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India Officials Accused of "Criminal Negligence" in Regulating Gene-Altered Cotton

Nov. 15, 2005

GM WATCH daily http://www.gmwatch.org
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EXCERPTS: Gene Campaign [based in New Delhi, India] today called for legal action under the Environment Protection Act, against the members of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for criminal negligence and willful suppression of facts in the Bt cotton case, leading to grave economic losses to the farming community, resulting in several instances of farmer suicides.

Dr Suman Sahai said that GEAC's silence and refusal to take action in the Bt cotton case, where fresh evidence of failures is coming in everyday, indicates that influences are at work which favor the continued sale of Bt cotton seed even if it means devastating losses to farmers.
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GENE CAMPAIGN DEMANDS LEGAL ACTION AGAINST GEAC Press Release, 14 November 2005
http://www.genecampaign.org

Gene Campaign today called for legal action under the Environment Protection Act, against the members of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for criminal negligence and willful suppression of facts in the Bt cotton case, leading to grave economic losses to the farming community, resulting in several instances of farmer suicides.

A number of studies conducted by a variety of agencies, including government departments have reported over the last three to four years that Bt cotton is failing in many regions and farmers are suffering huge losses. The GEAC has so far taken no action in this regard.

Gene Campaign¹s studies starting with the first harvest of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra in 2002-03, showed that the crop had performed so poorly that 60 % of the farmers could not even recover their investment. Recent data from a monitoring team set up by twenty grassroots level organizations working on agriculture, have documented the widespread failure of Bt cotton crops in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra.

*Many varieties of Bt cotton have failed to germinate so the farmer has had to buy the seed two to three times.

*The mandatory insect management strategy of planting non-Bt refuges is not being followed by the majority of farmers, thus ensuring that this technology can not work in the field for long but the GEAC has not acted against this violation.

*Earlier reports that the quality of the Bt cotton is inferior to non-Bt cotton is being substantiated year after year for a range of Bt cotton varieties.

*The rampant spread of illegal cotton varieties, many of them spurious and not even containing the Bt gene, have flooded the market in all cotton belts and the farmers are being fooled by unscrupulous elements.

*The Bt technology has proved to be largely ineffective against the bollworm so the pesticide use has not shown any significant reduction and coupled with the expensive seeds, the economics of Bt cotton are adverse for the farmers.

*The clear beneficiaries are the seed companies who have GEAC¹s permission to sell their seeds despite recorded failures.

As all this unfolds across the cotton growing regions, a study conducted at the Nagpur based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), provides the scientific basis for the failure of the Bt technology in India and shows why this technology developed for the US, cannot be transplanted here. The US cotton is protected by Bt technology (in which the toxin expression is high in leaves), because its main pest, the tobacco budworm, is a leaf feeder and therefore susceptible to the Bt approach. In India the main cotton pest is the bollworm, which feeds on the cotton bolls, rather than the leaves . The CICR study clearly shows that with the Bt technology in India, the toxin is practically non-existent in the bolls which are the principal target of the bollworm, hence the technology will not work to protect Indian cotton.

In the face of all this chaos, farmer losses and widespread crop failure, the GEAC has not taken any action.

- There has been no action taken against suppliers of Bt seeds,

- no instructions for compensation to farmers,

- no action to stop violations and control spurious seeds,

- no information on whether the GEAC has conducted a fact finding study, nor any indication of the findings, if such a study was conducted.

- But the GEAC continues to release a series of Bt cotton varieties year after year.

Dr Suman Sahai, Director of Gene Campaign said this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, the GEAC must be held accountable for its deeds of omission and commission and be made to explain its actions. Gene Campaign had issued notice to the GEAC under section 19(b) of the Environment Protection Act (1986) on August 3 2005, for commission of offence under the Act, by continuing the approval to Bt cotton varieties despite evidence of its widespread failure. The GEAC had 60 days to respond to the notice which fell on 2 October, 2005. Gene Campaign said they waited for an additional 30 days to give the GEAC ample time to respond but they have not done so.

The failure of the GEAC to respond to the notice amounts to admission of the charges leveled against it and hence legal action should be initiated for violation of the provisions of the Environment Protection Act (1986) leading to grave economic losses to the farming community, resulting in several instances of suicides.

Dr Suman Sahai said that GEAC's silence and refusal to take action in the Bt cotton case where fresh evidence of failures is coming in everyday, indicates that influences are at work which favor the continued sale of Bt cotton seed even if it means devastating losses to farmers. She said that after the clear evidence provided by the senior scientists at the Nagpur based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), that the Bt technology in India is destined to fail because it simply does not address the cotton growing conditions in India, GEAC has still not come out with a position on the CICR study. GEAC has held two meetings on the CICR findings on 10 August and 16 September, 2005 but has made no comments. This raises further suspicion about the motivations and conduct of the GEAC.

Dr. Suman Sahai

Contact: DR. SUMAN SAHAI Phone: - +91 11 29556248; 98-110-41332
Email: genecamp@vsnl.com

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**************************** This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association www.eco-farm.org <http://www.eco-farm.org/
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