The proposed authority undermines the regulatory role of diverse ministries and the rights of states and districts. The GEAC consists of members from different ministries, agencies and departments, as well as expert members who are heads of Agricultural Research, Medical Research, Scientific and Industrial Research, D.G Health Services, Directorate of Plant Protection, Chairman Pollution Control Board. The existing law allows creates State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC), District Level Committee (DLC). In the proposed authority, the statutory bodies role of diverse ministries has been replaced by an Inter-Ministerial Advisory Board, with no authority, but only to promote Central Government Cooperation. The checks and balances, and the decentralized institutions reflecting our federal, democratic structure that are part of the existing law are being destroyed to make it easy for industry to get approvals. As the proposed law states 6(3). “The Inter-ministrial Advisory Board and the National Biotechnology Advisory Council will have no authority to intervene on product specific decisions made by the NBRA.”

Both the different Ministries, diverse agencies and the States have thus been robbed of decision making powers which is vital to the functioning of democratic structures in the public interest.

The functions of the proposed Authority totally overlap with the functions of CEAC. Thus this is a proposal to displace GEAC. The Authority also proposes to displace the Ministry of Environment as the nodal agency for international negotiations for regulating the risks of genetic engineering.

Instead of a multi-ministerial committee, all powers for decision making are proposed to be concentrated in one individual, the chairperson, who will be a biotechnologist, with skills in genetic engineering but no skills or expertise in Biosafety.

The proposed authority is thus centralized, individualistic biased in favour of genetic engineering and hence will lend itself to easy influence of the genetic engineering industry.

The Bill clearly states that the following laws will stand repealed when the Bill becomes an Act. Among the Acts mentioned are –

1. Rules for the manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms, genetically engineered organisms or cells, 1989 issued under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. To be amended to exclude genetically engineered organisms or cells from the mandate / scope of the Rules.
2. Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
1. Section 13(3)(c) : The Scientific Panel may be established for genetically modified foods. Genetically modified organisms to be taken out of the mandate of FSSA.
2. Section 22(2) : The definition of genetically engineered or modified food to be amended to exclude foods and food ingredients composed of or containing genetically modified or genetically engineered organisms.
3. Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 8th Amendment :
1. The definition of recombinant drug to include all therapeutic proteins derived from recombinant organisms, but exclude recombinant biologics (eg. DNA vaccines, gene therapy products etc)
4. The Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Bill, 2007
1. To exclude clinical trials, pre commercial safety assessment, product approval and post release monitoring of recombinant biologics.
5. The Seed Bill, 2004 :
1. Section 15 on Special provision for registration of transgenic varieties: In clause 1 Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to be replaced with National Biotechnology Regulatory Act.
6. Proposed Plant Quarantine Bill
1. Section 6(2)(o): Regulating the import of transgenic materials, to be modified as “regulating the import of transgenic material subject to the approval of the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority”.

In other words, all safety regulation for health and environment will be demolished in one fell swoop if the National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill is passed and the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority is established.

The existing Biosafety Law needs to be upheld. It is an excellent Law. Weakness in implementation needs strengthening of institutions and processes. Not the dismantling of a good Law and its replacement by a centralized, biased Law which is good for industry but a disaster for citizens right to health and environmental safety.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nuances on environment by an extraordinary dancer, Malavika Sarukkai

Courtesy photo: K.N.Muralidharan

Greetings from MY Right to Safe Food

Last evening, I was invited by a dear friend Dr Vasavi from National Institute of Advanced studies- NIAS to attend my first lecture dance of Bharatnatyam by Malavika Sarukkai. Mind you, I have attended several Bharatnatyam performances but when Malavika started in her all encompassing energised sprite, there appeared images of some dancers both young and the senior ones, who have never left such a profound lasting impact on me.

You may be wondering what dance has got to do with safe foods, read on and find out.

Words cannot express this most breath taking language of dance, the word performance dilutes it. Malavika is no ordinary artist. I was so overwhelmed and tearfully joyous as i was held captive to her soul like moves. She succinctly shared the nuances that merges space and movement, two different polarities but so complement each other. What really touched the core of my being was her two striking environment pieces, so vivid even now "Yudhistra's dream"from our epic Mahabharata, where she enacted the emotive language of the fearful deers who pleaded with Yudhistra to be heard and not be victims of his might. She echoed the unheard voices, the mute pleas from our forest dwellers, so ruthlessly and mercilessly destroyed for greed by these thoughtless superior race of human beings. Where co-existence is not a factor in our well being, like the Earth belongs to us alone and no one else!

The other magnificent piece was on the pained life of Salamarda Timakka, a humble woman who hails from Karnataka and grieves at her barren state. She sows a seed of a Banyan, only to witness the miracle of life germinating through the womb of the Earth. Realisation dawns at nature's bounty. Today she is a proud mother to not one banyan tree but 247 banyan trees!

Through Malavika's delicate choreography placing art before the artist, being one with the character, turning it into an elegant, effortless and joyous expression, I so connected with her sensitive and sensual balance in displaying the treacherous exploitation of Mother Earth, where soil and seeds are so sacred to me. As always said " Seeds belong to no one, they are a gift of life to life itself". It our legacy and heritage and cannot rest with a handful corrupt and manipulative MNC's.

Malavika relayed all of the above and stressed the importance of imparting beauty to each movement through space and time, so graceful and relaxed. She transported me to her time and space that existed souley between us, through ecstasy. Every part of my being came alive, as if everything else around me was nullified, static and i was merged in her being.

For several minutes after her show, i was gob smacked not wishing to let those moments go but much to my delight, i had the fine opportunity to meet with Malavika in person during dinner. I was so choked upon seeing her that could barely contain my emotion of gratitude and in return was bestowed by a warm hug.

I never realised the impact this would have to my mind that no sooner my farmers arrived this morning, i narrated in excitement and shared with my farmer women by downloading through utube some pieces of her magnificent art. The reaction upon seeing so moved dear Selvi who hails from Tamil Nadu, a dedicated farmer whose instant reaction was "Can my daughter learn when she grows a bit older from this divine dancer?"

You have found a fan and well wisher in me and my farmers, wish you Malavika in abundance as does Nature with seemless boundaries, sowing seeds of consciousness.

Look forward to your next performance and launch of your DVD on March 19th at NIAS.


Sangita Sharma

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hearty Congratulations to Jairam Ramesh on his verdict - NO TO BT BRINJAL

Greetings from My Right to Safe Food

Words cannot express my joy. This is the most wonderful news in a long time, all our back breaking efforts have germinated to fruition.

MoEF report is very elaborate, the transparency displayed by Jairam Ramesh is absolutely commendable and heartening. Truly he has proven to be a Son of this Soil. The annexures uploaded is not just to vindicate his decision but also serves a purpose of highlighting the State Government letters, scientists letters both pro and anti, many research papers, the reactions given by many doctors on biosafety and a special paper on Bt brinjal impact on Ayurveda/siddha. Civil society organisations and citizen letters galore are all there bringing forth what was said by who and how much consensus was there on these issues.

We have Jairam Ramesh to thank for, for passing a wise and just verdict, he certainly makes our nation proud. Millions of us offer our sincere gratitude to him.

For broadcasting this widely and reaching millions, many thanks to the green guardians in the media.

And most of all a HURRAY, BRAVO and warm heartfelt thanks to each and every one's committed efforts from the Coalition for a GM Free India, our farmers and farmer associations, the diverse groups from each States, ethical scientists, concerned doctors and nutritionists, conscious bureaucrats, the CM 's of 14 State's to declare to the Centre on their stand against Bt Brinjal, Spiritual leaders lending support, consumers from all walks, celebrities, our energised youth and faculty throughout our nation and many more....resulting in a moratorium of Bt Brinjal.

Though it is not the end of the issue, we still need to continue in our efforts to ensure a complete Ban of GMO's in India.

Victory is ours

We have the Power to heal our Planet

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma


The PIB press release.

Decision on Commercialisation of Bt Brinjal

9th Feb 2010 - 18:22 IST

Following a series of nationwide consultations, the Minister for Environment and Forests (I/C) today announced his decision on the production and use of BT Brinjal. He also made public a copy of his exhaustive report which relies on inputs received from stakeholders from all across the spectrum of scientists, civil society, academics, Chief Ministers of various states and others concerned. Following is an excerpt from the statement issued today:

“Based on all the information presented in the preceding paragraphs and when there is no clear consensus within the scientific community itself, when there is so much opposition from the state governments, when responsible civil society organisations and eminent scientists have raised many serious questions that have not been answered satisfactorily, when the public sentiment is negative and when Bt-brinjal will be the very first genetically-modified vegetable to be introduced anywhere in the world and when there is no over-riding urgency to introduce it here, it is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt-brinjal, till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country.

A moratorium implies rejection of this particular case of release for the time being; it does not, in any way, mean conditional acceptance. This should be clearly understood.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Congratulations to Jairam Ramesh for carrying out the 7 States public consultations as set out by him

Greetings from My Right to Safe Food

Bangalore was an extraordinary consultation in my opinion. A fiery one with 75% saying No to Bt Brinjal. After reading/viewing the wide coverage in almost all news channels, newspapers regional, national on this last consultation by Jairam Ramesh MoEF, it was disappointing to note that more criticism were hurled out at Jairam Ramesh for having lost his cool, whilst provocations were from both sides. It is only natural to react, and it is not easy to maintain control when unruly allegations fly across at each other without supporting evidence. At least, he had the decency to apologise and continue the dialogue with the person he had lost his cool with giving a fair chance to be heard. Sure, there were unnecessary undemocratic allegations from Jairam Ramesh but compare this to the list of hopeless Ministers who sit on the seat of power like the Sharad Pawar - the sugar and cricket baron, minting notes at the expense of the masses who gives two hoots about GM foods, food prices or farmers suicides!!!

Why do we fail to recognise the transparency, dignity, and wit (not liked by many) displayed by him throughout all the 7 State consultations as a remarkable feat.

First and foremost, name me one Minister in our country who has the courage of conviction to display transparency in approach and hold public consultations !!! We are a nation of ungrateful souls and fail to acknowledge the good points displayed by at least one intelligent minister Jairam Ramesh. He needs to be congratulated for making Bt Brinjal a National issue. Let us not forget it.

Sure, we await the out come on 10th Feb with abated breaths and hope his decision will also be a wise and fair one and benefits our nation as claimed strongly by him. Reading between the lines, his decision will slant to more safety testing for a minimum number of year/s, he will neither approve Bt Brinjal nor reject it.

We need to continue with the same zest to ensure raising awareness on GM foods, challenge, provide research data and not go slack on this front. Bt Brinjal is just the entry point of GM foods, we have only averted its entry for a short interim just as in the case of Bt Cotton. The only difference lies that we must ensure banning Bt Brinjal's entry into our food chain, otherwise it opens the door for 56 GM food crops from all levels and for all times to come.

The diverse forces that came together on the 6th Feb to voice concerns was just a proof in point that united we stand. And with 13 States declaring to the Centre that they will not have
Bt Brinjal is indeed the only way forward to safeguard our food security and seed sovereignty.

We have the power to heal our planet.

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma

Monday, February 1, 2010

Invitation to "Seeds of Future" - 20 min skit at Culah 2010 hosted by Mount Carmel College

"Seeds of Future" by Sarang

MY RIGHT TO SAFE FOOD sponsored by ANNADANA SOIL AND SEED SAVERS Invite you all to a 20min skit "Seeds of the Future" Developed in 2008, by Sarang at the Culah 2010 Jungle Fever, A National Cultural Fest hosted by Mount Carmel College Over 60 colleges participating and over 8000 students attending

- 4th Feb 2010

Time - 2.30pm - 3pm

- Main Auditorium, Mount Carmel College (MCC),Palace Road, Vasanth Nagar, Bangalore -560052

- As part of a learning exercise on the threats of the so-called ‘modern’ agriculture poignantly articulated by village children who apply miming techniques and projection technology. Minimum use of language is used, so as to adapt to audiences anywhere in the world. These young creative masterminds aged 8 to 21 raise awareness on the adverse affects of pesticide laden foods and further alert consumers on the sneaky onslaught of GM crops.

Contact - Sangita Sharma, +91 9448068347
Palak Agarwal ( Asst - Cultural Secretary MCC) +91 9972524511
Anuradha Sarang - Sarang Team - 09481184685
A Concept Note to the Play

"Seeds of the Future"

Welcome to the Village. It could be one of hundreds deep in the heart of India. Its people live a self-reliant happy life. True, they work hard each day, but always in tandem with nature not against it. They are safe and satisfied in their simple lives. Life is a celebration of nature’s bounty for them.

Then one day, Big Boots, the multinational company steps into the village. Big Boots is busy collecting samples of traditional seeds, cattle for research and terrifies the farmers. Big boot’s messenger, the liaison officer arrives to assure the villagers that they are not enemies. That they have the technology to quadruple their harvest. He slowly lures the villagers into leaving their traditional ways and joining the ‘modern’ agriculture his company propagates. All but one. There’s one doubtful villager who believes that all this comes at a cost. He rebels against the change and desperately tries to convince his friends, but is gradually isolated from the others who are wonder-struck at their sudden prosperity. He threads in and out of the scenes collecting traditional seeds. They see the wonders of 'green' revolution, 'white' revolution and the use of large machinery. The villagers start noticing pests in their farms. They get worried and approach the liaison officer for advice. He initiates them into using pesticides.Then one day, the richest farmer/farm in the village is dying. The villagers along with the liaison officer try to perk him up using various props(more pesticide sprays etc) but to no avail. He dies. This shocks the villagers. They realize their folly and join hands with the rebel. They fight the liaison officer and overpower him.

In the climax, the seeds which have been tossed from one to another are seen to be safe in the hands of children, the seeds of our future.

P.S - Images enclosed

Background to Sarang Team

Sarang is an alternative school based in Kerala. In the year 1979, Gopalakrishnan & Vijayalekshmi, a young teacher couple embarked on a quest for an education system that would allow their child to grow into a good human being, responsible and responsive to the society. Sarang was conceived and developed around their first son, Gautham. Along with his wife, Anuradha, he strives to carry forward Sarang’s mission. Over the years, hundreds of children and adults have grown with Sarang. At present, along with Kannaki and Unniyarcha, Gautham’s sisters, there are eight more children at Sarang. Their age group is from 8 to 21. They live and learn together. Their parents are farmers, daily wages workers and from villages whose common goal is to nurture their children into good human beings.

In 1983, with the realization that education was not complete without agriculture which forms the basis of human life, the Sarang couple bought some barren land atop a hill to experiment with. Learning from old farmers and from hands-on work, they gradually converted the once arid land into a lush green land with plentiful water. From then on, organic farming has been a vital part of Sarang’s dynamic curriculum and lifestyle. Children as well as adults at Sarang learn the basics of natural farming by cultivating vegetable patches, experimenting with seeds, working on the land whenever possible and keeping their minds as fertile as the land. They feel the need to raise awareness about the threats posed by GM crops deeply and travel extensively carrying their message, emphasizing the importance of natural & organic farming and the need for protecting & propagating traditional seeds for the future generations.