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FORWARDED (India): Safeguard Agrarian Sector and Rich Biodiversity

Although the commercial introduction of Bt Brinjal was halted on 10 February 2010, the threat of genetically modified (GM) crops is imminent to return, as Prithviraj Chavan, the Minister of Science and Technology, is proposing the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill which will lower the threshold of introduction of GM crops.

Forwarded Hunger Alert: AHRC-FHA-001-2010

1 April 2010
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INDIA: Safeguard Agrarian Sector and Rich Biodiversity

ISSUES: Right to food; food sovereignty; agriculture
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to forward an appeal from the Asian Centre for the Progress of People (ACPP) – Hotline Asia.

SUMMARY:

Although the commercial introduction of Bt Brinjal was halted on 10 February 2010, the threat of genetically modified (GM) crops is imminent to return, as Prithviraj Chavan, the Minister of Science and Technology, is proposing the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill which will lower the threshold of introduction of GM crops.

The Bill includes a draconian clause that whoever, without any evidence or scientific record, misleads the public about the safety of the genetically modified organisms (GMOs), shall be punished with imprisonment or fine. In other words, civilians who express opinion different from the BRAI or criticism on GMOs will be in danger of punishment, while the BRAI has absolute power to decide which kind of information could be disclosed to public, depriving civilians’ right to information on food. Moreover, the BRAI under the Bill was proposed to be under the Minister of Science and Technology as the sole authority responsible for the regulatory system of GMOs, overriding the decision made by state governments. Apparently, it seeks to centralize the authority of promotion and regulation under the Minister of Science and Technology in order to stimulate investment in biotechnology, rather than to safeguard health and environment of the country. If passed, the Bill will open the floodgate for about 60 other kinds of GMOs.

BACKGROUND:

Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal (eggplant), also known as Bt Brinjal, is a genetically modified brinjal developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) where 26% of the stocks are held by a multinational company Monsanto. Although Mahyco claimed that Bt Brinjal is insect-resistant and able to boost the agriculture sector, the experience of genetic modified (GM) crops growing proves otherwise.

Why Oppose Bt Brinjal and GMOs
According to the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development 2008, there is no evidence that GM crops increase yield; on contrary, agro-ecological friendly practices have shown result of great increase in yield.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will not just make the medical function of native species ineffective and toxic, but will also wipe out the native varieties. Once the environment is polluted genetically by GMOs, it will become exclusive to native species and will not be able to recover. Gradually, agriculture will become over-dependent on GM grains and thus food system will be taken over by transnational corporations which monopolize the GMOs production. Moreover, farmers who have started growing the expensive GM crops were unable to stop. This sad lesson has been learnt through Bt Cotton growing in India. Vidarbha, where Bt Cotton is initially grown, has higher rates of farmer suicide than the other part of the country (Please refer to UA060815(6)), as they have suffered the irreversible effects of Bt Cotton and are forced to buy the expensive pesticides and seeds from the monopolies.

There is greater risk for Bt Brinjal than Bt Cotton, as it is a food crop which can directly affect human body. There is growing evidence that GM food causes health problems, such as allergies and negative influence on immune system, organs and metabolism.

Resistance to Bt Brinjal
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee gave permission to release Bt Brinjal commercially, on 14 October 2009, even though no adequate safety tests were done. Civil society vocally protested its commercial introduction. In addition, 13 governments of state, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, have opposed introduction of Bt Brinjal, to safeguard the health of people and natural environment. Facing strong opposition, on 10 February 2010, Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and Forest, announced the halt of Bt Brinjal’s commercial introduction until independent and adequate scientific studies were established.

The Draconian BRAI Bill
However, it is imminent that the Minister of Science and Technology, Prithviraj Chavan, is going to pave way for Bt Brinjal and all GMOs by proposing the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill.

According to the Bill, the BRAI will be set up as the sole body responsible for the regulatory system, including research, transport, import, manufacture and use, of GMOs throughout the country. In the other words, the BRAI bypasses Right to Information (RTI) and overrides the authority of state governments, as well as the Biological Diversity Act and the Environment Protection Act.

Moreover, the BRAI is proposed to be under the Ministry of Science and Technology, which is already responsible for promotion of GM crops. Therefore, the BRAI will be only an agency to stimulate investment in biotechnology, rather than to uphold the standard of GMOs regulation in the country.

The Bill also includes draconian clauses to stifle anti-GMOs opinion, proposing that whoever misleads the public about safety of GMOs or conducts clinical trials on GMOs shall be punished with imprisonment. Dr. P.M. Bhargava, founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, commented on the Bill: “There is no penalty if someone promotes GMOs without safety tests but there is a penalty if someone wishes to inform the public about the hazards of GMOs. Besides, who is to decide on ‘misleading’ and on what basis?”

Sources
Green Peace, Frontline, GM Watch, thaindian.com, scidev.net, International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development Conference 2008 (Report by UN–World Bank).

For more information, please contact:

Linda Noche
Coordinator, Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples
1/F, 52, Princess Margaret Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2714 5123
Fax: +852 2712 0152
E-mail: hotline@acpp.org
Website: www.acpp.org

Please respond before 30 April 2010.

ACTION REQUESTED:
It is believed that the BRAI Bill is to be tabled in the upcoming Parliament sittings. Please write polite letters as soon as possible to express your concern and request the authorities to:

1. avert any measures which may degrade the standard of GMO regulation, especially the BRAI Bill, and
2. safeguard food security and civilians’ right to information on food.

SAMPLE LETTER:

This is a sample letter for your reference. Please try to write it on your own and avoid typing ‘cc ACPP’ on any part of your letter but send copies to us separately for monitoring purpose.

We are writing with grave concern about the introduction of Bt Brinjal and the draconian Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill.

The proposed BRAI Bill is apparently an excuse to lower the threshold of introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops and fails to safeguard health of people and environment from harm of the genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It also seeks to imprison whoever criticises GM crops, depriving civilians’ right to information and informed choices over food they eat. If passed, the Bill will open gate for cultivation of not only Bt Brinjal but also about 60 kinds of GMOs.

Referring to the experience of GM crops growing, transnational corporations which monopolize the GMOs production are likely to control the agriculture and food system and farmers will be denied of their rights to save, exchange and replant seeds. Actually, this sad lesson has been already learnt through mass suicides of farmers growing Bt Cotton in India. Moreover, scientific research has pointed out that GM crops are harmful to natural environment and human health. The approval of the BRAI Bill will definitely cause the lapse of public confidence on food imported from India.

Please be reminded that India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992 and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a supplement to CBD, which calls for adequate protection of biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and human health from the risk of GMOs and public’s full accessibility to information on GMOs.

Therefore, we strongly urge you to:
- avert any measures which may degrade the standard of GMO regulation, especially the BRAI Bill; and
- safeguard food security and civilians’ right to information on food.

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
7 Race Course Road,
New Delhi 110001, INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23015603/ +91 11 23019545/ +91 11 23016857/+ 91 11 23014255
Email: manmohan@sansad.nic.in

2. Ms. Sonia Gandhi
Chairperson, United Progressive Alliance
10 Janpath
New Delhi 110011, INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23018651/ +91 11 23017047

3. Justice Govind Prasad Mathur
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110001, INDIA
Fax + 91 11 2338 4863
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

4. Mr. Jairam Ramesh
Minister for Environment & Forests,
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road,
New Delhi 110003, INDIA
Fax: +91 11 24362222
E-mail: envisect@nic.in

5. Prithviraj Chavan
Minister for Science and Technology,
11 Race Course Road,
New Delhi 110001, INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23017839
E-mail: dstinfo@nic.in

6.Diplomatic representatives of India in your countries.

Hotline is a service for Justice and Peace irrespective of class, race, religion, culture and political affiliation. We issue "Urgent appeals" (UAs) on request from our network. As you receive UAs free, we welcome contributions payable to: Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples Ltd.
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ACPP gratefully acknowledges the support of Cordaid, Mensen met een Missie, Misereor, MISSIO, OBOS and TFD for Hotline Asia.
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Thank you.

Hunger Alert Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Posted on 2010-04-01
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