Calls to Ban GM Crops Intensify After Tests Show Adverse Effects on Rats
NEW DELHI - Environmentalists and food security activists in India
have renewed calls for a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) foods
and crops after rats reportedly secretly tested with GM corn diets
by the U.S. agribusiness and biotech giant Monsanto developed blood
and organ abnormalities.
Monsanto's tests are already the subject of brewing controversy in
Europe, where the transnational corporation is facing increasing resistance
to its products and where legal initiatives are being mounted to compel
bureaucrats to make public the full results of the tests.
So far, Monsanto has maintained that its 1,139-page report could not
be revealed, even to the European Food Safety Authority, on the grounds
that it ''contains confidential business information which could be
of commercial use to our competitors.''
In India, a country with 600 million farmers, the results of the tests
have been appended to public interest litigation filed in May seeking
Supreme Court intervention in India's own GM programme by a group
of prominent anti-GM activists, including Devinder Sharma of the Forum
for Biotechnology and Food Security and P.V. Satheesh of the Deccan
Development Society (DDS), based in southern Andhra Pradesh state.
While the litigation is pending Sharma has teamed up with Suman Sahai,
who leads the internationally known group Gene Campaign, to demand
that the government urgently publish all food and feed safety research
on GM crops in India, including cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal (aubergine),
potato, tomato and staples like rice.
''The methodology used must be made known, as also the laboratories
where safety tests are conducted, and all decisions on GM crops and
foods taken in accordance with the provisions of the Cartagena Protocol
on Biosafety, which already requires public participation and to which
India is signatory,'' Sharma said in an IPS interview.
Both Sharma and Sahai said it is becoming increasingly important that
food and feed safety data not be accepted from companies, but generated
in government laboratories and in a transparent manner.
Although India has a string of well-established agricultural laboratories
that compare to the finest in the world, Indian authorities had chosen
to accept data generated by Monsanto before accepting the company's
GM cotton for large-scale cultivation -- and this has already proved
disastrous for farmers growing the crop.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) last month banned
two varieties of Monsanto's GM cotton for use in southern Andhra Pradesh
state, where farmers have committed suicide by the hundred after severe
crop failures last year.
And in retaliation for the refusal of Mahyco-Monsanto (the Indian
subsidiary) to compensate the farmers, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister
YSR Reddy last week ordered the company blacklisted in his state.
He has also demanded that state authorities be consulted before the
GEAC grants approvals for cultivating GM crops in Andhra Pradesh.
''Reddy's courageous decision will serve as an eye-opener for the
Parliamentary Select Committee that is presently examining the controversial
Seed Bill 2004. The proposed bill allows the seed industry to escape
free without paying any compensation for any crop losses. All it suggests
is that in case of crop failures, farmers should knock on the doors
of the consumer courts,'' said Sharma.
According to Sharma and Sahai, more than growing GM crops in India,
the central government needs urgently to address the loosely regulated
import of GM foods into this country until clear safety data generated
independently and subjected to a public risk-benefit analysis is available.
Both said the question must be asked in this country why transnationals
are gaining a reputation for being eager to force genetically altered
foods on unsuspecting populations and then shying away from making
public the results of research trials -- as Monsanto appears to be
doing in the case of the secret trials on rats with GM corn.
In the United States itself, the Centre for Food Safety has alerted
the Environmental Protection Agency on the Monsanto trials and said
that the rat study showed ''unreasonable adverse effects,'' and these
should have been drawn to the attention of regulators, because failure
do to do so was a potentially criminal offence.
The activists suggest that the Monsanto study should be reason enough
for a serious overhaul of a draft Biotechnology Policy drawn up by
the Indian government and which has been criticised as jettisoning
the elements of precaution, safety and public participation.
They feared that if the new policy is passed, health effects of the
kind reported in the leaked Monsanto study would not even be detected
since there is no requirement for testing. Entire populations could
be exposed to untested foods and it would be too late should health
impacts be detected, they said.
''In a country where there is a 50-million-tonne food grain surplus
there is little reason to invest in costly technology which is of
doubtful value and which increasingly is found to be risky,'' said
''India is a storehouse of food and agricultural diversity and has
many options to offer for food and nutritional security. There appears
little reason to opt for potentially dangerous GM foods especially
when regulations are demonstrably weak,'' she added.
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