Mahaboobnagar reeling under drought

150811 Mahaboobnagar rainfall

The crisis is further aggravated by the changed cropping patterns. today Mahaboobnagar has 30% area under cotton, about 30% area under orchard crops and 15% each under paddy and hybrid maize which are water guzzling.

The district which receives on average 500 mm rainfall is increasingly seeing deficit in no. of rainy days. for example in July, Amangal dist received 25% of the monthly average rainfall only in a day and rest of the days were dry.

Government should immediately focus on

  • protecting any crop which is surviving. this needs plans for protective irrigation. any tubewells in the village should be blocked for use to grow water intensive crops like paddy and be shared with other farmers to protect the crop by paying suitable compensation
  • planning short term pulse crop like greengram or horsegram in areas where sowing have not happend or where crop has already failed.
  •  completely stopping paddy cultivation in rabi season
  • discouraging organge plantations
  • provide relief in terms fodder and water to support livestock

and as a long term measure plan for

  • shift from cotton, maize and paddy to millets, pulses and oilseeds
  • insitu water harvesting at the farm level

Notes on Telangana Agriculture 2.0

Notes and Presentation on Telangana Agriculture for the workshop on ‘Telangana Agriculture-Problems and Way forward’ on 11th August at Osmania Univertisty Centre for International Programs (OUCIP) from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm

Addressing Agriculture Issues in Telangana

Venue : OUCIP (Former ASRC) Osmania University

Date:  11th August 2014.

Time: 10.30am to 5 pm

Sessions would be facilitated by Prof. Kodandram 

This meeting is jointly organized by Rythu Swarajya Vedika and Telangana Vidyavanthula Vedika in continuation to the Round Table meeting held on 25th March in Osmania University. This meeting is being held in the context of severe crisis in all the Telangana districts the meeting would be in three sessions:

Session I  –  09.30 am – 1pm

Discussion on Issues and coming out with concrete proposals for addressing them

  1. Need to bring a change in Cropping Patterns towards diverse dryland crops
  2. Support in the form of subsidy, credit, insurance, seeds
  3. Pricing – support prices for all crops
  4. Building livestock wealth to rejuvenate agriculture and allied livelihoods
  5. Extension services and cooperatives
  6. Regulations – Seed Bill(towards seed sovereignty), Land

Session II  –  2 -4 pm

Prioritization of  Issues at district level and state level to be taken up for long term Action

Session III  – 4 – 5 pm

Action Plan for advocacy, campaign and studies to be taken up jointly at various levels

 

Major study documents benefits of organic farming

By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writerbenbrook-80

PULLMAN, Wash. – The largest study of its kind has found that organic foods and crops have a suite of advantages over their conventional counterparts, including more antioxidants and fewer, less frequent pesticide residues.

The study looked at an unprecedented 343 peer-reviewed publications comparing the nutritional quality and safety of organic and conventional plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables and grains. The study team applied sophisticated meta-analysis techniques to quantify differences between organic and non-organic foods.

Quality of studies improves

“Science marches on,” said Charles Benbrook, a Washington State University researcher and the lone American co-author of the paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition. “Our team learned valuable lessons from earlier reviews on this topic, and we benefited from the team’s remarkable breadth of scientific skills and experience.”

Most of the publications covered in the study looked at crops grown in the same area on similar soils. This approach reduces other possible sources of variation in nutritional and safety parameters.

The research team found the quality and reliability of comparison studies has greatly improved in recent years, leading to the discovery of significant nutritional and food safety differences not detected in earlier studies. For example, the new study incorporates the results of a research project led by WSU’s John Reganold that compared the nutritional and sensory quality of organic and conventional strawberries grown in California.

Responding to the new paper’s results, Reganold said, “This is an impressive study, and its major nutritional findings are similar to those reported in our 2010 strawberry paper.”

Organic plants produce more antioxidants

The British Journal of Nutrition study was led by scientists at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, with Benbrook helping design the study, write the paper and review the scientific literature, particularly on studies in North and South America.

In general, the team found that organic crops have several nutritional benefits that stem from the way the crops are produced. A plant on a conventionally managed field will typically have access to high levels of synthetic nitrogen and will marshal the extra resources into producing sugars and starches. As a result, the harvested portion of the plant will often contain lower concentrations of other nutrients, including health-promoting antioxidants.

Without the synthetic chemical pesticides applied on conventional crops, organic plants tend to produce more phenols and polyphenols to defend against pest attacks and related injuries. In people, phenols and polyphenols can help prevent diseases triggered or promoted by oxidative damage, like coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

Overall, organic crops had 18 to 69 percent higher concentrations of antioxidant compounds. The team concludes that consumers who switch to organic fruit, vegetables and cereals would get 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants. That’s the equivalent of about two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with no increase in caloric intake.

10 to 100 times fewer pesticide residues

The researchers also found pesticide residues were three to four times more likely in conventional foods than organic ones, as organic farmers are not allowed to apply toxic, synthetic pesticides. While crops harvested from organically managed fields sometimes contain pesticide residues, the levels are usually 10-fold to 100-fold lower in organic food, compared to the corresponding, conventionally grown food.

“This study is telling a powerful story of how organic plant-based foods are nutritionally superior and deliver bona fide health benefits,” said Benbrook.

In a surprising finding, the team concluded that conventional crops had roughly twice as much cadmium, a toxic heavy metal contaminant, as organic crops. The leading explanation is that certain fertilizers approved for use only on conventional farms somehow make cadmium more available to plant roots. A doubling of cadmium from food could push some individuals over safe daily intake levels.

Team surveys more and better studies

More than half the studies in the Newcastle analysis were not available to the research team that carried out a 2009 study commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency. Another review published by a Stanford University team in 2011 failed to identify any significant clinical health benefits from consumption of organic food, but incorporated fewer than half the number of comparisons for most health-promoting nutrients.

“We benefited from a much larger and higher quality set of studies than our colleagues who carried out earlier reviews,” said Carlo Leifert, a Newcastle University professor and the project leader.

The Newcastle study cost about $429,000 and was funded by the European Framework Programme 6, which is a research program of the European Union, and the Sheepdrove Trust, a private charity that supports research on sustainability, diversity and organic farming.

Contact: Chuck Benbrook, research professor, Washington State University, 541-828-7918, cbenbrook@wsu.edu

GM case hearing Today: Read how PMO is trying to push

A 2-judge Bench in the Supreme Court has been listening to arguments in the GMOs PIL since yesterday, on field trials, on the TEC (Technical Expert Committee) recommendations. Today’s hearing is crucial.

The Government and proponents have been pushing GMOs giving arguments like:

– they are needed for the country’s food security (THE FORMER MOEF HERSELF HAS WRITTEN A STRONG LETTER TO THE PM CONTESTING THE FOOD SECURITY ARGUMENTS – text of this letter attached);

– the nation’s scientists will feel demoralised if we ban GM since we have made so much investments so far (LET THE FARMERS WHO ARE DEMORALISED AND ARE COMMITTING SUICIDES WITH THE RISKINESS OF BT COTTON BE DAMNED??),

– that nothing adverse has happened in our regulation since 2007 from the time SC gave a go-ahead for field trials (ignoring that the Ministry of Agriculture’s own Sopory Committee report pointed out that contamination has happened between Bikaneri Bt cotton and Monsanto’s Bt cotton inside an agriculture university – http://www.icar.org.in/en/node/5511; ignoring evidence brought out of violations in field trials in Jharkhand and other places; I ATTACH HERE SIX SOLID INSTANCES WHEN OUR REGULATORS HAVE FAILED GROSSLY; THE FACT THAT THERE IS SO MUCH ILLEGAL HERBICIDE TOLERANT COTTON ALL AROUND US IS PROOF ENOUGH.

– that we can’t learn better regulation from countries like Norway since only 2% of their population depends on agriculture – AS THOUGH LEARNING FROM THE USA IS OK, WHERE LESS THAN 2% OF POPULATION DEPENDS ON AGRICULTURE!!!;

– that Dr Paroda is very good with his views, ignoring how this man’s organisation receives funding from Mahyco and others;  and ignoring that the point in question is biosafety and five other independent, “un-conflicted” experts in the field of biosafety are having a unanimous view on what should be done now when they have in their majority TEC report etc).

NOW, CHECK OUT THE ATTACHED, WHICH NITIN SETHI OF BUSINESS STANDARD PUT OUT LATE LAST NIGHT IN A TWEET. THIS IS AN INTERNAL MOEF DOCUMENT WHERE JAYANTHI NATARAJAN AND HER MINISTRY ARE STRONGLY OBJECTING TO THE OTHER ARMS OF THE GOVERNMENT PUSHING PARTICULAR VIEWS ON GM AND PASSING IT OFF AS THE GOVERNMENT’S VIEWS. They are very clearly saying that these are not their views. And we know what happened to Jayanthi Natarajan ten days after these views were penned down.  (Read MOEF letter to PMO)

“Despite my insistence that MoEF should file a separate affidavit……The elaborate comments on both reports – the 5 member TEC and Dr Paroda’s dissent note and the views of Government of INdia contained from pages 6 to page 33, are not reflective of my views or that of MoEF. These are the views of MoA. It is not known on what basis these views have been taken and whether the views of environmental scientists have been recorded with agricultural scientists. These submissions require modification and may perhaps be deleted due to time constraint in sorting out the differences”, Jayanthi Natarajan says, amongst other things. While the final affidavit may or may not be the same as the draft that she is referring to, some of us who got to see the final affidavit of the UoI submitted in the Court can see what she is objecting to.  (JN ltr to PM)

The GM issue has JN ltr to PM always been bewildering in terms of the pressure that comes from the top-most post, the Prime Minister, ignoring all evidence that is pointing to caution. That it is a dangerous, costly distraction from real answers elsewhere. That we should just take those to our farmers.

Who is he trying to please (coalition partners, industry, America….)? On What basis does he have such views in favour of GM that they will not first sort out fundamental issues that are being raised by various credible agencies??

We wait to hear what the Bench has to say, with fingers crossed.

Courtesy: Kavitha Kuruganti, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture

CSA complaint on Illegal spread of Herbicide Tolerant cotton

Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu

Executive Director

 

To                                                                                                                                           Hyderabad

The Commissioner Agriculture                                                                                   8th November, 2013

Department of Agriculture

Government of Andhra Pradesh

 

Dear Sir

Sub: Illegal sales of Herbicide Tolerant Cotton in Srikakulam Dist –reg

 

Greetings from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture!

 

CSA is actively working across the state in promoting sustainable agriculture.

 

During one of our field visits to srikakulam district, we came across cultivation of herbicide tolerant cotton in tribal belts of seethampet mandal of srikakulam dist. Seeds were sold by a person named Nagireddy from Guntur and the brand name of the seed is KALPAVRIKSHA.  The cover has no address and name of the supplier (empty packet attached).

 

In and around Kotturu, near about 200 + acres is under this cotton. In Kotturu itself, one farmer by name Siridi Bhaskar Rao who has 50+ acres under this variety this year. Other villages include Bukkuduguda, Puliputti village 4 farmers growing 9 acres, Dantalaguda village 6 farmers 14 acres, Vempaliguda village  6 farmers 14 acres, Mukundapuram village 2 farmers 7 acres and Rekulaguda village  2 farmers 7 acres.  The strip tests we have done confirmed that the cotton hybrid grown here is resistant to glyphosate.

 

We had video recorded interviews with the farmers (DVD attached). The samples are tested positive for Glyphosate resistant event (Roundup Ready) developed by Monsanto.

http://krishi.tv/292-illegal-spread-roundup-ready-cotton-srikakulam-dist

 

This event is not yet approved by GEAC for commercial cultivation and biosafety tests are not completed.

 

There are serious health concerns with the herbicide tolerant cotton and the glyphosate which is used. The spread of such unapproved, untested and highly dangerous seeds to farmers in the tribal farmers has to be immediately curbed and action has to be initiated on the concerned officials who failed in regulation and the company which is responsible for the spread.

 

This is not first time such illegal cultivation of herbicide tolerant crops is noticed. In 2008, the then Commissioner Agriculture of Government of Andhra Pradesh made a complaint to GEAC that around 20,000 acres of Herbicide tolerant cotton is under cultivation.  GEAC has discussed this issue in 98th meeting in December 2009, Agenda Item 6.4 was on complaints about sale of illegal HT cotton seed. It was clearly acknowledged that illegal HT cotton, tested in laboratories with the samples testing positive for the HT trait (MON1445 event), was being supplied and grown in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh government reported suspension of seed license to one company and destruction of HT cotton crop and that more reports are awaited from some more districts, the decision was to “direct state governments to initiate punitive action against erring companies, and that follow up with respective state governments to curb the illegal cultivation of HT cotton should continue on a regular basis”. However, the presence of HT cotton in Srikakulam district showcases once again the incapable and apathetic regulatory system that refuses to take any effective action.

 

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on GM crops and the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court both recommended that the Herbicide Tolerant crops are not suitable for the country and also that the field trials should be stopped for atleast ten years till the regulations are improved.

 

The source of such illegal seeds seems to be the company which have developed them. The company has to take responsibility as they were only given permission for laboratory research and confined field trials. Escape of any form from these should be primarily be the responsibility of the company.

On 29th October, during a meeting at the commissioner office, we brought up this issue with you and showed the video of interviews with farmers and when we visited the field again on 3rd November, we found that no action has been initiated and even the concerned officials have not even visited the field.

 

In this context we request you to kindly

  1. Investigate to assess the extent of illegal, unapproved HT cotton cultivation in this area and all of Andhra Pradesh
  2. Fix liability on the offenders who are responsible for such spread as per the EPA rules, 1986. The state Governments should also fix liability under seed laws for unlicensed seed trade. Government of India should fix responsibility on regulators for failing to curb this illegal proliferation of unapproved GMOs.
  3. Write to GEAC to action on the company which is responsible for the leakage of the material from their research labs and confined field trials

 

We also bring to your kind notice that such illegal cultivation of several GM crops is happening across the state.  The companies which are permitted field trials are not taking responsibility when the trials are contaminating the neighboring crops or seeds escape and find their way into commercial market illegally.

 

Therefore we request the AP state government to kindly stop all permissions for the GM field trials without Biosafety approvals.

 

Looking forward for your immediate action

 

(Ramanjaneyulu)

09000699702

 

 

seed packet front side

Seed packets without any details

seed packet backside

strip test

Strip test confirming presence of Roundup Ready event

herbicide-tolerant-crops-briefing-paper

Residential Proximity to Methyl Bromide Use and Birth Outcomes in an Agricultural Population in California

Background: Methyl bromide, a fungicide often used in strawberry cultivation, is of concern for residents who live near agricultural applications because of its toxicity and potential for drift. Little is known about the effects of methyl bromide exposure during pregnancy.

Objective: We investigated the relationship between residential proximity to methyl bromide use and birth outcomes.

Methods: Participants were from the CHAMACOS (Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) study (n = 442), a longitudinal cohort study examining the health effects of environmental exposures on pregnant women and their children in an agricultural community in northern California. Using data from the California Pesticide Use Reporting system, we employed a geographic information system to estimate the amount of methyl bromide applied within 5 km of a woman’s residence during pregnancy. Multiple linear regression models were used to estimate associations between trimester-specific proximity to use and birth weight, length, head circumference, and gestational age.

Results: High methyl bromide use (vs. no use) within 5 km of the home during the second trimester was negatively associated with birth weight (β = –113.1 g; CI: –218.1, –8.1), birth length (β = –0.85 cm; CI: –1.44, –0.27), and head circumference (β = –0.33 cm; CI: –0.67, 0.01). These outcomes were also associated with moderate methyl bromide use during the second trimester. Negative associations with fetal growth parameters were stronger when larger (5 km and 8 km) versus smaller (1 km and 3 km) buffer zones were used to estimate exposure.

Conclusions: Residential proximity to methyl bromide use during the second trimester was associated with markers of restricted fetal growth in our study.

Key words: birth outcomes, birth weight, fumigants, methyl bromide, pesticides, residential proximity

Can crops be managed without using chemical pesticides?

When it comes to agriculture we are often faced with a question on whether insects pests can be managed without using chemical pesticides and would farmers be interested and whether we can feed the nation without using pesticides.  This is a mind set created by the industry and industrial model of agriculture which Indian Agricultural Research and Extension System largely believes in.

In Andhra Pradesh we faced with the same question when we brought up the issue of high costs of pesticide use both in terms of economic and ecological costs.  When we started sharing the stories of villages like punukula in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh (Getting Clean-ecologist) where farmers could stop using the chemical pesticides by adopting Non Pesticidal Management

TO REJECT AND EXPOSE THE VACUOUS NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY BILL AND REASSERT OUR DEMAND FOR A COMPREHENSIVE FOOD SECURITY ACT

Ladenge!! Jeetenge!!

Jab tak bhukha insaan rahega!! dharti par toofan rahega!!

 

TO REJECT AND EXPOSE THE VACUOUS NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY BILL AND REASSERT OUR DEMAND FOR A COMPREHENSIVE FOOD SECURITY ACT

 

PUBLIC ACTION IN THREE PHASES IN MARCH 2013

 

4 – 8 March: At Jantar Mantar with the Pension Parishad Dharna

11 – 17 March:  Public Action in States, Consultations with MPs

18 – 22 March: Vishal Dharna in Delhi

 

Dear friends,

 

From the 25th to 28th of February, many of us from the steering committee met in Delhi. We met Ministers, including the Minister for Food and Consumer Affairs, GOI, several members of parliament from the opposition parties, to understand what they were thinking and also presented our critique of the Bill. We also planned the nature and modality of public action against the present bill and recommendations of the Standing Committee.

 

This circular is in two parts. Part I gives the critique of the bill and part II relates to the campaign’s plans in the month of March

 

PART I: CRITIQUE OF STANDING COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE NFSB

 

Since it is very clear that the Government is gearing up to the enactment of a token food security bill, it was decided that we should gather in Delhi in large numbers to expose the vacuous nature of this bill and to demand a comprehensive food security law.  Presently the Government bill is more Bhukhmari Suraksha than Khadya Suraksha as it actually undermines the core issues of food security. In this backdrop it was felt that we had rather not have a law than have one which: 

–     undermines the food rights of children and pregnant and lactating women by not guaranteeing ICDS services provided through Anganwadi centres

–       leaves out a large population of people from the PDS by not universalising it

–       provisions only 5kg of foodgrain per person per month through the PDS, which is only half of what is required on an average in a month according to the ICMR norms

–       lowers the  grain allocation in the PDS from the present allocation

–       excludes the vulnerable, homeless, destitute people from accessing community kitchens by not provisioning for it under the garb that it is difficult to identify them

–       leaves out the provisions of pensions for the aged, infirm and single women

–       restricts maternity entitlements to only the first two children of a woman, thereby also denying children of higher birth order their right to exclusive breastfeeding for six months

–       does not guarantee nutrition security as part of food security by making it only a cereal distribution bill

–       does not guarantee Minimum Support Price (MSP) as a right or any other incentive and protection to farmers growing food

–       does not provide legal safeguards against Genetically Modified (GM) foods, commercial interests in providing food items in the ICDS and midday meals and the provisioning of cash    transfers in place of subsidised food

–       does not provide for criminal penalties or independent grievance redressal systems.

–       dilutes the legal guarantees given by the Supreme Court in the “right to food” case (PUCL vs. Union of India & Ors. CWP 196/2001) over the last 11 years which lay the framework for schemes providing food security in the country and convert provisions of these schemes into legal entitlements.

The Standing Committee’s recommendation of abolishing the divisive APL – BPL distinction in the PDS and proposing uniform pricing of rations is an extremely welcome step. However, the grain requirement for entitling 67 per cent of the country’s population (at 2011 figures) to only 5kg of foodgrains per person per month is only 48.8 million metric tonnes, much less than what is being allocated at present. Thus, this Standing Committee proposal exposes the Government’s intent to reduce the food subsidy and total food allocation. It was also felt that as a strategy we should bring to the fore the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act 2012 which is much more comprehensive than the National Food Security Bill.

 

PART II: PLAN FOR PUBLIC ACTION

According to the Minister for Food and Consumer Affairs, Prof KV Thomas, whom we met on 25 February, more than 252 amendments have been made to the original Bill which was placed in Parliament in December 2011. He said that the Bill would be placed in the Parliament between 19 to 21March. He added that the Bill would come up for discussion in the two houses when the Parliament reopens after 22 April for 20 days.   

 

The members of the steering committee decided that the public action against this bill would be in two stages. The first stage would be from the 4 – 22 March and the next stage from 22nd April onwards.

 

Public Action from the 4 to 22 March will be in three phases:

 

First Phase (4 to 8 March): with the Pension Parishad Dharna

 

The issue of the National Food Security Bill will be discussed at length at the dharna on 5 March. This period will also be used for meeting MPs and mobilising people for the upcoming dharna.

 

Second Phase (11 to 16 March): Public Action in States, Consultation with MPs

 

It was felt that public action must also happen at the state and district levels between 11-17 March. The forms of action can include dharnas, rallies, press conferences and meeting chief ministers, chief secretaries, MPs, district collectors etc regarding the Bill. With the help of CLRA, a consultation with MPs on the Bill is also being planned. 

 

Third Phase (18 to 22 March): Vishal Dharna at Jantar Mantar

 

This phase should begin with a press conference, followed by public meeting and rally. We could also burn copies of the Bill and the Standing Committee recommendations. We could give the food served in anganwadis to Krishna Tirath, Minister of Women and Child Development and packets with 160gm of foodgrains (daily consumption based on PDS entitlement of 5kg/person/month) to the Minister of Food, K V Thomas, Deputy Chairperson of Planning Commission Montek Singh Alhuwalia, UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, Vice President of All India Congress Committee, Rahul Gandhi, and other ministers. The monthly amount of Rs 600 under Delhi’s Annashree Yojana can be sent to the state’s Chief Minister and other ministers.

 

The message should be that the piecemeal, diluted and minimalistic National Food Security Bill of the Government is unacceptable. We want a Bill which entitles a universal PDS which guarantees not only foodgrains, but also oil and pulses; addresses the issues of increasing food production in a sustainable manner, decentralised procurement at remunerative MSPs and local storage, ensures the nutrition security of farmers, women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and those in difficult situations such as homelessness and starvation and has a mechanism of a strong, independent and sufficiently decentralised grievance redressal and public vigilance.

 

We hope that you will join the public action in large numbers.

 

In solidarity

 

Kavita Srivastava

(On behalf of the Steering Group of the Right to Food Campaign)

 

For more information, please contact Dheeraj (9871799410) or Ankita (9818603009).

 

 

Bhojan poshan shikshan, maang raha hai desh ka bachpan!!

 

APL – BPL khatam karo, sabko ration pension do!!

 

Sabko pura ration do!! dal, tel, anaaj do!!

 

 

Secretariat – Right to Food Campaign
First Floor, E-39, Lajpat Nagar -III, New Delhi 110024. India
Email: righttofoodindia@gmail.com | Phone – 91 -11 -29849563
Website: www.righttofoodindia.org | Follow our updates on Facebook and Twitter

Negative Report on GM Crops Shakes Government’s Food Agenda: Science

sc committee report Science

Science

Dated: August 17, 2012

Title: Negative Report on GM Crops Shakes Government’s Food Agenda

By: Pallava Bagla

 Vol. 337 no. 6096 p. 789

DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6096.789

India : Negative Report on GM Crops Shakes Government’s Food Agenda

 Pallava Bagla

NEW DELHI—Sounding what some regard as the death knell for the development of genetically modified food crops in India, a high-profile parliamentary panel here last week recommended that GM crop “field trials under any garb should be discontinued forthwith,” and that agricultural GM research should “only be done under strict containment.” In a press conference after the report’s release, the panel’s chair, Basudeb Acharia, was unequivocal: “India should not go in for GM food crops.”

If implemented, the report’s recommendations would paralyze research and erode India’s food security, warns India’s chief of crop research, Swapan Dutta, a rice geneticist and deputy director general here at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. “It would be better if India should end all research on GM crops if the country can’t embrace it,” he says. The government must take a stand on “whether it seeks to embrace or shun biotechnology,” adds vaccine specialist Maharaj Kishan Bhan, secretary of the Department of Biotechnology here. If it comes down in favor of a ban, he says, hope for GM research in India is lost.

Decisiveness won’t be easy, considering that the federal government has been sending mixed signals about its commitment to agricultural GM technology. In 2002, the government gave a green light to the first commercial GM crop in India: cotton carrying the gene for the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin, which is toxic to some insects. Today more than 1100 Bt varieties account for 93% of all cotton sown in India; production has skyrocketed from 0.02 million hectares in 2002 to 9.33 million hectares in 2011. In February, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated his support of GM crops in an interview with Science (24 February, p. 907). “In due course of time,” he said, “we must make use of genetic engineering technologies to increase the productivity of our agriculture.”

But some of Singh’s own ministers haven’t been toeing that line. In 2010, former environment minister Jairam Ramesh put an indefinite moratorium on commercialization of Bt brinjal, a kind of eggplant, after the ministry’s scientific advisory panel had given the GM variety a thumbsup. Then in June, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan told Science that “genetically modified foods have no place in ensuring India’s food security.”

The panel came down squarely on the side of GM skeptics. Chaired by Acharia, a member of parliament representing the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the 31-member panel labored for 2 years on its 492-page report. It blasted GM crops in part on economic grounds, observing that “the experience of the last decade has conclusively shown that while it has extensively benefited the industry, as far as the lot of poor farmers is concerned, even trickle down is not visible.”

GM crop researchers in India were under considerable duress well before the report came out. Since 2011, state governments have refused to issue certificates that would allow GM crop field trials to commence. As a result of this de facto ban, “virtually no new proposals come to us to fund research on GM crops,” says Bhan, whose department has funded work on 30 kinds of GM crops, from rice to rubber. “Today the pipeline has almost dried up,” he says.

The Acharia panel assailed India’s notable GM success, Bt cotton. It pointed out that all Bt cotton grown commercially in India is derived from technology sold by the multinational food giant Monsanto and incorporated in Indian seed varieties. “It is the fear of multinational control of food security that usually leads to a negative approach on recombinant DNA technology,” says agriculture scientist M. S. Swaminathan, chair of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai.

The panel notes that 70% of India’s 1.2 billion people are farmers, who mostly have “no alternative but to buy Bt cotton seed” because the yields are higher. In the last few years, thousands of heavily indebted farmers in India’s cotton-growing regions have committed suicide. In one of its more contentious statements, the panel asserted that “there is a connection between Bt cotton and farmers’ suicides.”

In a statement to Science, Monsanto noted that India has reaped big benefits from Bt cotton: “India has seen a cotton revolution with farmers doubling cotton production using better seeds and technologies along with improved farming practices and other agri inputs.” The company did not address the issue of farmer suicide. Taking more direct aim at the panel, N. Seetharama, executive director of the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises-Agricultural Group in Bangalore, said that “the partial and one-sided arguments put forth in the public domain could harm the national interest.”

Ministries now must digest the report and later explain to the panel whether and how they plan to implement the report’s recommendations, which carry political weight but are not mandatory. If the government doesn’t make a forceful case for GM crops, Bhan says, there may be no alternative but to “stop all use of GM crop technology till it has been totally made in India.” And if Monsanto becomes “a nuisance,” he added, “it can be kicked out.”

Pallava Bagla