Lie of the land: Only 39 of 133 GM crop field trials monitored in 6 years
The Centre has always claimed that the country has a robust regulatory mechanism
  • Genetically modified or genetically engineered crops are those in which genes are tweaked to get the desired characteristics by either inserting another gene or altering existing ones

Busting the claims of the Indian government and scientists that the country has a robust regulatory mechanism to test genetically modified (GM) crops, toxic loopholes are emerging. From 2008 to 2014, only 39 of the 133 GM crop were properly monitored, leaving the rest for unknown risks and possible health hazards to common people.

Documents accessed by dna reveals that the GMO regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under the ministry of environment and forests, has failed to comply with the monitoring norms and practices on the confined field trials. Even in the 39 cases where the GM monitoring was done, it was not uniform.

or genetically engineered (GE) crops are those in which genes are tweaked to get the desired characteristics by either inserting another gene or altering existing ones. Once prepared in laboratories, they are tested in fields, which is called confined field trials. The field trial always has a risk of pollen-driven contamination, which is uncontrollable.

Documents with dna reveals that, in 2008, only four out of 12 trials, that is 1/3 rd of trials, were monitored. The Central Compliance Committee (CCC) and monitoring-cum-evaluation committee, during their tenures, visited the sites only once while they were supposed to go at least four times during the trials. Similarly in 2009, only five out of 29 trials were monitored and only one visit of CCC was recorded.

In 2008, only four out of 12 trials were monitored by just one visit of CCC and the monitoring cum- evaluation committee. In 2009, only five out of 29 trials were monitored and one visit of CCC was recorded. The very next year, 14 out of 54 trials were monitored and only one trial has the monitoring details. The monitoring data for 2011 shows that five out of 16 trials were monitored and that too have minimal external monitoring from the regulators’ side. Even when the CCC found illegalities, no action was taken.

Incidentally, 2011 was the same year when biotech giant Monsanto’s maize trials were tested at Anand Agricultural University (AAU), Gujarat. The documents show that the CCC report was presented and a record of harvest also exists with signatures of the trial in-charge. However, there was no post-trial visit to the site by the monitoring team.

The same year, in another plot of AAU, housed at Derol, Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant Bt Maize was planted but the sowing date is unrecorded. Only two of the four-member team visited the trial site.

In 2013, Monsanto and another transnational company, Syngenta Biosciences, were allowed to hold five field trials but only two of these were monitored, with one visit each. Interestingly, this happened despite one trial witnessing a huge protest/destruction by the public.

In 2014, three GM mustard trials of Delhi University were taken up – at two sites in Punjab and one in Delhi – during the rabi season. There are enough evidences that there were no post-harvesting fool-proof monitoring in these cases. Similarly, in Maharashtra’s Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri, field trials of Monsanto’s GM maize were undertaken, but there was no post-trial monitoring.

Despite these deficiencies and failures in the regulatory mechanism, the Centre has claimed in public debates as well as in the Supreme Court that everything about the regulatory system is healthy, rigorous and perfect.

Ironically, documentary evidence proves the opposite. Officials of MoEF and GEAC did not reply to dna queries.

Monitoring of GE plants is very important because they have posed high risks and cause uncontrollable contamination. This is undertaken at various stages like pre-sowing, sowing, and various stages of crop development, like harvest and post-harvest land use restriction. The monitoring agencies also have the authority to investigate contained facilities that may be used for storing regulated GE plant material.

From time to time, the GEAC has delegated the authority to monitor confined field trials to various bodies like RCGM’s Monitoring cum Evaluation Committee (MEC), SBCCs, DLCs, monitoring teams of state agricultural universities (SAUs) and Central Compliance Committee (CCC) constituted by GEAC/RCGM.

SC-appointed Technical Expert Committee says
Ban three kinds of GM crops
Herbicide-tolerant crops:
These are crops genetically modified for a chemical substance, so that when it is sprayed, it kills the entire flora around the crop, except itself. India does not need this technology.
Bt food crops: Food crops inserted with Bt genes should not be allowed as a lot of evidences show the harmful impact of Bt genes.
India is the centre of origin of various crops and has a wide diversity in those crops. So the country should not genetically modify such crops. This approach is taken by several countries, including China, as it has not permitted GM soybean since it’s the centre of origin of the crop.

Huhud crop recovery Advice-1

# #CropAdvisory #eKrishi

On the fateful day of 12th October, 2014 a severe cyclone HudHud has stuck the north coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh. Twenty one people in Andhra Pradesh and 3 in Odisha have lost their lives. Thousands of acres of paddy fields, banana, coconut, cashew and mango orchards are severely damaged. Over 250,000 people in 320 villages in the districts of Vishakapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh are severely affected. Crops planted over 144,174 hectares have been damaged and the expected production loss is 230,206 tonnes. In Odisha Hudhud has impacted 247,557 hectares (ha) of agricultural land, of which 40,484.5 ha have sustained crop loss of over 50 per cent in Gajapati, Koraput, Malkangiri and Rayagada districts.

State-wise  is given below for adoption of contingency measures to minimize and prevent further damage in standing crops.

141024 Advisory for Hudhud affected areas in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha

Salt tolerant potatoes to make a big difference for farmers in saline areas

Humble spud poised to launch a world food revolution

Dutch team is pioneering development of crops fed by sea water

salt-tolerant potatoes

Marc van Rijsselberghe with some of his experimental crop of salt-tolerant . Photograph: Observer

In a small army field-hut Dr Arjen de Vos shows off his irrigation machine with pride. Pipes lead out to several acres of muddy field, where only a few stragglers from the autumn harvest of potatoes, salads, carrots and onions are left. The tubes are lined with copper to stop corrosion because – in a move that defies everything we think we know about farming – de Vos is watering his plants with diluted sea water.

Last week the project beat 560 competitors from 90 countries to win the prestigious USAid grand challenge award for its salt-tolerant potato. “It’s a game changer,” said de Vos. “We don’t see salination as a problem, we see it as an opportunity.”

Here, on one of the Netherlands’ northernmost islands, windswept Texel (pronounced Tessel) surrounded by encroaching ocean and salt marshes that seep sea water under its dykes and into ditches and canals, an enterprising farmer has taken the radical step of embracing salt water instead of fighting to keep it out. And now he thinks he might just help feed the world.

Inspired by sea cabbage, 59-year-old Marc van Rijsselberghe set upSalt Farm Texel and teamed up with the Free University in Amsterdam, which sent him de Vos to look at the possibility of growing food using non-fresh water. Their non-GM, non-laboratory-based experiments had help from an elderly Dutch farmer who has a geekish knowledge of thousands of different potato varieties.

“The world’s water is 89% salinated, 50% of agricultural land is threatened by salt water, and there are millions of people living in salt-contaminated areas. So it’s not hard to see we have a slight problem,” said van Rijsselberghe. “Up until now everyone has been concentrating on how to turn the salt water into fresh water; we are looking at what nature has already provided us with.”

The scarcity of fresh water has been labelled as the planet’s most drastic problem by the World Bank, NGOs, governments and environmentalists. A fifth of the world’s population already lives in areas of drought, and climate change is only going to exacerbate the problem. Poor farming practices, along with road and pavement building, is raising water tables and increasing the salination of rivers and lakes – in the Western Australian wheat-belt alone,  has caused a 50% fall in the numbers of wetland bird species, and threatened 450 plant species with extinction.

Attempts to desalinate sea water are going on around the globe – the UK has a £270m plant on the river Thames and Saudi Arabia produces 70% of its drinking water through desalination. But removing the dissolved minerals is expensive, requires much energy and the leftover concentrated brine has to be disposed of. The process is far too expensive to be used for irrigation in poorer countries. But thanks to a partnership with Dutch development consultants MetaMeta, several tonnes of the Texel seed potatoes are now on their way to Pakistan where thousands of hectares of what until now had been unproductive land because of sea water encroachment have been set aside for them.

If the experiment works and the potatoes adapt to the Asian climate, it could transform the lives of not only small farmers in Pakistan and Bangladesh,, where floods and sea water intrusion wipe out crops with increasing regularity, but also worldwide the 250 million people who live on salt-afflicted soil.

Van Rijsselberghe is happy to be seen as an entrepreneur whose interest was to grow a “value added” food crop that would tolerate Holland’s problems with water. He says he used a trial and error approach in development. “We’re not a scientific institution, we’re a bunch of lunatics with an idea that we can change things and we are interested in getting partnerships together with normal farmers, not people who want to write doctorates.” As a pioneer of organic farming in the 1990s, he faced heavy opposition, while a project to grow sea aster – a salt marsh-grown salad popular in high-end restaurants – ended in disaster when 3,000 migrating ducks made an unexpected stop and ate the entire crop in three hours. ”

He says the Netherlands needs to rethink its approach to food: “A third of the country is sensitive to salination. We put up dykes and pump away the water; we feel safe. We believe that outside the dykes is for the fishermen and inside the dikes is for the farmers. I think we have to stop that and talk to each other. What can be grown on the salt marshes and in the sea? Can we grow prawns in the lakes? We need to have these conversations and rethink the way we produce food.”

But where does all that salt go? Aren’t we in danger of overdosing on salt if we eat the Salt Farm Texel crops? “What we find is that, if you tease a plant with salt, it compensates with more sugar,” said de Vos. “The strawberries we grow, for example, are very sweet. So nine times out of ten the salt is retained in the leaves of the plant, so you’d have to eat many many kilos of potatoes before you’d exceed your recommended salt intake. But some of the salads are heavy with salt, you wouldn’t eat them by the bucketful.

“And there are other potentials, too – if we could find a grass that was salt tolerant, then it would make a big difference to all those golf courses built in developing countries that are using up all the locals’ fresh water. Nature has already laid out some helping hands for us. Mankind just hasn’t realised it.”