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Protect India's biosafety, farm unions tell GEAC

By Staff
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New Delhi, May 2 (UNI) Prominent farmers' unions and NGOs working on environmental and sustainable agriculture issues have written to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to act immediately to protect India's biosafety from GM technology in agriculture.

The GEAC, which has received complaints nearly four months ago on serious irregularities in field trials of GM crops including GM food crops (Bt Rice, Bt Brinjal, Bt Okra etc.), has failed to investigate the matter properly and fix accountability so far, they said.

On the other hand, the Department of Biotechnology as well as the GEAC are giving more and more permissions for trials in farmers' fields, they pointed out.

Writing to the GEAC Chairperson Bir Singh Parsheera, the Bhartiya Kisan Union, the Shetkari Sangathan, the Karnataka Rajya Rytha Sangha, the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam, among others, said that despite repeated ''evidence'' put in front of it, the GEAC had not yet done anything concrete to protect India's biosafety in this regard.

Consumer Coordination Council, a federation of more than 60 consumer organisations, also supported the demands put to the GEAC, expressing concern about the food and feed chain getting contaminated in the country through these trials.

India continues to approve more and more GM crops either for research in farmers' fields or for commercial cultivation (more hybrids of GM cotton were recently approved by the GEAC) without ensuring that the most basic institutional mechanisms (like the State Biotechnology Coordination Councils or the District Level Committees) are in place, they said, calling it a ''clear violation'' of the Environment Protection Act.

In 2005, numerous trials of brinjal, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, groundnut, mustard, okra, pigeonpea, rice and tomato belonging to 17 different agencies were allowed by the Department of Biotechnology for trials in open field conditions ''despite the fact that inadequate biosafety regime and improper monitoring are being showcased again and again, right from 1998'', they added.

The signatories to the letter, including noted agriculture policy analyst Devinder Sharma, Greenpeace India, Thanal, Sunray Harvesters and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture demanded that liability be fixed for all biosafety violations witnessed so far.

They further demanded that no new approvals be provided for any field trials of GM crops until India's biosafety regime is completely re-looked at. ''This should include the permissions provided by the Department of Biotechnology for trials in farmers' fields, often without the involvement of state governments and with lax or even absent monitoring''.

''There are many cases where the farmer is not even aware of what is being tried out in his/her field and there is routine contamination of the food/feed chain from such trials of untested and uncleared products. India is just one step away from serious, irreversible contamination from such trials'', the experts said.

UNI VN MSJ KN1450

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