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India's Battle Against Monsanto Rages On

1.The battle against Monsanto. A victory for science and democracy
2.Some on Bt panel were promoting own interest
3.The debate around Bt Brinjal has only grown louder
1.The battle against Monsanto. A victory for science and democracy
Hemant Anant Jain
12 February 2010:

A first hand report from the GMO battlefront, India.

For over six months now I have been deeply involved, as an ordinary citizen of India in waging a war against the attempts of seed companies like Monsanto to control our food. Add Bill Gates and you have got a powerful mix of people and companies who will stop at nothing. With that kind of money and political power it's next to impossible to stop.

First the facts: Patented gene technologies will not help small farmers survive climate change, but they will concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit public sector research and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds.

Background: Bt Cotton

Armed with the growing power and a 26% share in Mahyco, it's Indian counterpart, Monsanto unleashed Bt Cotton in India. PR, News and other media bought off, people started hearing how Bt cotton has been successful and made for amazing yields.

Till farmers started committing suicide. Today the numbers are placed at more than 200,000. The magical Bt Cotton was neither magical nor so Bt'ed with common sense. Predictably, the secondary pests developed a resistance and started creating havoc.

But the company had paid off the top politicians and greenwashed, blackwashed, bloodwashed the case of Bt Cotton.

Find out more about the humanitarian, ecological, environmental disaster of Bt Cotton here:

Bt Brinjal

So in 2009, the GEAC (Genetic Enginnering Approval Committe) gave the go ahead to the world's first genetically modified food that was to be directly consumed by humans - the Bt Brinjal. Also known as eggplant and aubergine.

Dr. Pushpa Bhargava was a member of the GEAC. A renowned microbiologist, Dr. Bhargava expressed shock at the approval.

Greenpeace launched a campaign protesting the decision.

Millions of educated Indians got into the act.

And within 72 hours, our environment minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh's offices were flooded with over 70,000 faxes and thousands of emails, saying Bt Brinjal must not be approved.

Never before was such a spontaneous environmental protest seen in this country's history. Jairam Ramesh put off the decision till February. He said he would travel around the country and hold a series of public consultations. He would take the opinion of people, scientists and farmers.

Monsanto-Mahyco had politicians by their side. The science and technology minister of India, the agricultural minister of India came in defense of Bt Brinjal. Said it was harmless.

With all the power in their hands, Monsanto thought it had the game in their hands.

Except they made a little mistake. They hadn't realized that bigger than money, bigger than politics, bigger than anything else is something called the country.

It was India's food security at stake and people came out in millions and took a stand against this blatant attempt at a new kind of colonialism.

And the Indians fought a pitched battle against Monsanto and their allies. Watch videos and see reports here:

Blogs like this were continuously giving out information which the mainstream media and newspapers refused to cover.

The protest was democratic. More than 100,000 people around the country fasted in protest against Bt Brinjal on Martyrs Day - 30th January (anniversary of Gandhi's assasination)

It was found that the politicians in favour of Bt Brinjal were singing Monsanto's tune. In fact, they were quoting form Monsanto's publicity material. Independent scientists wrote to the PM pointing out how promotional material of a pseudo-scientific organization funded primarily by Monsanto had found its way into government briefings on GM crops:

In the consultations, Monsanto brought in paid stooges to pose as farmers that supported Bt brinjals. They made a noise alongside scientists on Monsanto's payroll. Which scientist would say things like: "people want new technology like iphone so why not btbrinjal?"

And then the decision came in. India said no to Bt Brinjal.

Here is one of the most brilliant and transparent reports by a politician we have ever seen:

Read every word. It sets a precedent for the world trying to fight the GMO Battle.

Every word of it proves India is a strong democracy. And every word of it proves that science was being hijacked by the GMO companies. (Bad, inadequate research:

This was a victory of science.

As the Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said "We know very little, if anything, about the long-term effects of growing GM crops. To take risks with our natural environment is wholly indefensible and irresponsible. We simply cannot afford to take risks with untested technologies.

"We are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with other nations who are opposed to GM and fight for what our people want. It is clear that concerns about GM exist in the developing, as well as the developed world, and I am pleased to see that the Indian Government has listened to public opinion."

The battle of the brinjal has been won. But the war continues around the world.

Further reading:

Monsanto on Monsanto:

All the answers to questions like will GMOs solve world's hunger?

Sunita Narain on the decision:
2.Some on Bt panel were promoting own interest
Gyan Varma
DNA, February 13 2010

New Delhi: The green signal from the expert committee-II (EC-II) to grow Bt Brinjal was meant to promote genetically modified (GM) food in the country, civil rights activists have alleged.

According to the activists, four of the 16 members in EC-II were either growing Bt Brinjal or working on projects funded by companies promoting GM food. EC-II was formed by the environment ministry's genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) to suggest whether Bt Brinjal should be cultivated commercially. GEAC's final decision was based on its

One of the four members was KK Tripathi, who is in the review committee on genetic manipulation at the department of biotechnology. A complaint was filed against him in the central vigilance commission for abuse of power. The complaint (number 780/09/6) was filed by Nuziveedu Seeds Limited for exercising undue discretionary powers to promote three companies, including Mahyco.

In case of Mathura Rai from the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, allegations were repeatedly made that he was part of a project funded by USAID, which gets funds from Monsanto.

"We wrote several letters to authorities expressing our concerns, but the matter was never taken up," Kavitha Kuruganti of NGO Kheti Virasat Mission, said. "This is why we want the ministry of environment and forest to reconstitute GEAC and not have the same people carry out further research on Bt Brinjal."

Allegations were also made against P Ananda Kumar, who is project director at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute. Kumar is a Bt Brinjal developer and activists said his inclusion in EC-II was not fair since he had an interest in the commercial use of Bt Brinjal.

The fourth person is Dilip Kumar of the Central Institute of Fisheries Education. The Mumbai-based institute had carried out a study on Bt Brinjal sponsored by Mahyco. Activists alleged it was not fair to keep Kumar in the expert committee as well.

"GEAC had set up the expert committee and its decision was based on the recommendations of this committee. The expert committee had on it Mathura Rai and Ananda Kumar, Bt Brinjal growers, so there's bound to be conflict of interest," Kanchi Kohli of NGO Kalpavriksha, said.
3.Controversy: Q&A: Bt Brinjal
The debate around Bt Brinjal has only grown louder after Jairam Ramesh's recent decision to hold back its commercial release. A ready reckoner.
Debarshi Dasgupta
Outlook, 12 February 2010

The debate around Bt Brinjal has only grown louder after Jairam Ramesh's recent decision to hold back its commercial release until "independent" tests establish its safety. But a lot of the brouhaha clouds certain critical details.  Here are a few questions, along with their answers, that will hopefully dispel some doubts.

Why can't we trust the government regulator?

One of the cornerstones of the criticism of Jairam Ramesh is that the minister had no right to overrule a government and scientific regulator - the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC). If this scientific regulator had cleared Bt Brinjal nine years after work began on it in the lab and after several tests, what was the need for Ramesh to butt in? A close reading of the complaints raised by civil society groups shows how this regulator is riddled with several conflicts of interest and other problems.

That's the reason why the Supreme Court appointed an observer to the GEAC, P.M. Bhargava, who remains dissatisfied with its functioning even today. As per one of his declarations, R. Arjula Reddy, the chairman of the second GEAC expert committee, had confided in him that he was under "tremendous pressure" from the "agriculture minister, GEAC and industry" to clear Bt Brinjal and that Mahyco had not carried out eight essential tests on Bt Brinjal. There's more. The first GEAC expert committee had recommended several tests but a third of them were later overruled by the second expert committee (funnily enough a third of its members were the same as in the first).

There is even a FIR registered against the member secretary of GEAC - also a complaint with the Central Vigilance Commission - by Hyderabad-based Nuziveedu Seeds, which deals in Bt Cotton, pointing out how the said official has been using undue discretionary powers to promote interests of Mahyco at the cost of others. All these instances show that the GEAC is not beyond reproach. Certainly not that of the minister of environment and forests, under whose ministry the GEAC functions.

Isn't this decision bad for science in India?

What science are we talking about here? All that the Indian scientists did was to buy the Bt gene kit and replicate it in the eggplant. Is that the kind of science we want to emulate? The technology was developed by Monsanto in the US and for which they get a generous royalty from all those who use their creation. Why do you think we haven't heard much of GM varieties other than the Bt kinds in India? That's because it is the most difficult bit of GM science and Indian scientists are content using technology developed elsewhere. Also because most of the funding that comes in from private players and foreign institutions - many of them American - further research that serve their interests.

Real science would be to indigenously identify genes for desired traits and then use them in our crops. Unfortunately, our scientists are a long, long way from getting there. Ramesh's argument for more state involvement in developing seeds is very pertinent. Therefore, the critique that this decision deals a blow to science is all humbug. Hopefully, if anything, this decision will deal a blow to the growing trend of 'copycat science' in India.

Do we really need Bt Brinjal?

That's one fundamental question that hasn't been answered yet. The central argument for Bt Brinjal is that it would cut the use of lethal pesticides that is necessary to kill the shoot and fruit borer. But close to 6 lakh farmers in Andhra Pradesh, as quoted by minister Jairam Ramesh in his statement, have demonstrated how they have contained the pest without pesticides. Why can't we replicate this elsewhere? Also, it has now emerged that an independent socio-economic study to determine whether Indian farmers needed Bt brinjal was never carried out despite recommendations for such a study.

Is Bt Brinjal about food security?

The truth is that Bt Brinjal is not about food security. Brinjal has never been scarce in the market and it continues to be one of the cheapest vegetables on the cart of my vegetable vendor. The Bt variety is more of a trial balloon to see how Indians take to genetically modified food before bringing in the real moneymakers. The interest lies in launching Mahyco's Bt rice and wheat (both are on the way) - two crops that are part of the Indian staple diet. But that too is not about ensuring food security. Those campaigning for enhancing food security would rather focus on reducing post-harvest waste in the state's granaries. As per a RTI reply in 2008, more than 1,300,000 tonnes of food grain were wasted in the last 10 years in the granaries of Food Corporation of India. That could have fed over one crore people for a year or over 6 lakh individuals across the span of a decade.

Is there any American role in promoting Bt products in India?

I doubt Uncle Sam is browbeating us into adopting GM. What is more likely is that subtler and more sophisticated campaigns are being run by the Americans to convince power-wielders and scientists in India of the efficacy and reliability of GM technology. The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, signed around the same time as the nuclear deal, is one such forum to promote the use of biotechnology and further American agricultural interests in India. It has representatives from Monsanto and Wal-Mart on its board.

And is it a coincidence that Nina Fedoroff, the adviser to Hillary Clinton on science and technology and a known GM promoter, was in town just before Jairam Ramesh was expected to announce his decision? Maybe it just seems that two plus two is four. She is also an acting administrator to USAID that has funded the introduction of genetically modified food in India. The US Embassy in New Delhi has rubbished any such claims and clouded it with a statement that she was here on "an invitation from the Indian scientific community". Before coming to India, she was in the news last month for her remarks made in New Zealand, a country that staunchly opposes GM crops. She called the anti-GM arguments "tragically bad". Let's put it this way: The Americans wouldn't have been followed the GM debate in India as closely as they are now had the Bt technology been purely Indian.

What about a consumer's choice not to eat Bt Brinjal?

Libertarians, who deride Bt-Brinjal opposers as Luddites, fail to acknowledge the fundamental right of choice. What about those who do not wish to eat Bt Brinjal, whatever their reasons may be? Why must all bow at the altar of 'science'? Isn't this tantamount to a dictatorship of scientists? If Bt Brinjal is released today, there is no way to tell if the brinjal one buys is genetically modified or not. So until there is reliable GM labelling and segregation of food products in place in India, Bt Brinjal (even if it is safe) must be kept off the market shelves. It's about respecting a person's choice.