Indian scientific community for stopping open air releases of GMOs –

Highlights growing scientific evidence on adverse impacts

 New Delhi, 21st November, 2013: At a time when the debate around Genetically Modified (GM) crops in the country is heating up, hundreds of Indian scientists have written to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, asking him to ensure that Government of India heeds to the voice of science and accepts the recommendations in the final report of the independent scientists in the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee. They also urged for the stopping of all open air releases of GMOs in the country, as recommended by the majority TEC report. The letter initiated by five leading scientists from the fields of Molecular Biology, Agriculture Science, Immunology, Ecology and Science Policy Studies was released to the media at a press conference here by Dr Tushar Chakraborty and Prof Dinesh Abrol who are amongst the initiators. The letter has been endorsed by more than 250 scientists from various fields of expertise including 11 former and present Vice Chancellors of Universities across the country as well as 3 Padma awardees.

The letter comes at a time when the Supreme Court is scheduled to have a crucial hearing in the coming week, to take a view on the recommendations of a Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up in a PIL related to environmental release of GMOs in India. Five independent members of the TEC, who are eminent scientists in the fields of Molecular Biology, Biodiversity, Nutrition Science, Toxicology, Sustainability Science etc., and therefore, highly qualified in commenting on the safety aspects related to GMOs, in their Final report to the Court had strongly reccomended against any open release of GM crops, including field trials, until ‘major gaps in the regulatory system’ are addressed.

Speaking at the press conference, Dr Tushar Chakraborty, Head of the Gene Control Laboratory, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and Member, State Biotechnology Council of West Bengal, pointed out that “there is an undue haste in getting GMOs released into the environment while the science behind its development is still controversial and evolving”. He further bemoaned the fact that “while there is a growing body of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops to human health and biodiveristy, there is hardly any effort from the Indian government or public sector research institutions to take up rigorous, independent safety assessment. We are instead in a dangerous and unneeded rat race of developing more GM crops and push them out into the environment without even understanding their longterm as well as cumulative impacts”

The GM debate in the Indian scientific circles has seen a polarisation due to the contradicting views between the final report submitted to the Court by the 5 independent members in the TEC and a separate report by the sixth member inducted into the Committee on the insistence of the Agriculture Ministry, Dr R.S Paroda. Dr Paroda was brought into the TEC by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and other GM advocates after an interim report of the TEC recommended strongly against any open releases of GM crops until flaws in the regulatory system are corrected. There has been strong condemnation of the fact that somebody like Dr Paroda, who has an explicit conflict interest of being an advisor to Monsanto, the world’s largest biotech seed giant and of leading organisations which are funded by companes like Mahyco, the Indian collaborator of Monsanto, was made a member of the TEC, when the Supreme Court in this very case has time and again issued orders that upheld the importance of independent expertise driving decision making in this matter.

“The history of GM crops, not just in India but across the world, has been laden with such conflicts of interest and corporate control of agriculture research” said Prof Dinesh Abrol, a science policy studies expert, and a visiting professor to Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

 The speakers pointed out to studies that show that scientists with relationship with industry are more significantly associated with data withholding than others, in genetics and other life sciences. Research also shows that existence of financial and professional conflict of interest was associated to study outcomes that cast genetically modified products in a favorable light. Another study which looked at risk assessment studies found that such research is still limited, especially in particular crops; this study found an equilibrium in the number of research groups suggesting on the basis of their studies that a number of varieties of GM products to be as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns. It also noted that most of these studies have been conducted by biotechnology companies responsible for commercializing these GM plants. “All of this illustrates the lack of independent scientific research to the extent needed, in addition to lack of scientific consensus. Without addressing these issues, there is no urgent need to rush into GM crop open air releases”, Prof Abrol said.

 The press conference also saw the release of the 2nd edition of the compilation of scientific references and abstracts of more than 400 peer reviewed papers on various adverse impacts of GM crops/foods published across the world2. The compilation also has brief commentarieswritten by eminent leading scientists like Dr M. S Swaminathan, Dr Pushpa Bhargava and Prof Madhav Gadgil, considered as doyens of agriculture science, molecular biology and ecology respectively, in India.

Releasing the compilation, Kavitha Kuruganti, Coalition for a GM-Free India, stated that “There is no dearth of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GMOs in our food, farming and environment; what is needed is the eyes to see it, the wisdom to understand it and the conscience to accept it”. She further stated that “GM crops are one of the biggest scientific frauds that Biotech seed Industry, ably supported by some of our unscrupulous policy makers and public sector scientists, are pulling off on our country”.

 In another development on the biosafety research front, researchers from the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, have confirmed the carcinogenic potential of Roundup herbicide using human skin cells exposed to extremely low concentrations of the world’slargest selling herbicide, used along with GM herbicide tolerant crops3. The study gains a lot of significance at a time when there are efforts from the Biotech Industry to release Herbicide Tolerant (HT) GM crops that will substantially increase the usage of herbicides like Roundup. The Final TEC report by the five independent members had strongly recommended against the release of any HT GM crops in India due to various such concerns.

 The speakers urged the Prime Minister to be responsive to science and responsible to society when deciding on such risky technologies like GM crops which pose a threat to human health, biodiversity and farm livelihoods. They demanded that the Government of India stay clear of any vested interests and accept the recommendations of the TEC Final report as it is based on sound science, principles of sustainability and intergenerational justice. This, they said, would help in ensuring the speedy delivery of justice in the PIL on the issue of GM crops .

Notes to the editor:

  1. The letter from Indian scientists to the Prime Minister on the issue of GM crops and their regualtion can be accessed athttp://indiagminfo.org/?p=654
  2. The 2nd edition of the compilation of scientific references and abstracts on various adverse impacts of GM crops/foods is available at http://indiagminfo.org/?p=657
  3. The study from Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, can be accessed at http://www.hindawi.com/isrn/dermatology/2013/825180/

Contacts:

Dr Tushar Chakraborty, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and member, State Biotechnology Council of West Bengal, Mob: 09831746294 , email: chakraborty.tushar@gmail.com

Prof Dinesh Abrol, Institute of Studies in Industrial Development, New delhi, Mob: 09868242691,email: dinesh.abrol@gmail.com

Kavitha Kuruganti, Coalition for a GM Free India, Mob: 09393001550              email: kavitha_kuruganti@yahoo.com

Rajesh Krishnan, Co Convenor, Coalition for a GM Free India, Mob: 09845650032 email: rajeshecologist@gmail.com

India’s Role in the New Global Farmland Grab

See how CII, CIFA, FICCI etc have played an important role in new farm land grab by Indian companies

indias role in new global farmland grab

This report explores the role of Indian agricultural companies that have been involved in the
recent trend in large-scale overseas acquisitions of farmland, criticised as “land grabbing”.
While many international companies have traditionally grown cash crops abroad, and more
recently crops for producing biofuels for global markets, this report is focused especially on
the issue of Indian companies that invest in food production overseas.

The report examines the various factors driving the “outsourcing” of domestic food
production. Primary among these are the Indian Government’s growing strategic concerns
about ensuring the country’s long-term food security, and its concerns about diminishing
ground water tables in Northern and Central India. Other factors include the allure for Indian
foreign investors of much cheaper land and more abundant water sources in overseas
locations and the eager welcome of many developing country governments, many of which
have courted Indian agricultural investors. In many cases, such countries have offered special
incentives, including the offer to lease massive tracts of arable land at very generous terms,
including access to water and the ability to fully repatriate profits generated.

The report also lists the major ways in which the Indian Government has been increasingly
pro-active in taking steps to facilitate this trend for overseas agricultural investment by Indian
companies, such as high-level trade diplomacy and lines of credit from the Export-Import
Bank. India’s outward foreign direct investment has been enabled by a series of reforms and
modifications over the last decade to India’s rules and regulations on Indian companies
investing in overseas operations.

Also reviewed are the pro-active roles played by national Indian business associations such as
the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII), the Associated Chambers of Commerce and
Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and
Industries (FICCI), as well as by sector-specific groups, such as the Consortium of Indian
Farmers Association (CIFA) and the Solvent Extractors Association (SEA) of India. Such
groups have been actively engaged in high-level trade delegations to countries which are
interested in luring Indian agricultural firms to invest, and have arranged a series of business
conclaves and trade fairs. The groups are all active in lobbying the Indian Government to
pursue even further reforms to trade policy, Exim Bank credits and the rules on outward
foreign direct investment in order to facilitate the overseas acquisitions of agricultural land by
Indian companies.

The report also explores the negative consequences of such a trend. It looks at why critics
have called the trend “land grabbing” and reviews the impacts on local peoples on the
ground, who are often displaced in the process. It considers the negative ethical, political,
human rights and environmental consequences for the people and host countries involved in
such investments by Indian companies.

Although information about such overseas operations by Indian companies is difficult to get
from the Indian Government, this report used available research and press accounts to explore
the details of 19 Indian companies who have made such land acquisitions abroad, including
an exposé of the actual contracts of 5 Indian companies operating in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has
taken center stage in the story of “land grabbing” because it is one of the developing

countries where some of the largest agricultural land acquisitions by foreign investors have
occurred, including by Indian firms.

The report reviews the calls by many advocates for a major shift away from the current model
of large, corporate commercial agricultural production based on monoculture, which depends
on chemicals and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), towards an alternative
agricultural production model based on a more decentralised approach that favors small
holder farmers. Such an approach is based on agro-ecological methods that support and
enhance biodiversity, environmental sustainability and community control.

Finally, this report gives voice to those Indian activists fighting for small farmers rights and
against the “land grabbing” going on within India, and their call to create international
linkages of solidarity with small farmers in other countries who are facing similar problems.
They see a “common struggle” everywhere in the world and are calling on Indian citizens to
take action to address the problem of landing-grabbing by Indian companies operating
overseas.

Weedkillers tied to depression in farmers

http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/sns-rt-us-weedkillers-20130726,0,4595601.story

Kerry Grens Reuters2:34 p.m. CDT, July 26, 2013

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Farmers who used weedkillers were more than twice as likely to be treated for depression than farmers who didn’t use the chemicals in a new study from France.

Whether the weedkillers are causing depression “is not clear,” said Marc Weisskopf, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. “But (the result) suggests we should not be ignoring herbicides just because they’re targeting plants.”

Earlier research on depression and pesticides has focused on insecticides, particularly organophosphates, which are known to be toxic to nerve cells, said Weisskopf.

Monocrotophos, the insecticide that killed 23 school children in India this month, is an organophosphate, for example.

The use of pesticides has also been linked to Parkinson’s disease among farmers (see Reuters Health story of May 28, 2013 here:).

As part of a study on Parkinson’s disease, Weisskopf and his colleagues assessed the risks for depression with exposure to any kind of pesticide by surveying 567 French farmers about their use of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides.

The team conducted home visits to get a detailed assessment of chemical exposures, including going over bills for pesticide purchases, looking through farming calendars and inspecting old pesticide containers.

They also asked the farmers whether they had ever been treated for depression.

Weisskopf’s group reports in the American Journal of Epidemiology that 83 farmers, about 15 percent, said they had been treated for depression. Forty-seven of them had never used pesticides, while 36 had.

Among the farmers without Parkinson’s disease, 37 who had never used herbicides and 20 who had used the weedkillers reported being treated for depression.

There was no difference in the risk of having depression among the farmers who had used fungicides or insecticides, compared to those who hadn’t used any pesticide.

But when the researchers took into account factors linked with depression, such as age and cigarette smoking, they determined that those farmers exposed to weedkillers were nearly two and a half times as likely to have had depression.

Furthermore, farmers who had greater exposure – either more hours or longer years using herbicides – also had a greater chance of having depression than farmers who had used weedkillers less.

That kind of dose-response relationship is usually thought to support a connection – in this case, between the chemicals and depression. But this type of study cannot prove cause and effect.

One possibility that wasn’t ruled out is that the exposed farmers might have had other health conditions that affected their ability to work, which in turn made them vulnerable to depression.

“The health of the farmer is critical. If they can’t work, they get depressed,” said Cheryl Beseler, a researcher at Colorado State University, who was not involved in this study.

She said the study was otherwise very well done in terms of collecting information about the farmers’ past pesticide use.

The results do not apply to the average gardener, although Weisskopf said it will be valuable to better understand herbicides’ safety in farming and non-farming settings.

“It’s very important given their widespread use around the home,” he said.

Beseler agreed.

“I think people tend to not take (the risks of pesticides) seriously when they’re gardeners,” she told Reuters Health.

Weisskopf said one explanation for his finding that insecticides and other pesticides were not tied to depression is that farmers might be aware of their potential hazards and they take greater precautions to avoid being exposed.

Another possibility is that the chemicals simply don’t cause depression.

He said that more research is needed to determine the safety of herbicides, and meanwhile it would be wise for farmers and gardeners to be just as diligent about protecting themselves as they are with other chemicals.

“If (herbicides) are considered in general safer and people take less precautions because people think they’re not as bad, then that poses a problem,” he told Reuters Health.

“This still has to be considered a relatively first, small study. There’s more work to do, but it raises concerns that need to be looked into more fully,” Weisskopf said.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1dXuiro American Journal of Epidemiology, online July 12, 2013

Pesticide Exposure and Depression Among Agricultural Workers in France

  1. Marc G. Weisskopf*,
  2. Frédéric Moisan,
  3. Christophe Tzourio,
  4. Paul J. Rathouz and
  5. Alexis Elbaz
  1. *Correspondence to Dr. Marc G. Weisskopf, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Landmark Center, 401 Park Drive, P.O. Box 15697, Boston, MA 02215 (e-mail: mweissko@hsph.harvard.edu).
  1. Abbreviations: CI, confidence interval; HR, hazard ratio; OR, odds ratio; PD, Parkinson’s disease.
  • Received January 4, 2013.
  • Accepted April 17, 2013.

Abstract

Pesticides are ubiquitous neurotoxicants, and several lines of evidence suggest that exposure may be associated with depression. Epidemiologic evidence has focused largely on organophosphate exposures, while research on other pesticides is limited. We collected detailed pesticide use history from farmers recruited in 1998–2000 in France. Among 567 farmers aged 37–78 years, 83 (14.6%) self-reported treatment or hospitalization for depression. On the basis of the reported age at the first such instance, we used adjusted Cox proportional hazards models to estimate hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for depression (first treatment or hospitalization) by exposure to different pesticides. The hazard ratio for depression among those who used herbicides was 1.93 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.95, 3.91); there was no association with insecticides or fungicides. Compared with nonusers, those who used herbicides for <19 years and ≥19 years (median for all herbicide users, 19 years) had hazard ratios of 1.51 (95% CI: 0.62, 3.67) and 2.31 (95% CI: 1.05, 5.10), respectively. Similar results were found for total hours of use. Results were stronger when adjusted for insecticides and fungicides. There is widespread use of herbicides by the general public, although likely at lower levels than in agriculture. Thus, determining whether similar associations are seen at lower levels of exposure should be explored.