India: NGO and Farmer Committee acting as watchdog on Govt approval of GM-agriculture Print E-mail
Wednesday January 12 2006

Expert meet to review Bt cotton field trials tomorrow

ASHOK B SHARMA

NEW DELHI, JAN 11:  The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (Geac) for transgenic crops and products which was scheduled to meet on Wednesday has deferred it to January 13.

According to sources, the agenda for discussion will include a review of field trials of several varieties of Bt cotton and other genetically modified (GM) crops.

The meeting is crucial as a network 20 local and national NGOs and farmers’ groups have protested against conducting of a field trial called ’under secrecy’. The Andhra Pradesh government has written to the Centre for an explanation for not informing it about the Bt Okra field trials in village Narokoduru in Guntur district.

The Secunderabad based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) was first to detect the Bt Okra field trials by Mahyco in village Narokoduru and bring it to the notice of the government. The local farmers later uprooted the crop.

“Even the farmers on whose fields GM crops are being trial tested are not informed. The farmers are given seeds free of cost and asked to cultivate and sell his produce later,” said Nilesh Desai, a farmer from Madhya Pradesh where some varieties of Bt cotton are under field trials. Mr Desai is in Delhi alongwith his other two farmer colleagues, Brijbhushan Singh Rathore and Ranchod Lal Anjana who echoed the same view.

The network of 20 NGOs and farmer groups have formed a body which they call monitoring and evaluation committee (MEC). When asked as to why they call themselves as such when there is already a monitoring and evaluation committee under Geac’s supervision, Ms Divya Raghunandan of Greenpeace India said, “As the government’s MEC has failed to do their work and keep everthing under secrecy, we took up this onus in public interest.” This NGO team is camping in Delhi and is waiting the results of GEAC deliberations on January 13.

Kavitha Kuruganti of CSA alleged that the team has brought to the notice violations of biosafety norms in field trials, pollen contamination of non-GM fields. The trials have caused health and environental hazards. She also said the double stacked genes Cry 1 Ac and Cry 2 Ab called Bollgard II Bt cotton are under field trials at several places.