GE Cotton Approval in India Sparks Debate

GE Cotton Approval in India Sparks Debate

Inter Press Service
March 27, 2002

By Ranjit Devraj
NEW DELHI, Mar. 27

When India's right-wing government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) granted approval for the commercial farming of genetically modified
(GM) cotton yesterday, it was yet another sign of its readiness to ignore civil
society at home and please transnational corporations and the West, critics say.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry
of Environment cleared cultivation of GM cotton, patented by the U.S.
seed giant Monsanto, in spite of demands by top international campaigners for
better and more scientific testing.

Vandana Shiva, who heads the Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Environment, said the tests conducted so far were "not adequate to
establish the benefits nor fully assess the risks."

Genetically modified crops have been banned in several countries
because the technology involves splicing genes from different species for
desirable characteristics with as yet unknown long-term consequences to the
environment and to human health. Said Devinder Sharma of the Forum for
Biotechnology and Food Security, "The GEAC approval can only be described as the biggest
ever scientific fraud in this country...all scientific norms have been
thrown to the winds."

Suman Sahai, who leads Gene Campaign, pointed out that Monsanto's GM
cotton was approved on the basis of valid field testing data for just one year
and even that is yet to be made available to the public for scrutiny.

But the cavalier manner with which approval for GM cotton came through
was one of several decisions that critics say have gone against the rights and
interests of ordinary people.

Financial Times (London)
March 27, 2002
India approves growing of GM cotton AGRICULTURE MOVE COULD DOUBLE


The Indian government yesterday approved the cultivation of
genetically modified cotton, in a decision that is likely to lead to the
introduction of several more GM crops to a huge new market which has until now
resisted the technology.

Although approval could also pave the way for production of
genetically modified mustard, soybean and corn in India, officials said
cultivation would be "fine-tuned" with "certain conditions". This could be intended to
leave room to water down the decision, if as expected it causes a political
backlash. Industry groups yesterday hailed the decision as a step forward for a
country that has been notably more hostile to GM crops than other emerging
markets. Mahyco, a local company in which Monsanto, the US biotech company, has
a minority stake, has been conducting trials of the cotton seed since 1997.

"This will send a positive signal that the government is committed to
promoting the growth of knowledge-based industries in India," said the
Confederation of Indian Industry in Delhi. "It was imperative that the government not
let ideological or emotional considerations get in the way."
Introduction of the "BT cotton" seed, which is resistant to the
bollworm disease that destroys an estimated 15 per cent of the country's annual
yield, will double cotton production in India, say farmers. It would also
reduce pesticide costs.

But environmental groups, which have periodically vandalised fields
where trial crops were under cultivation, said it was a victory for "multinational
capitalism". The decision would also expose India's agricultural
sector to "transgenic pollution", they said.

Indian cotton farmers are expected to take advantage of the GM
variety. Although India has the largest area in the world under cotton
cultivation, it is only the third largest producer, behind the US and China, yielding
less than half the world average per hectare.

Cotton accounts for roughly a third of its export earnings, either
directly or indirectly, through clothes manufacture. Yashwant Sinha, finance
minister, is thought to have helped pave the way for yesteday's decision after his
delivery of a pro-farming annual budget last month.
Mr Sinha, who dubbed his budget "freedom for the farmer", said he
would take steps to lift outdated controls on the development of modern
agribusiness. Although India became self-sufficient in food production in the 1970s,
its agricultural sector is still a small in terms of world farm trade.

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