Approvals for GM crop field-trials run into delays

P. T. JYOTHI DATTA

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Companies are mandated to conduct field-trials before they get final approvals to market their biotech agri-product locally
Companies are mandated to conduct field-trials before they get final approvals to market their biotech agri-product locally

More than 100 applications pile-up

MUMBAI, SEPT. 3:

 

 

Over the last few months, there has been a pile-up of more than 100 applications seeking regulatory approvals to conduct field-trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had, in June, directed industry applicants to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from respective State Governments before undertaking open field trials.

Companies are mandated to conduct field-trials before they get final approvals to market their biotech agri-product locally.

With several States taking time to give an NOC, there has been a pile-up of over 100 applications at State Agriculture Ministries, said Mr V.R. Kaundinya, Chairman of the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises – Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG).

There have been a few approvals from States such as Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana, but others like Karnataka and Bihar have indicated they would not give approvals, he told Business Line.

Other States where companies have applied for field trials and are awaiting approvals include Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

In fact, the agri-biotech industry has sought a meeting with the new Environment Minister, Ms Jayanthi Natrajan, seeking clarity on this and other issues facing the industry.

Timely approvals are necessary “to generate reliable data about the efficacy, safety and agronomic performance of the product without losing one year”, the Association had said, in an earlier letter to former Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh.

The Government needs to spell out clearly its position on GM products, instead of changing the eligibility criteria after agri-companies have invested in research and field-trials, says an industry representative, concerned about the delay.

Mr Kaundinya said the delays hurt domestic companies more, as they do not have deep pockets like the multinationals. The delay also upsets the company’s cycle for an entire year, as the seed company would have missed the kharif period (in the monsoons), he added.

The applications for both kharif and rabi (winter) season trials were for maize, cotton, and rice made by companies including Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Overseas Corporation, Bayer and Dow AgroSciences.

New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

Submitted by Kevin Hansen on August 26, 2011 – 17:48

Although I am not really surprised, the scope of official US government effort to promote Monsanto’s products is really astounding.

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New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

Original Link: http://www.truth-out.org/new-wikileaks-cables-show-us-diplomats-promote-genetically-engineered-crops-worldwide/1314303978

Thursday 25 August 2011 by: Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report

Dozens of United States diplomatic cables released in the latest WikiLeaks dump on Wednesday reveal new details of the US effort to push foreign governments to approve genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont.

The cables further confirm previous Truthout reports on the diplomatic pressure the US has put on Spain and France, two countries with powerful anti-GE crop movements, to speed up their biotech approval process and quell anti-GE sentiment within the European Union (EU).

Several cables describe “biotechnology outreach programs” in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials.

Truthout recently reported on front groups supported by the US government, philanthropic foundations and companies like Monsanto that are working to introduce pro-biotechnology policy initiatives and GE crops in developing African countries, and several cables released this week confirm that American diplomats have promoted biotech agriculture to countries like Tunisia, South Africa and Mozambique. Cables detail US efforts to influence the biotech policies of developed countries such as Egypt and Turkey, but France continues to stand out as a high-profile target.

In a 2007 cable, the US embassy in Paris reported on a meeting among US diplomats and representatives from Monsanto, DuPont and Dow-Agro-sciences. The companies were concerned about a movement of French farmers, who were vandalizing GE crop farms at the time, and suggested diplomatic angles for speeding up EU approvals of GE Crops.

In 2008 cable describing a “rancorous” debate within the French Parliament over proposed biotech legislation, Craig Stapleton, the former US ambassador to France under the Bush administration, included an update on MON-810, a Monsanto corn variety banned in France. Stapleton wrote that French officials “expect retaliation via the World Trade Organization” for upholding the ban on MON-810 and stalling the French GE crop approval process.

“There is nothing to be gained in France from delaying retaliation,” Stapleton wrote.

Tough regulations and bans on GE crops can deal hefty blows to US exports. About 94 percent of soybeans, 72 percent of corn and 73 percent of the cotton grown in the US now use GE-tolerate herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup, according to the US Agriculture Department.

A 2007 cable, for example, reports that the French ban on MON-810 could cost the US $30 million to $50 million in exports. In a 2007 cable obtained by Truthout in January, Stapleton threatened “moving to retaliate” against France for banning MON-810. Several other European countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, have also placed bans on MON-810 in recent years. MON-810 is engineered to excrete the Bt toxin, which kills some insect pests.

New GM Crop Sparks Concerns about the Negative Effects of Biofuels

 

http://www.topsecretwriters.com/2011/08/new-gm-crop-sparks-concerns-about-the-negative-effects-of-biofuels/

Farmers in the United States are growing the first genetically modified plants grown specifically for putting for fuel rather than producing food.

However, the new GM corn has been met by a barrage of criticism, namely by aid organisations that warn the crop, by diverting more corn into energy production, could worsen the global food crisis – exposed as a significant issue by the famine in Somalia.

Also in opposition of the new corn is the food industry as, not only is it unsuitable for the manufacture that commonly uses corn, but many farmers are concerned about cross-contamination into crops used for human consumption.

The genetically modified corn is being grown on a 5,000 acre site on the edge of America’s “corn belt” in Kansas. It has been developed by the Swiss pesticide company, Syngenta.

Gene Speeds Production of Ethanol

The corn contains an added gene, which speeds up the breakdown of starch into ethanol and therefore produces more ethanol to be put in fuel tanks.

The development of biofuels have been blamed for pushing up the price of food across the globe. The World Bank has reported that food prices are today close to their peak in 2008, and that highly priced food has contributed to the famine in Somalia.

“The temptation to look at food as another form of fuel to use for the energy crisis will exacerbate the food crisis,” says Todd Post from the anti-hunger charity, Bread for the World.

Corn ethanol production has enjoyed a five-year boom, but amidst concerns of the negative effect biofuel production is having on drought and famine in Africa, and with the US debt crisis and the $1.3 trillion in budget cuts forcing Congress to re-think three decades of government subsidies for corn ethanol, this boom could be coming to an abrupt end.

Whilst campaigners increasingly argue that turning corn into ethanol is not environmentally sound and, according to the World Bank, it has also driven up the price of food worldwide, limiting the production of corn ethanol would surely have a negative effect in helping the United States reduce its consumption of fossil fuels.

The fuel sold at petrol stations across America contains 10% ethanol, and, according to a study by environmental scientists in Freese, by 2020, corn energy will displace 7% of the energy supplied by oil.

Oil Reserves Will Not Last Forever

Many oil analysts agree that the world’s conventional oil production will peak sometime between now and 2020. Charles T. Maxwell, the senior energy strategist of C.J Lawrence Inc, wrote:

“Our country’s leaders have three main choices: Taking over someone else’s oil fields until they are depleted; carrying on until the lights go out and Americans are freezing in the dark; or changing our life style by energy conservation while heavily investing in alternative energy sources at higher costs.”

The global demand for cars is accelerating and therefore so is the demand for oil. World demand for conventional oil is outstripping world supply.

In May of this year, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi told parliament, “We have to look for our own fuel to advert the crisis.”

The viable alternative is of course biofuel, which, according to Dr Bernard Muok, Director of Programmes at the African Center of Technology Studies, could help steer Kenya’s economic growth to ‘unimaginable heights’.

“We have relied so much on oil. A lot of money has been used trying to drill oil with no success. If this money was converted to production of biofuel, we could be talking of other things by now; not a fuel crisis,” said DrMuok.

No More Money for Subsidies

Instead of channelling money into increasing the production of ethanol crops, faced with a $1.3 trillion budget cut, Congress is expected to end $6 billion in subsidies directed to the oil companies that incorporate ethanol in their products.

As revolutions in the Middle East reduces the production of petroleum, the world’s demand for biofuel is greater than ever.

In 2006, former President Clinton described of a vision of a future world without the solutions that biotechnology could bring was bleak, painting a picture of islands sinking in a rising ocean, fertile land turning to dust and more people going hungry.

Now, faced with $1.3 trillion in spending cuts, the former President’s vision appears closer to becoming a reality than ever before.

Classic Crop Breeding Outperforms Genetic Engineering

The Cornucopia Institute

August 3rd, 2011

 

        By 2050, the world will have to feed 9 billion people, adapt to climate change, reduce agricultural pollution and protect fresh water supplies – all at the same time.  Given that formidable challenge, what are the quickest, most cost-effective ways to develop more productive, drought-, flood- and pest-resistant crops?

        Some will claim that genetically engineered, or GE, crops are the solution.  But when compared side-by-side, classical plant breeding bests genetic engineering.  Coupled with ecologically based management methods that reduce the environmental harm of crop production, classical breeding could go a long way toward producing the food we will need by mid-century.

        Producing better crops faster certainly would help the world feed itself, but genetic engineering has no advantage on that score.  Not only can classical breeding programs introduce new varieties about as fast as genetic engineering, technical improvements are making classical practices even faster.

        Early steps in the genetic engineering process avoid the multiple rounds of cross-breeding inherent in classical plant breeding by directly inserting engineered genes into the crop.  But seed companies then use classical breeding to transfer engineered genes to the crop’s numerous varieties for different markets and climates – and that takes time.  And just as in classical breeding, new engineered varieties must be tested in the field for several years to ensure they perform as expected.

        Second, GE crops are significantly more expensive to develop. Industry estimates of the cost of developing a single GE trait are in excess of $100 million.  By contrast, a classical breeding program for similar traits typically costs about $1 million.  Most of the cost differential is attributable to GE crops’ research and development requirements, which include DNA synthesizers and sequencers and other expensive equipment, in addition to classical breeding facilities.

        Genetic engineering might be worth the extra cost if classical breeding were unable to impart such desirable traits as drought-, flood- and pest-resistance, and fertilizer efficiency.  But in case after case, classical breeding is delivering the goods.

        Plant breeders have already produced drought-tolerant varieties of sorghum, corn, rice, cassava and pearl millet – all critical for poor farmers in developing countries. Genetic engineering, meanwhile, has yet to commercialize its first drought-tolerant crop varieties.

        Scientists using classical breeding enhanced with genomic information – a process called marker-assisted breeding – also have produced rice varieties that can tolerate flooding.  These varieties, now cultivated in the Philippines, Bangladesh and India, are expected to increase food security for 70 million of the world’s poorest people.

        Classical breeders likewise have developed papaya resistant to ringspot virus and corn that can fend off destructive rootworms – traits previously touted as requiring genetic engineering.     And in Uganda, scientists have successfully bred sweet potatoes to resist virus diseases, while a multimillion-dollar, multi-year project in Kenya to genetically engineer similar virus resistance failed.

        Finally, classical breeding and better farm management are responsible for all the yield increases for soybeans and most of the yield increases for corn in the United States. Recent yield increases are often erroneously attributed to genetic engineering, but data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and academic scientists show that even during the past 15 years that GE crops have been commercialized, classical breeding and crop management improvements contributed the large majority of the increases, not the newly inserted genes.

        So if the conventional wisdom is wrong, and classical breeding is superior, what does that mean for public policy?

        Federal and state governments should dramatically increase their support for tried-and-true, cost-effective classical breeding technology – including better funding for breeding programs at public universities and nonprofit institutes where breeders can work with farmers to develop a wider range of farmer-ready crop varieties.  Big biotech companies do not focus on small-acreage crops, which include most fruits and vegetables.  Nor do they market many classically improved varieties without including their patented engineered traits, which doesn’t help farmers who don’t want to pay the high prices biotech companies charge for them.

        We are not suggesting that genetic engineering has no role to play in developing improved crops.  But its modest contributions come with an extremely high price tag.  If we are going to meet the challenges of feeding a growing population and protecting the environment, the scientific evidence says we place our bets on technology that works – classical breeding.

Margaret Mellon is the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program. Doug Gurian-Sherman is a senior scientist in the program.

 

GM crop wing to tighten conflict of interest norms

NEW DELHI: The environment ministry’s GM crop assessment arm decided to strengthen the rules on conflict of interest in its last meeting on July 6, ensuring that members on board the genetic engineering appraisal committee do not sit on meetings where their family members are involved in projects.

The move came after TOI reported on a case in West Bengal where a GEAC member, Swapan K Datta, influenced the decision in favour of his wife Karabi Datta and got clearance for trials of GM rice to be conducted by her as faculty with the botany department of Calcutta University.

The GEAC also held a separate meeting to review the decision, this time with Datta, who is also the deputy director general at Indian Council for Agricultural Research, recusing himself.

But it decided not to withdraw the clearance given to Karabi’s project and stuck to its decision taken under Swapan Datta’s advice.

The meeting also concluded that no trials would be allowed without approval from state governments where the tests are to be carried out. The decision came after Bihar and Madhya Pradesh objected to trials being held in their states without their permission or knowledge. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had agreed with the state chief ministers on this. Recently, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee too had ordered a moratorium on all testing of GM crops till a committee set up by the state took a view on the matter.

The committee also took up the issue of alleged violations of safety norms by Monsanto during trials of GM corn in Karnataka, highlighted by Greenpeace and other civil society groups. The committee has asked the state government to carry out an inspection and send a report.

How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations

Gaëtan Vanloqueren∗, Philippe V. Baret
Earth and Life Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium
Agricultural science and technology (S&T) is under great scrutiny. Reorientation towards more holistic
approaches, including agroecology, has recently been backed by a global international assessment of
agriculture S&T for development (IAASTD). Understanding the past and current trends of agricultural
S&T is crucial if such recommendations are to be implemented. This paper shows how the concepts of
technological paradigms and trajectories can help analyse the agricultural S&T landscape and dynamics.
Genetic engineering and agroecology can be usefully analysed as two different technological paradigms,
even though they have not been equally successful in influencing agricultural research. We used a Systems
of Innovation (SI) approach to identify the determinants of innovation (the factors that influence
research choices) within agricultural research systems. The influence of each determinant is systematically
described (e.g. funding priorities, scientists’ cognitive and cultural routines etc.). As a result of their
interactions, these determinants construct a technological regime and a lock-in situation that hinders
the development of agroecological engineering. Issues linked to breaking out of this lock-in situation are
finally discussed.

Meeting with Parliamentary Standing Commit

Representation to Parliamentary Standing Committee on GM Foods

today we had a wonderful day in the meeting with parliamentary standing committee.
Not sharing in detail as the scientists were asked to be frank and promised that they will not be quoted for what they say…by the committee…

The meeting was well attended by the Scientists from Agri univ, DOR, DRR, NRCS, CRIDA, NBPGR, department of agriculture, farmers unions…
Basudev Acharya in his opening remarks itself mentioned that there is a divided opinion on GM crops and particularly food crops.

Mr. Chaturvedi, member of PSM on agril said he want specific information on
a. whether state want to go for GM not want to go for GM or take a cautious approach till the finding prooves it completely safe.
b. what is the opinion and plan of the govt on farm saved seed as the dependency and monopoly of MNCs is increasing
c. GM foods seems to have been violating consumers choices…
d. how and who will be made accountable in case of contamination fo traditional germplasm
e. what is the relation between bt cotton and farmers suicides.

few others asked
a. why there were animal deaths and what does research has to say?
b. is it true that gm crops requires more fertilisers?
c. do u have any data on reduction in pesticide use?
d. there is a big war between traditional technologies and modern technologies and how they are contributing to improvising traditional practices..
e. is any district biosafety committee is functional? when senior people like u are not able to understand and test the GM related problems how equipped are these committees to handle the issues
f. when 64 % of farmers are small and marginal is there any relevance for these technologies…

from univ there was a presentation by univ…which was a bland presentation….saying we can do wonders and there are some problems like pest resistance, resurgence etc. but she focused more on the process than on any data …and basudev commented saying from ur presentation i can only understand that the problems are more than advantages.

on the soil fertility the univ said it wont need more fertilisers and their data shows that the nitrogen in plants is more…dont no why…
i quoted their farm almanac recommending 15 % more fertiliser.
one member said he has seen farmers complaining that second crop being effected…and specifically can u answer whether farmers are using more or ru recommending more…he could nt say anything…the committee said..looks like u havent done any research…without which we cannot come to any conclusion of its benefits…

on the animal deaths…again univ said animals cannot die…hukum dev narayan said this is unfair…and if animals have not died because of bt cotton…u should explore what are the reasons…my personal experience shows that abortions and deaths in animals have increased in bt cotton growing areas….and have u done any study on the impact of the cotton cake on the cattle milk and human health and there was no response….

MA Khan, MP from AP said…the monopoly of monsanto is increasing and no one is able to stand…AP govt which could fight till recently has lost out this year…and if this happens with food crops the situation would be worse.

on pesticide use the scientists said it is coming down but the report submitted to the committee was otherwise.

the committee was serious on illegal spread of HT cotton…commissioner said it was only field trials and they have uprooted them…one of the member had data from the state govt report to GEAC saying 20,000 acres of HT cotton district wise…and said u cannot say it is a trial and u failed to book the culprit…why farmers should bear the burden?

Farmers Federation representative… was as usual saying when my mobile ur mike and all our vehicles are from MNC why should farmers be worried about MNC seed and it is not farmers responsibility’s for national food security and farmers want technology. Mr. chaturvedi…said we appreciate ur concern and u have freedom to say what u want and we understand it is our responsibility to safeguard farmers and consumers interests and thats why we are hear…and food is different from cell phones……

among the audience…saraswati could get time for few questions…two farmers from guntur spoke well …saying they need technology but not problems…bt cotton had several problems and every one is irresponsible.

i could get good time to intervene almost on every point to counter what univ was saying….and in the end..basudev gave good time…
we submitted a written memorandum attached…..

The committee asked to send any further information we want to share with them