CSA-India: Another exposure of biosafety violations in GM food crops [bt-brinjal & bt-rice] Print E-mail

Report and Press Release 

#1 Field Trials of [Mahyco’s] Bt Rice and Bt Brinjal in Farmers’ Fields in Andhra Pradesh

- a CSA report from the field

Bt Brinjal experimentation in Kurnool district

March 3, 2006: Mr S Ramprasad and Ms Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture [CSA] met with Mr B Ramanjaneyulu, a farmer on whose land Bt Brinjal was tried out by Mahyco Seeds in 2004 in Pandipadu village, Kurnool district. This village is very close to Kurnool town and Mahyco Seeds had done an open field trial in this farmer’s field in Kharif 2004, after leasing in half an acre of land for Rs. 2500/- from the farmer. The 25-cents plot where the Bt Brinjal trial took place in 2004 has a tomato crop right now which the 2-member CSA team visited.

From the discussions with the farmer, his brother [Mr Venkateswarlu, who farms in a neighboring plot of land] who also observed the crop carefully and the farmer’s son [16-year old Shankar], several violations of biosafety norms came to the fore yet again. Some more information was gleaned from the Horticulture department [through a media representative] and from Mr Hanumanthu, Mahyco’s Field Assistant for this trial, through a telephonic conversation on this trial. The following points emerged from the discussions with various stakeholders:

This trial in the farmer’s field took place between June and January 2004, as per the farmer. The Mahyco Field Assistant informed that sowing took place on July 10th 2004, compared to the normal sowing period of April-May by the farmers in the area. The trial was on till the end of January, 2005.
According to the farmer, four other non-Bt Brinjal varieties were used as checks for this trial. The Mahyco Field Assistant informed that the trial was of Mahyco 99 Bt Brinjal. The checks included non-Bt Mahyco 99 Brinjal and Syngenta’s “Haritha” Brinjal seeds. There were four treatments in this trial.
Around the Bt Brinjal trial plot [on around ½ an acre], there were other Brinjal plots sown by the farmer and his brother. It was only months into the season that the company requested the farmers to remove these neighboring plots [after flowering] and paid them a compensation for the same
Confirming fears of violations, the farmer’s family had comments on the taste of the Bt Brinjal from the plot – they informed that it tasted the same as other brinjal. The farmer’s family and his brother’s family consumed brinjal from this trial plot, including the Bt Brinjal fruit at least 8-12 times during the season. All the fruits which were rejected from the plot were allowed to be fed to the farmers’ cattle

After the completion of the Delhi team’s visit on December 20th 2004, the farmer was told that he could do whatever he wanted to with the plot, and he sold in the local Kurnool vegetable market brinjal from this trial plot, including Bt Brinjal several times. According to the farmer, every five days or so, he would sell the produce in the market. According to the farmer’s brother, the Bt Brinjal produce would fetch a lower price in the market especially if sold during daylight – according to him, the color of the fruit would become dimmer as the day passed, compared to its appearance early in the morning and would therefore fetch a lower price by about five rupees a kilo. The Mahyco Field Assistant agreed that there was a marginal change in the appearance of the Bt Brinjal fruit and could not explain the reasons for the same. The crop residue was used as fuel wood at home, as per the brother, while the farmer reported that it was burnt in the field.
There was no written agreement between the farmer and the company, especially with any documents left with the farmer. However, the company took the signature of the farmer and two witnesses for their own records. The farmer was informed that it was a Bt Brinjal trial. The farmer’s brother reported that a small group of farmers were invited to the field by the company for demonstration purposes. The sowing for the trial was done later than the other Brinjal plots around. The reason for this was not clear and the Mahyco Field Assistant just reported that the seeds from Jalna arrived late for sowing.

The farmer and his brother reported that the Bt Brinjal entries had lower incidence of fruit borers. The Field Assistant informed This trial was authorized by the Department of Biotechnology [DBT], Government of India directly and the Horticulture Directorate in Andhra Pradesh was only informed about the trial much later, when it was time for a Delhi team to visit the plot. A person from the AD-Horticulture’s office in Kurnool district accompanied the Delhi team’s visit to the plot. The farmer also reported that the Delhi team was brought to his plot since apparently his plot was one of the best amongst the 12 multi-locational limited trials allowed in that year for Bt Brinjal.

Bt Rice Experimentation in Farmer’s Field in Rangareddy district of Andhra Pradesh

6th February, 2006: Mr S Ramprasad and Ms Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture [CSA] visited the family of a farmer, Mr Hanumanth Reddy of Mysireddipalli village of Rangareddy district, Andhra Pradesh on whose land Bt Rice was tried out by Mahyco Seeds in Kharif 2004. The team spoke with with Ms Suvarna, mother of the farmer and had a telephonic conversation with Mr Narsimha Reddy, the farmer. The plot where the trial was done now had a maize crop on it at the time of CSA’s visit.

The land was leased by Mahyco Seeds for Rs. 20,000/- as per Ms Suvarna. She informed us that there were maize and pearl millet fields planted around the Bt Rice plot.

Neither she nor Hanumanth Reddy knew what was being tried out on their plot.

Since the management was done by the company-employed people, the farmer had no details about the results from the trial. Ms Suvarna worked as a labourer in the plot now and then.

Mr Hanumanth Reddy’s father used to lend his bullocks for ploughing and other work in Mahyco’s farm near Mysireddipalli and this seems to have been the main rationale for selecting his land for the trial. It should be noted here that since this is not a rice-growing area, the pest load in this location would naturally be low and results cannot be extrapolated to other locations.

The CSA team was also informed that while the grain harvested from the plots was taken back by the company, the straw was left behind without being destroyed as per EPA guidelines. This was given to the farmer’s family who fed it to their livestock.

Some issues of concern that arise from these trials

* With the cases of Bt Okra, Bt Brinjal and Bt Rice in front of us, it is now clear that the companies do not always tell the farmers what is being tested on their fields. In all these cases, the land has been leased in by the company and any impacts on the farm ecology, after the trial is over, are not being studied. If there are any, the burden of living with these impacts is being left to the farmer, who is not even being told about what is being tried out.

* It is not clear why trials are being permitted in farmer’s fields where the companies and the farmers have no control over “bio-physical containment”. The contamination of the food/feed chain and the direct consumption of the untested products by the farmers’ families in these trials is evidence for this lack of control. The Department of Biotechnology [DBT], as per Dr Ramanaiah, a senior scientist there, allows these trials to happen following the undertaking by the companies that such containment will be taken care of. There is obviously a violation here and there is no monitoring to check whether violations exist, even as more and more trials are being permitted all over the country.

*Unscientificities involved in such trials is a matter being brought up by many investigations – however, the regulatory systems of field trial approvals and their monitoring has seen no improvement in the country. If at all, things have only worsened. For instance, these trials have witnessed late sowing and it was not clear why this was so, and how this could have affected the results. Similarly, trials are happening in those locations where the pest/disease load itself is very low like in the case of the Bt Rice location. What would results in such a case indicate?
*The state governments are not being kept informed about the various trials happening. In the case of Bt Brinjal, it was only towards the end of the season, when it was time for a Delhi [Government of India] team to visit the trial plot that the local horticulture department officials were informed. In the case of Bt Rice, the department of agriculture had no information. Similarly in the case of Bt Okra.
*After permitting multi-locational trials, it is not clear how the DBT-constituted team decides on which plots to visit. From what was gleaned from our investigation, it was apparent that only the best plots are shown to the team and not randomly selected ones. What are the conclusions to be drawn from such visits then?

The field trials of Mahyco’s Bt Rice, Bt Brinjal and Bt Okra bring to the fore a basic question on the need for and desirability of GM food crops. Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and its partner organizations have successfully demonstrated Non Pesticidal approach [NPM-Non Pesticidal Management of crops] in various crops including rice and vegetables. Entire villages like in the case of Enabayi of Jangaon mandal in Warangal district have adopted these approaches and the farmers here are successfully improving their livelihoods, including their health. Given such experiences, it is not clear why GM food crops like Bt Rice, Bt Brinjal and Bt Okra should be promoted.

Centre for Sustainable Agriculture demands that:
* All GM food crop trials be suspended and a moratorium declared on experimentation in open field conditions. * That such trials should not happen until India first decides through a coherent, well-debated policy evolved with the informed participation of farmers and consumers, whether we need GM food crops in the country, for what reasons, with what results to be expected and so on.
* That violations in the trials that happened so far be investigated with the constitution of a broad-based committee, including civil society representatives
that liability be fixed for the various violations brought to light so far in GM food crop trials   
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#2 PRESS RELEASE

“CSA presents evidence of biosafety violations in GM food crop trials again – case of Bt Brinjal and Bt Rice in Andhra Pradesh”

Hyderabad – March 4, 2006: Presenting damning evidence of blatant violations in biosafety guidelines of the Environment Protection Act in the case of GM food crop trials, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture [CSA] showed yet again that such violations have now become a routine phenomenon, with no liability and monitoring mechanisms in place. On the eve of the next GEAC meeting on March 8th 2006, a CSA team consisting of Mr S Ramprasad and Ms Kavitha Kuruganti has now uncovered violations that took place in field trials of Bt Brinjal and Bt Rice in farmers’ fields in Andhra Pradesh in 2004 Kharif. This is close on the heels of various companies denying in a GEAC-convened meeting recently that there were any violations of EPA norms at all.

“In the February 27th meeting called by the GEAC specifically on the issue of biosafety violations, biotech companies assured everyone present that all material from field trial plots was being destroyed as per the norms, after being bought back from the trial farmers.  However, latest evidence from the field trial farmers of Mahyco’s Bt Rice and Bt Brinjal shows clearly that this is not happening. Untested products are routinely being allowed to contaminate the food/feed chain. It is really time that GEAC and DBT stop giving permissions for trials when they do not obviously have any control over the situation”, said Ms Kavitha Kuruganti of CSA.

Earlier, in the month of December 2005, CSA uncovered a Bt Bhindi field trial being conducted by Mahyco in Narakoduru village of Guntur district where biosafety violations were recorded. In January 2006, the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee [MEC] of 20 civil society organizations presented evidence on many biosafety violations in Bollgard II GM Cotton field trials [Monsanto’s stacked, 2-gene Bt Cotton] and of Nath Seeds’ Fusion Bt Cotton. Based on the findings of their investigations, the MEC members pressurized the GEAC to act on the violations and fix liability. In response, GEAC called for a meeting of all the companies involved in such trials, the concerned state governments and representatives of Greenpeace India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture on February 27th 2006. In this meeting, the state governments clearly told the GEAC that no information is being provided to them on various field trials happening.  The GEAC was also forced to admit that even it had no information on where trials are happening in this country!

Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director of CSA added, “India is yet to decide through a coherent and publicly-debated policy on whether GM food crops are needed and what are the various risks involved. On the other hand, most recent studies on GM crops point to the potentially serious dangers of GM foods on human health, including studies suppressed by the biotech industry. Yet, it is preposterous that the Department of Biotechnology [DBT] is giving permissions for field trials to happen in farmers’ fields where many violations are happening. We found that often the farmers do not even know what is being tried on their fields and the state governments are not informed about the trials. Further, from the three case studies that we investigated on three different GM food crop trials, the companies are fully aware of the EPA guidelines, follow them to a certain extent until the DBT team visits the plots after which they encourage the trial farmers to contaminate the supply chain. This is completely unacceptable”.

The EPA penal clauses specify that contravention of the law and guidelines will be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees. While the GEAC is not acting on the evidence being presented of regulatory violations, the state governments express their inability to do anything on the matter, given that the central government bodies are acting independently in this regard. However, as the case of Bt Cotton shows, the onus of protecting farmers’ interests will ultimately fall on the state governments in the case of failures and other problems.

For more information, contact:
1.    Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu at or at (0)9391359702
2.    Ms Kavitha Kuruganti at or at (0)9393001550

Annexures:

1.    CSA’s Report on Bt Brinjal and Bt Rice field trials in farmers’ fields in AP
2.    CSA’s Report on Bt Okra [Bt Bhindi] trial in a farmer’s field in AP
3.    MEC’s Press Note on “GM Crop Trials Shrouded in Secrecy”, on the February 27th meeting between the GEAC, MEC members and representatives of Bollgard II companies
4.    Letter to the GEAC Chairperson by Greenpeace India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture following the February 27th meeting  
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