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06 October, 2009

Call to stop multinational’s field trial of genetically modified corn in MP

The Coalition for Genetically Modified (GM) Free Madhya Pradesh has written to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan to intervene and stop the field trial being conducted by the American multinational company Monsanto in Jabalpur. The following is the text of the letter, which has been circulated by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Respected Chief Minister,

A prominent newspaper had recently carried a detailed story on the field trial of a Genetically Modified (GM) Corn of the American multinational company Monsanto being conducted in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Your respected self might be aware of the serious concerns that many nations and citizens across the world have, with regard to GM technology in our food and farming.

Based on a permission letter issued by the Department of Biotechnology’s RCGM on 19th June 2009 (Ltr No.BT/BS/17/44/97-PID) for an open air trial of Monsanto’s transgenic corn hybrid (HiShell and 900M Gold containing MON 89034 event and NK603 event), a Jabalpur institute (National Research Centre for Weed Science) had gone ahead with the planting of this GM corn trial in Jabalpur.

We have several serious concerns with regard to this trial in terms of its need, biosafety issues and the corporation for which this trial is being conducted (Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company and it is to further the commercial interests of this corporation that this trial is being conducted).

1. We question the very need for this herbicide-tolerant, pest-resistant GM technology that is being tried out here: Herbicide tolerance trait inserted into our agricultural crops would mean that millions of poor agricultural workers will not find employment through de-weeding, one of the main sources of employment in rural India today. It does not make sense for the State to decimate existing employment opportunities in agriculture and then increase the state financing burden with regard to programmes like NREGA. Herbicide tolerance might be a technology suitable for countries like the USA, where only 2% of the population live off farming, but not for India.

When it comes to traits like insect resistance through Bt crops, it is obvious that this is not a sustainable solution since the pests will develop resistance to the Bt pesticide now being produced from within the plant and that pest management cannot rest on Bt genes being inserted in all our crops! There are hundreds of practices that are safer, affordable and natural that can be used by farmers to control pests in their farming and there are lakhs of farmers who are successfully proving it on the ground too. In such a case, where is the need for this technology in the first instance?

2. GM technology is known to cause various health impacts: Genetic Engineering or Genetic Modification is a technology that involves the insertion of foreign genes, most often, into our agricultural crops so that new traits that do not exist in the crop before could be obtained with this technology. However, given that many changes are brought about at the molecular level due to such forcible insertion of genetic material from elsewhere, the results are unpredictable and hazardous. Worse, given that we are talking about seeds which contain their own life within, this becomes an irreversible technology once released into the environment – the seeds that grow into plants have a self-propagating mechanism thereafter and are therefore, uncontrollable.

GM foods, in various experimental studies, have been shown to cause adverse health effects like allergies, impaired immune systems, damage to vital organs like kidneys, liver and pancreas, affecting and stunting growth and development, affecting reproductive health and causing infertility and even bringing about inter-generational impacts. Given the evidence that exists of such adverse impacts on our health with GM foods, a precautionary approach should be deployed on this technology and no deliberate release of any GMOs into our environment should be allowed.

3. Herbicides will leave their adverse impacts on our health too: In addition to the evidence on adverse health impacts due to the technology of genetic engineering, there is a growing body of evidence that shows the adverse impacts of chemical herbicides like Glyphosate on our health including on reproductive health. An increase of chemicals in our farming is not desirable at all from a health and environment perspective and we are sure you would agree on this, Sir.

4. Monsanto is a seed corporation known for its anti-farmer policies: Monsanto is known to have criminalized farmers in America for saving their own seeds. The company is reported to have sued and jailed many farmers for this “crime” of “saving their own seeds”. This company is known to have bribed officials to get regulatory clearances for its GM crop elsewhere and is known to have suppressed biosafety information from public scrutiny. A recent documentary from France has documented the antecedents of this giant corporation seeking more and more profits and has shown that Monsanto controls the regulatory bodies in the USA through systems like “revolving doors”. This profit-hungry corporation, which is reported to have announced that “No food shall be grown that we don’t own”, has also been seen to have avoided accountability and liability time and again through a variety of strategies including using Indian corporations and public sector agencies as the front. Why should such an anti-farmer profiteering company be allowed to advance its commercial interests through hazardous technologies in the state of Madhya Pradesh?

5. No SBCC that is functional: The newspaper report about this field trial on 3rd September clearly shows that the state administration is not aware of this trial and this is a violation of the Environment Protection Act’s 1989 Rules. The State Biotechnology Coordination Committee is obviously not functional and is not overseeing the trial as the law requires it to.

6. Contamination from such trials is inevitable: The fact that illegal Bt Cotton proliferated in this country on thousands of acres much before a formal approval was provided by the regulators and the fact that a GM rice trial a few months ago in Jharkhand is found to have contaminated rice plants in the vicinity of the trial are testimonies to the fact that contamination (both physical and biological) from such open air trials are inevitable and therefore, the MP government should step in to stop such trials from taking place in its jurisdiction.

7. Agriculture and Health are state subjects: The Constitution of India vests the state governments with rights and responsibilities over two very important subjects concerning their citizens: Agriculture and Health. Other states have exercised such a constitutional right and responsibility by disallowing GM crop trials and cultivation in their state. A prominent example includes Kerala which has declared itself a GM-Free and Organic state. Madhya Pradesh government, under your dynamic leadership should take such a stand too, in pursuance of the authority vested by the Constitution of India.

8. Madhya Pradesh as an Organic State: You had announced that Madhya Pradesh would be converted into an organic state which would keep the natural resources of the state free from erosion, degeneration and contamination even as livelihoods of farmers and farm workers would improve through increase in their net incomes and their health. We welcome this approach of the state government and strongly support this initiative which would assure safe and abundant food for all in a sustainable manner. However, organic and GM cultivation are contradictory to each other in their philosophical and technical frameworks and therefore, GM cultivation should be disallowed in the state. Further, formal (certified) organic farming does not allow the presence of GM in its standards.

Moreover, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has in its manifesto clearly laid down the potential of Indian traditional farming and had taken an express stand against approvals of GM crops in the country without full scientific data on long term effects and this precisely what is missing right now in India even as field trials are being allowed which pose a distinct threat of contamination and irreversible leakage of seeds as has been seen in the case of Bt Cotton. The BJP in its manifesto had promised to promote nature-friendly cultivation, even as you had assured to free farmers from the burden of mounting debts (through intensive farming models).

It is in this context that we hope that you would concede to the demand of farmers’ organizations, people’s movements, consumers and other civil society organizations to immediately intervene with regard to the GM Corn trial of Monsanto being conducted in open air conditions in Jabalpur and stop it. Further, we request you to announce a policy of making Madhya Pradesh free of GM crops/foods in keeping with your overall agricultural policy.

Thank you.


Coalition for GM Free Madhya Pradesh
C/0 Sampark, Village Raipurai, Petlavad Block, Jhabua District,
Madhya Pradesh, INDIA

Copy: National Commission on Farmers

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