On 10th anniversary of Bt Cotton, Farmer Unions, Scientists and Social activists reject the False Hype and Failed Promises

Rytu Swarajya Vedika & Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA)

Press Release

Hyderabad, 26/03/2012

 Roundtable meeting demands comprehensive review of Bt Cotton

On the 10th anniversary of introduction of Bt cotton in India, the Roundtable meeting and press conference organized by Rytu Swarajya Vedika and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture exposed the false hype and failed promises of Bt cotton. The Roundtable, which was attended by farmer union leaders, scientists and representatives of people’s organizations, came out with a consensus that “the Government, legislators, policy-makers, farmer organizations and media should reject the false hype about Bt cotton, closely examine the crisis in the cotton belt and critically re-assess the 10 years of Bt cotton. A few companies, particularly Monsanto, are controlling the seed industry and also setting the agenda for the government. The government should stop acting as an agent for the seed companies and act independently in the interests of farmers against the monopolistic exploitation by companies pushing technologies like Genetically Modified crops.” The prominent attendees included Mr. Kodand Reddy, President of A.P. Kisan Congress, Mr. Nallamala Venkateswara Rao, Secretary of Telugu Rythu, Dr. A.Prasad Rao, advisor to A.P. Rythu Sangham (CPM), Prof. Satya Prasad, President of Jana Vigyana Vedika, Prof. N.Venugopala Rao, well-known agricultural scientist and leader of Jana Vigyana Vedika, Prof. Ramana Murthy, agricultural economist from Hyderabad Central University, Dr.Narasimha Reddy from Chetana Society, Kondal Reddy from Caring Citizens Collective, K.Ravi, assoc. editor of Tolakari magazine, Kiran Vissa from Rytu Swarajya Vedika, and Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.


Rytu Swarajya Vedika and CSA released a Telugu report on 10 years of Bt cotton, using data from government institutions, which highlighted that the hype around Bt cotton as revolutionizing the cotton production in India is clearly wrong. Closer examination of the data from the last 10 years negates the two important claims of dramatic yield increase and significant fall in pesticide usage. The report clearly exposes the dark side of the Bt cotton story  – stagnant yields, pest resistance, new pest and disease attacks, the need for high levels of expensive farm inputs and the spate of tragic farmer suicides in the cotton belt.


The organizers said, “The aggressive PR campaign by the biotechnology industry is being uncritically accepted by the government and regulators. The government should stop promoting Bt cotton and pro-actively advise farmers about its unsuitability and risks.”


The cotton farmers are in deep crisis after ten years of Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers. The extensive crop failure has exposed the false hype and advertising, often repeated by policymakers and regulators. In Andhra Pradesh, state government estimates show that out of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during Kharif 2011 season, the crop failed in 33.73 lakh acres (71% of the area). The state government reported that 20.46 lakh farmers suffered from cotton crop failure and lost Rs.3071.6 cr.


Presenting some of the analysis, Kiran Vissa of Rytu Swarajya Vedika said, “The real yield gains in the past decade (from 278 kg/ha to 470 kg/ha) happened from 2000-01 to 2004-05, i.e. when Bt cotton area reached only 5.6% of the total cotton area. From 2005-06 to 2011-12, when the Bt cotton area grew to exceed 90% of the total cotton area, there is no sustained yield gain – only going from 470 kg/ha to 481 kg/ha. It is the pre-Bt cotton yield gains that have proved to be stable, resulting from various factors including fresh land brought under cotton cultivation, expansion of irrigation and use of high-yielding hybrids. In A.P. state, in the period from 2001-02 to 2007-08 when the Bt cotton area had not fully expanded, the yield went from 454 kg/ha to 690 kg/ha, but by 2010-11 it had fallen to 505 kg/ha and in 2011-12 reports indicate it is as low as 320 kg/ha.” The report also refers to the statement of Dr. K.R. Kranthi, Director of Central Institute for Cotton Research(CICR), “The main issue that worries stakeholders is the stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint per ha for the past seven years. The gains have been stagnant and unaffected by the increase in area of Bt cotton from 5.6% in 2004 to 85% in 2010.”


Kondal Reddy from Caring Citizens Collective said, “We have been working for six years with farmer suicides in 3 districts of A.P. We find that the farmer suicides are maximum in areas of Bt cotton – for example, the Parakala area in Warangal district. This technology showed some temporary gains but has trapped the farmers in debt cycle. At the farmer level, pesticide spraying quickly went back to pre-Bt levels after the first two years.”


Regarding pest protection, scientific studies and the company statements show that the target pest bollworm has developed tolerance to Bt cotton, whereas secondary pests like mealy bugs and whiteflies which were hitherto unseen are causing major damage. Data from Directorate of Plant Protection that in five out of six major cotton-growing states there is an increase in pesticide usage during the period 2005-06 to 2009-10 when the Bt cotton cultivation expanded in a big way. This is despite the heavy increase in use of more powerful low-volume pesticides during the same period, which should have reduced the total volumes. This shows that Bt technology is a false solution to the pesticide problem – the NPM methods which eliminate pesticide usage completely have been successfully demonstrated A.P. in various crops in the large-scale CMSA program (Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture) in 30 lakh acres while the Bt technology with all its risks, at best reduces pesticide usage temporarily for a given target pest.


Farmer leader Mr.Kodand Reddy from A.P.Kisan Congress said, “My experience as a farmer, as well as official information shows that Bt cotton requires more inputs in terms of fertilizers and irrigation, and is particularly susceptible to rainfall shortage at peak bolling period. The costs of cultivation have gone up significantly after the introduction of Bt cotton, leading to increased risk and debt for small farmers. Based on the experience of Bt cotton, the government should be extremely careful with promoting any other Genetically Modified crops, and the state government rightly took a stand in 2010 that Bt Brinjal should not be allowed.”


Dr. Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said, “The fact is that the crisis of cotton farmers in A.P. has only become deeper after the adoption of Bt cotton. A large number of farmer suicides in A.P. have happened with cotton farmers. Though studies have shown that Bt cotton is not suitable for rain-fed regions which form majority of the cotton cultivation area, it is promoted aggressively with farmers through misleading advertising. Even the government institutions do not have non-Bt seed available for the farmers. Farmers who were frustrated with one unsustainable technology of chemical pesticides were asked to adopt another unsustainable technology promoted by the same companies which sold the pesticides.”


Prof.N.Venugopal Rao, entomology professor at the Agricultural University (ANGRAU- Hyderabad) and leader of the people’s science movement Jana Vigyana Vedika, said, “As believers in true science and people-friendly science, we can say clearly that the Bt cotton technology is a temporary unsustainable solution that doesn’t address the problem of the farmers. Jana Vigyana Vedika will take up public programs with farmers in four cotton-growing districts along with Rytu Swarajya Vedika to raise awareness about pitfalls of Bt cotton.”


Prof. A. Prasada Rao, retired soil scientist from Agricultural University (ANGRAU-Hyderabad) said, “Farmers around the state need to be more aware of the dangers of the technology and the manipulations and monopolistic control of these corporations. As with any technology, we should look at the sustainability, impact on environment and the question of who controls the technology. Bt cotton is not an appropriate technology on any of these counts.”


Demands emerging from the participants of roundtable:

  • The government, political parties and scientists should reject the false hype about Bt cotton.
  • Government should perform a comprehensive, independent review of 10 years of Bt cotton.
  • Government agencies should stop promoting Bt cotton, and revive non-Bt seed production to make it available for farmers. Especially in rainfed areas, government should clearly educate farmers about the unsuitability and problems of Bt cotton.
  • Strict action should be taken against false advertising and penalties imposed for sub-quality seed
  • Lessons from the false propaganda of Bt cotton should be learnt, and policy-makers should reject the false hype about GM crops being the inevitable way forward for increasing productivity.
  • Promote more sustainable solutions such as NPM, crop diversity and sustainable agriculture.
  • More public funding should go into agricultural research and our institutions should be freed from the heavy influence of big corporations such as Monsanto setting the research priorities.



Dr.G.V.Ramanjaneyulu                 Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 09000699702, ramoo@csa-inda.org

Kiran Vissa                                          Rytu Swarajya Vedika,   09701705743, kiranvissa@gmail.com

Dr. D. Narasimha Reddy                Chetana Society, 09010205742, nreddy.donthi@gmail.com

Prof. N.Venugopala Rao               Jana Vigyana Vedika, 09490098905, nvgrao2002@yahoo.com    

K. Ravi                                                  Assoc. Editor, Tolakari magazine, 09912928422, ravi@csa-india.org

Kondal Reddy                                    Caring Citizens Collective, 09505518443

Analysis of Jack Heinemann on the Bt Brinjal Biosafety


Heinemann has previously provided evidence concerning the risk assessment and hazard identification of GM crops  and in particular the appraisal of Monsanto’s bio-safety dossier of Bt brinjal (molecular analyses) for the Supreme Court. He was also one of the independent academic scientists who responded to Shri Jairam Ramesh in his review process of Bt brinjal in 2009-2010. Heinemann’s credentials are well known. This document is his further analyses of the molecular characterisation of Bt brinjal and follows from a request that I (AR) made last year (ref. the Preamble).  It seemed appropriate  to undertake a deeper investigation of Bt brinjal Event EE 1 given the disquiet generated as a result of several separate appraisals of Monsanto’s  dossier by leading international scientific experts, which pointed to a shoddy environmental risk assessment; of studies claimed to have been done, but were not done or poorly done and significant health safety issues which raise concern. All  were comprehensively denied by the regulators and the EC II (Expert Committee II appointed by the apex regulator the GEAC to deal with various analyses of the Dossier and objection received to it). The clear need for long term testing for chronic toxicity (cancers and other problems) was also turned down, but which Shri Jairam Ramesh required when he imposed an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal pending independent scientific and long term studies. This is that further report of Prof H.

I am astounded at Heinemann’s findings and their serious implications.  At the outset, Heinemann says that a “critical and fundamental characterisation of the event was not completed, usually because of assumption-based reasoning. When such fundamental misunderstandings of the basic tools of the procedure were demonstrated by the developer, (which) seemingly went unchallenged by the regulator, it was very difficult to accept assurances that the other procedures in the evaluation of Bt brinjal could be trusted”. In other words if we may draw a very crude analogy, this stage of the risk assessment of a GMO (the molecular characterisation) is akin to the first steps of learning  to read as in CAT= cat and MAT= mat. There is also a curious divergence between the Monsanto reference work of 1997 and their Bt brinjal dossier. Did the regulators not bother to even check Monsanto 1997? Without going into undue detail (please see pages 6-9), I draw your attention to the following key points of Heinemann’s analyses along with my  comments.

  •  At this very first stage of the risk assessment and  testing of a GM crop,  (the molecular testing and characterisation) it is now apparent that there has been no regulatory oversight at all by either the RCGM nor the apex regulator the GEAC. The EC II report was as unreliable for safety oversight.

“The commercial trait in Bt brinjal is conferred by the Cry1Ac-like derived protein. This protein is not Cry1Ac isolated from natural plasmids of B. thuringiensis v. kurstaki, but a protein made from a series of in vitro modifications. —The GE “plasmid was the vector PVLEBK04, also called pMON10518 (Monsanto, 1997). Taken together, PV-LEBK04 has at least 10 different DNA elements that have been taken from different species, including soybeans, viruses, plasmids isolated from different species of bacteria, and many of which have also been extensively and separately subject to in vitro modification after being taken from their natural sources (see Table 2 of Monsanto, 1997)”.

  •  Chimeric or fusion gene: The Bt B gene is claimed as a fusion gene of Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab. Monsanto and the EC II report claimed that Bt B event EE1 was 99.4 % identical in amino acids to the natural Cry1Ac protein (p. 33 of Mahyco, 2008). There is no mention in the Dossier or the EC II report of  the multiple origins that form the fusion (see above). They further went on to say this corresponded to  only a difference in 1 amino acid. This is astonishing for other reasons than there can be no safety comfort derived from ‘only. However, Dr Bhargava very quickly corrected this fundamental error to say that on this basis, the difference was in fact 7 amino acids. Prof Michael Antoniou confirmed this as easily and as quickly. This is how basic such a calculation is to a molecular biologist. So what does this say of the GEAC, the apex regulator?  (The RCGM/DBT have become the official vending machine dispensing GM crops and are currently embarked openly, on aggressively pushing formal public-private partnership agreements to provide the  vehicle to promote GE crops, thereby, formalising corruption.

Heinemann says: ( EC II described the construct in Bt brinjal as composed of (the first) 466 amino acids from Cry1Ab and 712 amino acids from Cry1Ac (amino acids 1178 to 467). The regulator said in EC II: “This difference of 0.6% is attributed to the difference in presence of one amino acid at position 766 i.e. serine in place of leucine.”

However, as noted earlier, currently registered sequences for these proteins do not support that they were this similar. Moreover, a single amino acid difference in a sequence of 1178 amino acids would have been 0.1% rather than 0.6% as the scale of difference between the fusion and nature reported by the developer and accepted by EC IINeither the original Monsanto dossier nor the EC II numbers support the EC II conclusion that the fusion had a single amino acid difference from what is found in nature (JH).

“At 99.4% identity, there would be approximately 7 amino acid differences between the chimera fusion and natural Cry1Ac (consistent withoriginal description by Monsanto, 1997)”.

“However, when I construct the fusion using sequences published in Genbank, I find that the fusion is a maximum of 94% identical to Cry1Ac (GenBank: ABD37053.1) and only 95% identical to Cry1Ab (GenBank: ABV91087.1). Based on these matches, it is also not clear why the developers have historically called their fusion construct after cry1Ac rather than after cry1Ab, or more precisely, cry1Ac-like to accurately identify it as a product of modern biotechnology formed as a chimera of multiple origins. Thefirst 40% of the amino acids found in Cry1Ac2 were replaced with 466 amino acids from Cry1Ab, another insecticidal protein.

  • Furthermore, the developer reports that a leucine residue at position 766 has been replaced by a serine residue in planta. What appear to be small differences can be physiologically and immunogenically important. The change from leucine to serine at position 766 is of interest to the biosafety investigator because only the latter can be O-linked glycosylated by the addition of N-acetylgalactosamine through a side chain hydroxyl group (Mitra et al., 2006). “O-linked glycosylation has a profound effect on the antigenic properties of peptides—-“
  •  The implications of this are that the fundamental affinity-based tools used by developers to list and characterise all forms of the protein produced in the plant (e.g., western blots) may be compromised if they were not trained on the glycosylated forms that the plant may produce. All subsequent studies that are based on isolated proteins (e.g., digestibility, toxicity, and cooking studies) may then be invalid because they only have available to them a subset of the relevant protein isoforms that may be in the plant.
  • ·         At 94% identity (consistent with current GenBank comparison), there could be up to 70 different amino acids. To conclude that a novel protein is likely to be of no safety concern because of even as few differences as 7 amino acids is not a research-based conclusion. Changes of single amino acids can significantly alter the characteristics of proteins (a fact that underpins the field of directed evolution) —–. One of the characteristics that can be changed is immunogenicity. For example, several groups reported significant decreases of IgE binding to a major peanut allergen after mutating single nucleotides. Even more surprising, in some cases even a synonymous (i.e., differences in the nucleotide sequence of a gene that do not alter the resulting amino acid sequence) coding change can alter the characteristics of a transcript or protein, or levels of expression A single nucleotide polymorphism that results in a synonymous change can change the substrate specificity of the resulting protein, potentially by affecting its folding patterns during translation.  Furthermore, sequence identical proteins with differing tertiary structures can turn benign proteins into toxins –or agents that cause pathogenesis as demonstrated for the Prp proteins causing Creutzfeld-Jacob disease and mad cow disease

These are startling findings. They mean that Monsanto’s dossier is fundamentally flawed at its starting point. This is to put in politely. Without overstating the case, the more correct description is, fraudulent. There also appears to have been a deliberate cover-up of differences with their original doc of Monsanto 1997 and their Bt brinjal dossier. However, fraudulent dossiers are nothing new for Monsanto. There have been similar cases with other products in the EU and New Zealand. This kind of behaviour is to be expected from a company that has been formally indicted for bribes and cover-up, hounding farmers into bankruptcy, false advertising both in France where they had to retract and more recently in Vidharba for paid advertising and lies. Monsanto has also been indicted for some of the worst crimes against humanity. This is part of the formal record.

But what of our regulators and in particular the GEAC?  The charges against Monsanto in India for illegal field trials, illegal plantings, are serious enough to have pushed even the GEAC into the action of serving a show-cause notice, seemingly impotent. The recent case of the supposedly Desi BN cotton gene that has a Monsanto gene discovered in it, merely underscores the case that we have no regulation of any value that serves to protect India, her farmers and the public interest. As seriously, it  betrays either a significant lack of competence or a conflict of interest so deep that there is a great facilitation to promote GM crops and Monsanto especially, mortgaging the public interest. This means  that we have had 15 years of unsafe field trials and accelerating in the last 2-3 years to encompass numerous Bt genes in virtually all our food crops and including the failed technology in herbicide resistant crops. These greatly risk our bio-safety and indigenous seed stock  because of irreversible contamination, which is the main reason why untested open field trials are not acceptable.

Finally, the performance of Bt cotton is being hyped in order to prepare the way for other Bt crops. But without reliable statistics and a PMM(post market monitoring) of Bt cotton which should have been instituted by a conscionable regulator years ago, there is no evidence for the claims being made by Monsanto and the government regulator and other public institutions. Dr Kranthi ‘s  analyses of the performance of Bt cotton shows the onset of ‘resistance’ and the experience of other countries where insect resistance to Cry proteins is proven (ref the recent US EPA report on Bt corn 863) underscores the fact that this was a predicted outcome.

Bt brinjal has no history of safe use


Author(s): Latha Jishnu
Issue: Mar 19, 2012

Jack A. Heinemann, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has expertise in genetic engineering, bacterial genetics and biosafety. As director of the University’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) since 2001, has contributed in no small measure to a better understanding and management of emerging biotechnologies.

INBI, says the academic, has special responsibility for developing tools that improve safety assessments of genetically modified organisms. These tools are aimed at helping government regulators and scientists with other specialities to access the best available and latest research and apply it to hazard identification. In an interview to Latha Jishnu, Heinemann explains why he was taken aback by the way Mahyco’s Bt brinjal data was assessed by the GEAC, the regulator, and its experts committees.

Jack A. HeinemannJack A. HeinemannWhat, according to you, are the most serious of the shortcomings/misrepresentations in the developer’s data? 

I can’t answer this question for all dossiers. At best I could answer it only for those I’ve seen. If you mean the Bt brinjal data, I don’t know where to begin. I think the most disappointing aspect of that dossier was that every experiment I personally reviewed seemed to have some significant flaw, or was only half finished, leaving effectively nothing to support the conclusions of safety. It had the semblance of authority, but lacked the substance.

Were you taken aback by the findings of your evaluation? Did you expect better monitoring by the Indian regulator and the expert bodies appointed by it given the agriculture profile of the country where farming is essentially a livelihoods issue rather than a commercial proposition?

Yes, I expected more attentiveness to the details, and for the regulator to exercise a greater distance from the data. At the very least, I would have expected the regulator to ask for clarification and data wherever the claims being made were based on assumption and reasoning rather than data.

You say that “the developer reports that a leucine residue at position 766 has been replaced by a serine residue in planta”. What does this mean and what are the consequences?

This means that the gene used in the plant is different from the gene in nature. It is different in several ways and this is just one of those ways. While this one particular amino acid change might sound insignificant, serine is very different from leucine. For example, plant cells often link arrays of sugar molecules to serine residues and these arrays can be structurally variable, affecting many different properties. In particular, the kinds of properties we would be concerned with are those that might affect the immune response of people or wildlife. These structural changes can also interfere with detection of the product after it enters the food chain. Lack of traceability reduces consumer choice and makes it more difficult to recall a product if it is later found to be unsafe.

Again, I quote from the report: “What appear to be small differences can be physiologically and immunogenically important. The change from leucine to serine at position 766 is of interest to the biosafety investigator because only the latter can be O-linked glycosylated by the addition of N-acetylgalactosamine through a side chain hydroxyl group (Mitra et al., 2006).”  How serious are the implications?

We don’t know. No one can say without proper testing. That is the purpose of pre-market risk assessment, to identify molecular changes which might cause adverse effects. Once they are identified, then they can be evaluated through testing. Since developers keep complete control of these products, it would not even be possible for independent scientists such as those in INBI to even attempt testing. Only the regulator can insist on that testing.

You say: “Taken together, PV-LEBK04 has at least 10 different DNA elements that have been taken from different species, including soybeans, viruses, plasmids isolated from different species of bacteria, and many of which have also been extensively and separately subject to in vitro modification after being taken from their natural sources.” What does this mean for a consumer?

What it means is that in many different ways the Bt brinjal has no history of safe use. It is exceedingly unlikely that this diverse combination of genetic elements has come together in nature much less in plants that potentially could be the source of a significant amount of food someone eats. Thus, by international consensus and agreement, the Bt brinjal should benefit from credible safety testing.

Does this poor regulation stem from lack of expertise with the monitoring bodies? For instance, this inability to understand the finer points of a vector/plasmid map. In a case of research fraud in Bt cotton, scientists of public research laboratories passed off a genome sequence as their original DNA construct. The vector map went unchallenged.

This is not something I can answer. The question should be directed at the regulator. But I would ask both the senior managers of the regulatory authority and the minister what pressures are being placed on the regulator and whether these pressures are consistent with expectation that the regulator serves the broader public interest and is precautionary.

Is there a readiness on the part of regulators, specially in the US and Europe, to accept the developer’s data unquestioningly?

In my opinion, some regulators I have worked with seem to be less critical of the data from industry than I experience when I try to publish a scientific paper which has almost no impact on public health or the environment. This strikes me as strange. Not that the standard of review shouldn’t be high for academic research. What is strange is that it does not appear to be as high on a regular and uniform basis for research used by regulators. Most importantly, the requirement that the work and materials be available for independent replication of the results is blocked by proprietary secrecy. Really sound science can be, and is, regularly replicated by other scientists with no strings attached.

Other independent scientists have also pointed out huge shortcomings in the developer’s data and in the evaluation by the ECs. Yet, our regulators have done little to rectify the position. How can INBI help in such a situation?

INBI’s founding mission is to assist civil society and the public to find answers to questions raised by biotechnology. We particularly work with those who have limited or no access to research grants or private funding, essentially those who would be asked to live with any adverse consequences of a biotechnology but not receive the financial benefits. With our limited resources, this is how we try to help. We have no power of compulsion. We can only make the case to the public or to the political decision-makers who, if they agree, can then change policy or legislation to effect better review.

Has INBI been instrumental in strengthening biosafety regulation elsewhere? 

INBI’s work on a variety of corn called LY038 was used by many governments around the world. In the end, the product was pulled from pre-commercial development because some of these governments insisted that the developer answer some of the outstanding safety questions we raised. See  Europe balks at GE corn in NZ and Authority ignored corn risk – expert

INBI has participated in the development of international biosafety guidance documents under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and made submissions to Codex Alimentarius. We have directly worked with training of officials, such as in Solomon Islands. With our partners Third World Network and GenOK-Centre for Biosafety in Norway, we conduct biosafety courses for regulators, civil society leaders, scientists, industry, journalists and decision-makers from developing countries. Through this activity we reach 50 people a year. INBI was also the major partner in production of the Biosafety Assessment Tool, a free to the public risk assessment mentoring website – The Biosafety Assessment Tool

Would you agree with the perception that the large majority of scientists are determined to gloss over the biosafety aspects of transgenic crops because they believe it is the magic bullet for all the problems of agriculture?

I could not possibly say what other scientists think. However, I find convincing the sociological research that shows that independent science is under threat from a network of public-private funding systems and the entrepreneurial aspirations of public universities and government departments. All too often these aspirations also lead to contractual obligations between public institutions and the companies, creating conflicts of interest. I review and discuss this research in my book, Hope not Hype: The Future of Agriculture Guided by the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. It can be downloaded free at http://bch.cbd.int/database/record.shtml?documentid=100891

How does INBI manage to provide such a service without charging any fees? 

We work weekends and evenings!  All those working in INBI do so because we believe in the mission. We are public researchers working in a good public university and allied with other like-minded researchers in similar situations. While this work does not pay the bills, it does build our own competence and helps to focus us on the science that is important. The work has attracted some of the best students I’ve ever had, because they want to make a difference, not just make money. We benefit too. Not directly, but because we think it makes our other work better. So far, our employers agree!


Press Release

http://indiagminfo.org/?p=360 (RTI document downloadable at this link)

New Delhi/Bengaluru, February 6th 2012: Ahead of a regulators’ meeting on February 8th 2012, and reacting to the confirmed reports of Monsanto’s illegal planting of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) maize in its GM maize trial, the Coalition for a GM-Free India demanded that Monsanto be blacklisted immediately. The violation was revealed in a response of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee to an RTI application. “This agri-business corporation has been caught violating the law and norms repeatedly. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has also been caught failing in its duties. GEAC, in spite of violations brought to its notice earlier also, has never taken up any deterrent and penal action against this MNC”, said the Coalition in a press statement issued in Delhi and a Press Conference held in Bengaluru. Monsanto’s illegal planting was known to the regulators (as the information was obtained through an RTI response from GEAC), but they chose not to look into the matter pro-actively and the regulators were in effect protecting Monsanto, alleged the Coalition.

The approval for the biosafety research level II trial (BRL-II , the penultimate stage before consideration for commercial cultivation) for Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant, insect resistant GM maize with stacked traits (two Bt genes and one herbicide tolerance gene) was granted during the GEAC meetings held on 15th November 2010 and 8th December 2010. This is also the first GM product of Monsanto in India in its own name and not in the name of associate companies like Mahyco. Monsanto and the biotech industry have been claiming that the herbicide tolerant, insect resistant GM maize with stacked traits would be approved soon.

“Monsanto’s GM maize trials have been going on for several seasons now in various locations around the country. It took a rare scientist in one monitoring team to point out the fact that planting of the herbicide-tolerant GM maize took place without permission from competent authorities! What is more damning is that there is no evidence of any discussion or action by the regulators on this finding. This clearly demonstrates that the regulators are unconcerned about biosafety violations or contamination and are protecting and supporting offenders like Monsanto”, said Kavitha Kuruganti, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India.

The RTI response revealed that a team led by Dr Pradyumn Kumar of the Directorate of Maize Research (DMR is supposed to be supervising all the GM maize BRL II field trials), noted the following in its visit report (5th May 2011): “Before planting NK603 event treatment in future, the permission from competent authority may be obtained”. This clearly demonstrates that this field trial consisted of an unapproved, illegal GM herbicide tolerant maize while the trial is supposed to be for the hybrid of Bt genes’ line (MON89034) and herbicide tolerant line (NK603) (HT/Bt maize). A point to be noted is that trial protocols were prescribed by DMR along with GEAC and it was a DMR scientist who recorded the illegal planting of the HT maize line.

“This appears to be a repetition of an earlier episode of herbicide tolerant cotton (Roundup Ready Flex – RRF cotton) planted by Monsanto’s affiliate, Mahyco, without permission. The GEAC, in that instance, found the clarifications submitted by Mahyco highly unsatisfactory and warned that any non-compliance in future would attract punitive actions under EPA 1986, sought a resolution adopted by the Mahyco Board of Directors expressing regret and reaffirmation that such lapses would not be repeated, and that the data generated during the BRL II trials using the unapproved GMO shall not be considered for regulatory purpose. All of these were decisions recorded in the July 2011 meeting of the GEAC”, reminded the Coalition.

What is ironic in the case of the GM maize trials of Monsanto is that further field trials have been approved after this visit of the monitoring team on 5th May 2011 recorded the illegal planting!

Monsanto has also been caught violating several biosafety norms in its GM maize cultivation plot in Bijapur in early 2011, around the same time as this Monitoring Team’s finding of illegal planting inside the University in Dharwad. The Bijapur episode, documented by Greenpeace and a Kannada TV Channel had been brought to the notice of the regulators and no investigation has been completed so far into this complaint.  Egregious violations were also found during various other field trials from 2005 onwards.

“In the face of such impunity from these seed corporations and irresponsible inaction by the regulators, it is ironic that when civil society groups try to prevent contamination from these untested GMOs by objecting to such trials like in the case of the Bayer GM rice trial in Patancheru or DuPont GM rice trial in Doddaballapur, they are being treated as criminals! The history of GM crop regulation in India is replete with violations and illegal plantings and repeated failure on the part of the regulators in checking these or even taking serious action post facto. Therefore citizens are forced to step in to uphold biosafety.

“The Coalition demands that the Minister for Environment & Forests fix accountability on Monsanto and its Indian associates for violating Indian law. It also demands that MoEF take action against the regulators who repeatedly fail to check the violations of the corporations, and call on state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to drop all charges against activists involved in biosafety protection”, added the Coalition.


For more information, contact:

Kavitha Kuruganti – 9393001550

Sridhar Radhakrishnan – 9995358205

ps: Page 10 to 14 in the attached scanned document do not pertain to the GM maize in question but got inadvertently included in the scanned document. Page 15 to 20 is the relevant monitoring report in this instance.


Regional Course 2012 – Holistic Foundations for Assessment and Regulation of Genetic Engineering and Genetically Modified Organisms, Tanzania

Organized in collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam – 23rd April 2012 to 28th April 2012

Venue: Dar es Salaam (University of Dar es Salaam)
Topics include:
  • Overview of genomes, genes and gene expression
  • GE process: creation and detection of GMO
  • Laboratory practicals
  • Biodiversity, ecosystems and ecological impacts of GMOs
  • Future applications of genetic engineering
  • Cultural, social, political issues related to GE/GMO
  • Risk assessment and management
  • Implementation of the Precautionary Principle
  • Policy issues, including capacity building and participation (scientific, enforcement, educational, legal)
  • Cartagena Protocol, WTO and other international agreements
  • Practical risk assessment under the guidance of the Biosafety Assessment Tool
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety seeks to ensure ”an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements”. In order to manage the introduction and development of GMOs as well as trade thereof, countries are required to develop biosafety regulations. However, there is a lack of understanding, expertise and scientific knowledge on the different aspects necessary to perform risk assessment and develop a regulatory system that takes into consideration the ethical, economic and social considerations.
Performing credible biological risk assessments requires multi-disciplinary scientific and social scientific competence that considers the local context of GMO introductions. Each country needs to be able to conduct risk assessment review and understand the different aspects thereof in order to effectively monitor and manage the introduction of GMOs into the environment Moreover, there is a need to assess GMOs in the context of each countries unique cultural, ethical socio-economic and policy frameworks. Such initiatives will require holistic approaches to develop adequate regulation over the use of GMOs.
About the course
The course is designed to provide policy makers, regulators, scientists and NGOs/civil society leaders, specifically from the East, Central and Southern African region, with the necessary balanced and critical knowledge and training in crucial GE/GMO issues. Through lectures, laboratory demonstrations, group work on case studies, and discussions, we offer biosafety capacity building within a holistic framework.
Eligibility and selection process
The course application form must be filled out entirely and with as much detail as possible. The applicant must provide information about the type/level of position they are holding, and state the basis for their interest in the course. In addition, a brief CV is required for consideration. The course will be in English.
Gender and regional criteria are also used in the selection of participants in order to achieve representational balance.
Applications close on 28th  February 2012.
Costs and expenses
Full sponsorship will be given to 40 selected applicants. The sponsorship will cover curricular materials, course-associated travel, visa-fees (other than Indians), accommodation and meals.
The completed form and a brief CV should be returned to courses@genok.org and botany@udsm.ac.tz
For further information you can contact:
Flora Ismail Tibazarwa
Botany Department – University of Dar es Salaam
Email: ismailf@udsm.ac.tz or ismailfar8@gmail.com
Katrine Jaklin
Project Manager: GenØk – Centre for Biosafety
E-mail: katrine.jaklin@genok.org

For further information about ODA-countries visit http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/40/43540882.pdf

Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

The Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted on 15 October 2010 by the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol. It is now open for signature, and to date there are 36 signatories. The Supplementary Protocol will enter into force after 40 Parties to the Cartagena Protocol ratify it.
Please find attached an introductory briefing by TWN on the Supplementary Protocol, which examines the process, key elements and some key issues for developing countries.

Did you check the neurotoxin in your ‘soft’ drink today?

April 01, 2011 06:56 PM |
Veeresh Malik
Why are we being fed with increasing amounts of neurotoxins in our diet, in the name of processed foods, when the rest of the world is moving away from them? Pepsi and Coke will actually share the World Cup win on Saturday, as India and Sri Lanka fight for the crumbs

As we head in for the finals of the World Cup 2011, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the game is not just between India and Sri Lanka, but largely between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. This in itself would not have been a problem, sports need sponsors, and cricket has always had a long list of entities waiting to pay the bill.

How many of us can forget the fact that Benson & Hedges were the original sponsors here, and subsequently for some time Wills paid some of the bills too, until globally tobacco companies were prevented by law from sponsoring sports. The rest of the world had by then banned tobacco advertising in sports, but India was amongst the last bastions to fall, and given half a chance, subliminal and crony as well as covert advertising for tobacco products still continues- awards for bravery, for example, as well as ranges in clothing and soaps being a common subterfuge.

But face facts, smoking is increasingly becoming socially unacceptable in India, and about time too.

How long before this good sense reaches those who make and implement our laws, as far as carbonated coloured sweetened beverages using chemicals for constituents which are certainly not good for our health are concerned? To ban fizzy colas/orange/lemon and clear flavoured bottled & fountain served waters with bubbles in them (also called “soft drinks”) in India? By rights, this is overdue, and should have happened yesterday, as is already happening in the developed countries we look up to in so many other ways. If it has not, then it is simply because the machinery that propels this momentum forward is huge, and comprises of not just the manufacturers but also their advertising companies, their PR companies, their bought out medical associations, and the whole nine yards as far as the rest of them are concerned, anybody who would dare to try and stand up against them.

Except some of us, who seek information for the larger public good, and when faced with impediments-sink our teeth in even deeper. And therein lies a tale which shall evolve with time.

Experience has taught many of us that when those in power take extremely hyperactive steps to hide information, then it becomes all the more important to try and find out what they are hiding, since if this information was not likely to cause any problems to the larger good-then why would they want to hide the truth? To give a simple example, when I asked a simple question relating to the Commonwealth Games way back in early 2006, on how much did they actually spend on taking some actors and dancers to Melbourne, and got stonewalled at every step- that’s when I realised that there was probably something hidden which was causing the people who took the effort to hide it some concern-so it was worth going after it.

That’s what got the nation this judgement: http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/465885/

Which subsequently opened the door for the accounts and numbers, as well as skeletons and scams, to come tumbling out in what is known as the “CWG scam”.

The word being sought, if I remember my school maths correctly, is and was “fulcrum”. And now with the help of Moneylife as well as others, I seek the fulcrum that will help me bust the great Coke & Pepsi game in India, which also goes by the names Aspartame, NutriSweet and Equal, amongst others.

If you have seen working terriers chasing small animals you will realise the whole concept-they don’t want to eat that animal, they just want to know what that animal is up to-and if it appears to be damaging things, like rats and other animals do, then to get it out of the way. Sometimes they want to scare it so that it heads into a trap. Or moves out of its safe spot. Let’s go back to these terriers. I quote an example: “Working terriers (Hunting types): Still used to find, track, or trail quarry, especially underground, and sometimes to bolt the quarry.”

In other words, just the fact that somebody has started sniffing around is enough to push them to react. If we want to reach something, then we have to not just sniff it out-we have to be like terriers.

Which is what is happening as I start a new search and hunt for how this amazing drug, called “aspartame”, has entered India’s statutes as a sweetener instead of as a neurotoxin, and has started replacing real and simple sugar in everything from “soft drinks” to sweetmeats, biscuits, bakery products and even traditional products like halwa. All in the name of lower cost and higher sweetness. While trying to convince us that there is no difference.

But there is a big difference. Sugar in its various natural forms simply makes things sweeter, for natural or other reasons, and doesn’t cause much harm beyond causing the obvious side effects of consuming too much sweet-which we already know about. Aspartame, on the other hand, even in extremely minute quantities, well below the levels found in a single can of Coke or Pepsi, diet or otherwise, is known to cause not just common ailments like headaches, dizziness, slurred speech and confusion. On the larger scale, however, it causes a vast variety of serious diseases-not the least of which are some forms of cancer, as well as serious issues for pregnant women, babies, chronic fatigue syndrome and brain damage as well as tumours therein.

As a matter of simple fact, a large number of Gulf War returnees (from the Kuwait-Iraq conflict) were diagnosed as having suffered from major neurological disorders, traced directly back to consuming litres and litres of “diet” soft drinks which had, before that, been transported and then lying in the hot conditions of the desert.

It is interesting to note that the summer is when the push to sell more cold drinks is highest in India. And that’s also when truckloads of the stuff roll across, with the “soft drinks” undergoing a fair amount of exposure to extremely hot weather, which incidentally is one more issue with aspartame. You see, as temperature changes, aspartame changes its chemical composition, radically. So, that, as well as a few other reasons prompted me to file a fairly simple RTI (Right to Information) Application to the Ministry of Processed Foods in Delhi. Again, very close to where I live, walking distance actually.

Within a few days of my filing an RTI application with the Ministry of Processed Foods here in Delhi, even before I’ve got a formal response from them, I have received:

1) Phone calls from a PR company claiming to represent a company making a diet soft drink, lately advertising a lot as “University of this and that”.

2) Veiled threats on social media from unknown entities whose pages on carbonated waters I have joined and commented on.

3) The usual bunch of evasive non-RTI type responses from the Ministry which are designed to deflect all but the most hardcore of RTI applicants.

4) And most interestingly, a huge collection of unasked for literature on the benefits of aspartame, AND a hamper full of soft drinks as a gift from somebody who did not leave a visiting card.

Aspartame started life as a new chemical warfare agent developed and used by the United States Armed Forces. It is apparently now an agent for infiltrating the Indian food chain. My series of RTI applications with the Government of India is going to try to find out how something like this became a legalised food component.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to start getting certification from our halwais and bakeries on whether they use sugar or aspartame or other branded sweeteners that are actually carcinogenic chemicals, since we already knows what goes into our Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, Diet and otherwise. It would also be interesting to ask our cricketers and others who endorse these soft drinks on what their families and children drink. I know-I once had this discussion with Kapil Dev, in the days when he used to endorse Thums Up-and he hasn’t endorsed a cold drink since.