Sub: Gross Violation of Biosafety Protocols w.r.t GM Food Crop by Mahyco.
We have been informing you regularly about the illegal cultivation of Bt Cotton in the districts of Raygada, Kalhandi and Bolangir in Orissa. The Bt Cotton seed companies have flouted all rules, ignored both Central and State Government directives and have, with full complicity, allowed their dealers to sell Bt Cotton seeds to farmers in those districts. They have acted to increase their profits without worrying about the contamination aspect of Genetically Modified (GM) crops that must have affected all the cotton crop in the area. This is akin to an act of Bio-terrorism and a direct affront to the Central and State Government and the people of Orissa. The General Manager of Mahyco has conceded on an open platform, before high ranking agriculture officials of the State, that it was a wrong committed, and committed intentionally.
Now it has come to our notice that this Company that is going all out to propagate GM crops in India has been involved in yet another serious irregularity involving this time an essential food crop that the people of eastern region cannot do without; rice. In the neignbouring State of Jharkhand, this Company has carried out illegal field trials of GM Bt Rice in a farmers field in the district of Ranchi. Not only was the farmer not informed, scientists were kept in the dark and the DBT given incorrect information regarding the fate of the trial and disposal of the produce.
Ms Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, a genetic scientist herself, has recorded this entire episode and submitted a Press Release that is enclosed for your kind perusal.
We would request your goodself to take note of the activities of this Company which obviously does not think twice before endangering the lives of farmers, consumers and cattle let alone take care of environmental and ecological issues. This is a far cry from the sleekly mounted publicity campaigns and reports of this Company that seek to convey to the scientists and policy makers that it is an ethical entity.
Our reports may kindly be taken seriously and the points raised by us considered before the State Government goes ahead and introduces the unproven, untested and likely toxic Bt crops into the State based upon results of trials submitted by this Company which has acted against the interests of the State and its people many a times. Not only will the farmers be affected, as they have been in other States, the citizen will be compelled to take GM contaminated food for ever as the process is irreversible.
This Company is also planning to introduce Bt Brinjal/Bt Rice and other food crops into our State.
Dr Sahai demands in the enclosed Press Release, "This (rice) is a crop, which is crucial to global food security. The Mahyco seed company must be fined heavily for jeopardizing this precious genetic wealth and putting at risk the future food security of the country and the livelihoods of countless farmers dependent on rice cultivation. In addition, given the grave nature of Mahyco's violation , the company should be barred from testing any transgenic crops for at least five years. Any further violations by Mahyco should lead to the suspension of its license."
Dr Suman Sahai said that the Mahyco seed Company has been conducting field trials in Jharkhand, flouting every prescribed regulation and condition laid down for field trials of GM crops. Gene Campaign staff made visits to the site of the Bt rice trial and spoke to the farmers in Saparong to get details of how the trial was conducted. The details are as follows:
Bt Rice Hybrids were tested in Village Saparong; Block Ratu; Dist Ranchi. 1. Bt Rice hybrids belonging Mahyco seed company were planted on approx 1 acre of upland ( top most fields) Planting was done on 29 March 2008, the crop was harvested on 11 August 2008. This is not the rice season in Jharkhand, which is June to December. There are almost no rice pests at this time, so it is not possible to test the efficacy of the Bt induced resistance to pests.
2. Farmers had no idea what was planted in the Trial Field, they had never heard of Bt Rice of GM Rice. The company told them nothing.
3. Farmers said that Mahyco staff came to observe the trials and sprayed the crop (farmers did not know with what )
4. There was no physical isolation of the Trial Field. No containment of the crop was done, (mandated by law to prevent mixing of seeds/grains from GM crop fields) , no fencing, no netting of any kind was provided. The GM Rice trials were held in the open in the middle of farmer's fields.
5. The Trial Field is located in the midst of the agricultural area and is surrounded by farmers fields on all sides. The boundaries of neighboring fields are close together and it is impossible to prevent contamination of rice in other fields . ( see fotos).
6. People walked regularly through the trial fields to other fields, carrying material from the trial fields to the fields around.
7. Since the trials were done on upland fields, the water flowed from there to lower fields, carrying soil, seeds etc to fields below.
8. The trails were supervised by just one local farmer who was appointed as caretaker. Nobody from the company came to supervise the harvest and disposal of the crop residue.
The caretaker-farmer was asked by the company to harvest the crop on his own. He threshed the crop in the open using a stick ( since volumes were small) , causing the seeds to fly out to neighboring areas.
9. Scientists of Birsa Agricultural University in Ranchi had refused to monitor the rice trials since they were not involved from the beginning and were asked to monitor the fields at a late stage. Senior scientists said that they were not informed about the details of how the trials were conducted. Scientists said that there was no way of knowing whether Mahyco was spraying its trial fields to show that pests were controlled in the Bt rice.
10. The harvested seed has not been secured in any way. The Mahyco staff has not taken it away even now. The harvested seed is kept in cloth bags in the caretaker's house. (see fotos) The straw has been fed to his animals .
11. In its letter to the DBT, Mahyco has stated that the rice trials have been harvested and everything post harvest has been burnt. This is a lie. After the harvest, the straw or crop/ field residue was not burnt.
12. Post harvest crop stumps have been left standing in the Trial Field. These have thrown up tillers and seed has already set in the tillers. ( see fotos) . These rogue Bt rice seeds will start the process of contaminating all further rice crops in the region as they multiply in each crop cycle.
13.The caretaker/farmer will keep the harvest of the paddy grown from the tillers arising from the Bt rice Trial Field, ensuring widespread contamination. The Bt Rice has not undergone safety tests so no one knows whether it is safe to eat.
14. Nobody from the company has come back after 11 August to either collect the harvested Bt seed or see the state of the field post harvest.
Dr Suman Sahai said that Gene Campaign was appalled at the manner in which Mahyco, violating every rule in the book, has conducted the field trials of Bt rice hybrids. Gene Campaign has spent the last several years, collecting and conserving the traditional rice varieties of these regions in village level Seed Banks , in order to save the genetic wealth and diversity of rice and return it to farmers fields. The Gene Campaign Banks now have about 1900 samples of traditional rice and roughly 600 samples of other traditional crop varieties to save and conserve the crop genetic diversity getting lost from farmer's fields.
The planting of genetically engineered rice in Jharkhand is of special concern since Jharkhand along with Orissa and Chattisgarh is considered the birthplace of rice and the maximum genetic diversity of rice is found here. Any genetic contamination from foreign genes like the Bt gene has the potential to have very detrimental effects on the genetic diversity of rice.
Apart from that , careless field trials like the Mahyco trial can result in GM rice entering the market and this can contaminate rice consignments meant for export. This will spell doom for rice exporters who will lose their markets in Europe, Middle East and Africa, all regions that are opposed to GM crops and foods and do not allow it in their markets.
A few years ago, we saw in the US, that rice from a single field trial , conducted by the Ventria company, found its way into US rice exports and was detected in places as far apart as Germany and Japan. This necessitated the recall of all US rice, costing the US several million dollars. It also led to the crash of the rice markets that had been carefully built up by the US.
Gene Campaign is particularly distressed at the callous negligence of the Mahyco company in a backward tribal region where rice is the staple crop and where the genetic wealth of rice has been created and nurtured over generations by the Adivasis here. Rice is everything to them, their food, their drink, the very basis of their cultural and religious identity. The rice germplasm of this region is a national heritage and must be safeguarded. It cannot be opened up to the greed and exploitation of unscrupulous companies.
In recognition of the both the scientific and trade aspects of rice and the threat of GM rice to these interests, the Agbiotechnology task force chaired by Dr MS Swaminathan, had made explicit recommendations that GM rice should be kept far away from centers of rice diversity and that crops in which India had a trading interest, like rice and soybean, should not be genetically engineered, for fear of losing assured markets.
Gene Campaign demands that all field trials of rice must be stopped immediately. This is a crop, which is crucial to global food security. The Mahyco seed company must be fined heavily for jeopardizing this precious genetic wealth and putting at risk the future food security of the country and the livelihoods of countless farmers dependent on rice cultivation. In addition, given the grave nature of Mahyco's violation , the company should be barred from testing any transgenic crops for at least five years. Any further violations by Mahyco should lead to the suspension of its license. Dr.. Suman Sahai
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