Genetically modified crops: India

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State of BT crops in India; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, March 7, 2016

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

Genetically modified crops. Million hectares sown in China, India and Pakistan in 2015.
The Times of India


Approval for commercial cultivation of GM food crops

2017/ Mustard

Vishwa Mohan, Mustard set to be India's 1st GM food, gets regulator nod , May 12, 2017: The Times of India

Road Cleared For Govt, But It May Await SC Verdict

India is one step away from commercial production of its first GM food crop with the central biotech regulator on Thursday granting clearance for the commercial cultivation of genetically modified mustard that will now be considered for final approval by the Centre.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) recommended that the environment ministry approve GM mustard. The decision on commercial cultivation of this transgenic variety of oilseed is now on environment minister Anil Dave's table who can accept the recommendation or could await a Supreme Court ruling in a ca se challenging cultivation of GM mustard and open field trials of any transgenic crop. Indications are that the minister could await the apex court's order before taking his call, with the ministry ha ving informed the SC that the government will go ahead on GM mustard only after getting its nod. But the GEAC decision is significant as GM mustard has passed scientific evaluation and a recent Niti Aayog paper also batted for it despite reservations of saffron groups like Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

In fact, even on Tuesday , the SJM issued a statement saying it is against commercial use of any genetically modified crops, including GM mustard, and will request the government not to allow commercial cultivation.The SJM has joined forces with activists and organisations opposed to GM crops. Activist Aruna Rodrigues had last year filed a pet ition in the Supreme Court, seeking a stay on commercial release of GM mustard crop. She urged the court to prohibit open field trials and commercial release of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops, including HT Mustard DMH 11 and its parent linesvariants as recommended by the technical expert committee (TEC) report of the apex court.

The GM mustard, devel oped by a Delhi University institution, is only the second food crop cleared by the central regulator. The GEAC had earlier in 2010 cleared Bt brinjal but the decision was not accepted by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Currently , only Bt cotton is commercially cultivated in the country .

2017/ grown on 8.5L ha; illegal market: Rs 472cr

Snehlata Shrivastav, GM cotton grown in 8.5L ha, illegal mkt is Rs 472cr, October 18, 2017: The Times of India

Despite Maharashtra agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar's call for a ban on the herbicide tolerant (HT) genetically modified cotton, a Delhi-based South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC) has claimed that the illegal market is worth about Rs 472 crore.

As per the SABC, about 35 lakh packets of illegal HT cotton hybrids were sold this kharif season across Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra, Odisha, Karnataka and MP . Around 8.5 lakh hectares, or 7% of the total cotton growing area in the country , is under the illegal HT cultivation.

SABC founder and president CD Mayee told TOI that he had obtained some HT cotton samples about four years ago and got them tested for the presence of glyphospate toler ant gene. The SABC then wrote to the Centre's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) about the illegal sale and cultivation of HT cotton on September 5 this year. Through it, the body appealed to the central and the state governments to serious ly look into the issue of rampant illegal and spurious sale of HT cotton, locate and destroy the illegal hybrid seeds production plots. Though HT cotton is being grown in Brazil, USA and some countries from 1998, it has not been technically and officially approved in India so far.

SABC is a non-profit organisation backed by top scientists. Mayee was earlier Union agriculture commissioner and chairman of Agriculture Scientists Recruitment Board. Following Mayee's letter, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change had written to the Maharashtra principal secretary (agriculture) Bijay Kumar to take action. Kumar wrote back to GEAC on September 29, that it was unfortunate the MoEF and ICAR are in “a fruitless communication with each other on such a serious matter“. “Communication received from you does not mention any SOPs for taking any action,“ the letter read.

Sources said Bt cotton was also brought in illegally in Gujarat in 2000 and later distributed in the entire country . Officially Bt came to India only two years later. Then, too, the state and central governments had sat over reports.

Extent of usage of GM crops

India and the world, 2010-16

See graphic, 'GM crops in India and the world; A timeline of GM crops in India, 2010 onwards'

GM crops in India and the world; A timeline of GM crops in India, 2010 onwards…; The Times of India, May 17, 2017

`In Gujarat, GM soyabean being cultivated illegally'

Snehlata Shrivastav, `In Gujarat, GM soybean being cultivated illegally', November 8, 2017: The Times of India

Farmers in Gujarat's Aravalli distirct have been illegally growing genetically modified (GM) soybean, the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), said. BKS general secretary Badrinarayan Chaudhary told TOI that a herbicide tolerant (HT) variety is being cultivated in Gujarat without any clearance from the Centre.

“The HT soybean was cultivated this year in three villages in the Modasa taluka in Aravalli district in Gujarat. The farmers produced 3 tonnes of soybean. Someone had given the farmers a buyback guarantee at four times the price of the soybean in the market,“ said Chaudhary , who had organised a press meet in Delhi.

Chaudhary said BKS informed the agriculture department, which subsequently seized seed samples on Diwali. Test results by government lab were found to be positive for the Roundup (glyphosate -the herbicide) of Monsanto, an MNC which manufactures GM seeds.

Kishor Tiwari, chairman of the Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swablamban Mission (VNSS), Maharashtra's task force on farm crisis, told TOI that some farmers have been cultivating HT soybean for the last three years in Yavatmal belt but authorities have not been able to collect seed samples.

2019/ Bt Brinjal cultivated illegally in Fatehabad, Haryana

Vishwa Mohan, May 11, 2019: The Times of India

Plant genetic test results of a central government lab have confirmed illegal cultivation of genetically modified (GM) brinjal or Bt Brinjal in Fatehabad district of Haryana, making it the first such case in India where a farmer could lay hands on transgenic seeds of any food crop whose cultivation is not allowed in the country. India currently allows commercial production of only Bt Cotton —a non-food GM crop.

“The lab of National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) shared its report with us on Friday. We had sent two samples on April 29. The samples have tested positive, confirming cultivation of Bt Brinjal in a farm at Ratia block in Fatehabad,” said a Haryana government official. The official, on request of anonymity, told TOI the report has been forwarded to a panel, headed by the chief secretary, which would take a call on how to weed out standing plants in nearly half an acre of land and initiate a probe as to how the farmer, Jeevan Saini, procured transgenic variety of seeds.

The probe will examine all angles, including a suspicion of seeds being smuggled from Bangladesh, where cultivation of Bt Brinjal is allowed.

Activists: Transgenic crops to affect health, biodiversity

Many farm activists fear that the smuggling route could allegedly be used by vested interests to introduce GM food crop in India. Activists are against transgenic crops, apprehending their hazardous impact on human health, environment and overall biodiversity.

Though India’s biotech regulator — Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — had found this transgenic variety safe and even given its nod for cultivation in October 2009, the then government had placed an indefinite moratorium on its commercial release in February 2010. It is learnt that the probe will reach all relevant institutions and the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Pvt Ltd (Mahyco), which developed the Bt Brinjal variety and conducted its trials in India before moratorium on its commercial release. After the moratorium on release of Bt Brinjal for cultivation in India in 2010, GEAC had recommended depositing of Bt Brinjal seeds at the NBPGR — an institution of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) under the agriculture ministry. It was also mentioned that Mahyco will bear the full cost of storage and security till the moratorium is lifted.

“To this effect, a tripartite agreement was drafted between the Union environment ministry, Mahyco and NBPGR. However, the agreement did not materialise and not a single seed of Bt Brinjal, developed by Mahyco, was deposited with NBPGR,” said Kuldeep Singh, director of NBPGR. Singh told TOI that since not a single seed was deposited with the ICAR institution, there was no question of such seeds being leaked out from the bureau. He said his statement was based on “actual facts and records available at NBPGR”. The issue of illegal cultivation of Bt Brinjal in Haryana was for the first time brought out in open by a group of farm activists of the Coalition for a GMFree India and experts from other NGOs

Impact on farmers

How Uttarakhand farmers are battling the GM seed onslaught

Jayashree Nandi, Farmers resist GM tide with local seeds, The Times of India, May 31, 2017

How traditional farmers, especially in Uttarakhand, obtain seeds.
The seed exchange system; Jayashree Nandi, Farmers resist GM tide with local seeds, The Times of India, May 31, 2017

But Fear That Promised Yield Of GM Mustard Could Give Corporations An Upper Hand

Upli Nagni, Tehri-Garh wal: The words `seed capital' take on a whole new meaning in the hills of Uttarakhand. Far from the networks of seed corporations, farmers here still do agriculture the traditional way where they are not only cultivators but also field scientists and seed tinkerers.

Most farmers in the Garhwal and Kumaon hills have never bought commercial seeds. They cultivate their own and share them with other farmers, who repay with their own local seeds or return double the quantity of the borrowed variety from the next crop. This system has preserved seed diversity and quality for centuries.

“You will not be able to count the number of seed varieties we have in our village. People come here to borrow and we give away happily ,“ said Pushpa Devi, who was tilling the soil for planting vegetables in Jhardargaon near Upli Nagni with a younger woman farmer named Hima Meher.Their village has about 350 varieties of paddy , including dryland ones, 32 of wheat, 220 of kidney beans or rajma, 12 of millets (63 sub-varieties of foxtail millet alone), and 5-7 varieties of each vegetable that grows here.

Jhardargaon is home to farmer leader Vijay Jhardari, who leads the Beej Bachao Andolan for preserving traditional seed varieties. He and other farmer leaders are now worried as the promised yields of the newly-approved genetically modified (GM) mustard could give the corporations an upper hand in their David-and-Goliath fight.

“The hills of Uttarakhand have a culture of mixed cropping. Just like you can't eat the same food every day , the soil doesn't like a monopoly of crops. It wants variety . The crop cycle here is what suits the climate and gives the nutrients to soil and people,“ said Jhardari, adding, “GM technology will ruin the Himalayan ecology .“

Jhardari is a veteran of Chipko Andolan that aimed to save trees in the 1970s. He started Beej Bachao with other Chipko members.When TOI met him, he was preparing for a festival to commemorate the tree-hugging movement. “We had a slogan for our seed movement: kya hai jungle ke upkar? Mitti, pani aur byar (what are the benefits of forests? Soil, water and air).“

He opposes the intellectual property rights (IPR) corporations claim on their seeds. “I would say all patents on seeds should be banned.Seed is a common resource for farmers. If farmers lose access to their seeds, they will lose their independence and dignity .“ Satish Dhar, another activist and Dehradunbased farmer, agreed with Jhardari: “Nature tries to create a seed suited to an area's geography . Local seeds are in harmony with local en vironment,“ he said, adding, “Today , seed accounts for 1015% of a crop's cost.

Farmers can't afford it. It comes with a package of herbicides and crop insurance.It's a nexus and the farmer gets trapped.“

Beej Bachao members distrust not only corporations but also agricultural universities and national institutions. “I am not in favour of giving my seeds to the National Gene Bank. Why should we?

Will they return those varieties to us when we need them? Will they promise not to share them with companies? I know that they gave some of our millet varieties to leading biscuit companies,“ said Dhar.

Jhardari said G B Pant University of Technology and Agriculture, and Vivekananda Parvatiya Krishi Anusandhan Sanstha in Almora had modified their seed varieties but “the new varieties they give haven't worked for most, so people avoid them.“

Like Jhardargaon in Garhwal, Gallakot in the state's Kumaon region is also famous for seed diversity . A steep hike within sight of Ranikhet hills brings you to the farm of Dayanand Joshi (75) who grows several varieties of mandwa, jhungar or koni (millets), amaranth, a number of dals and vegetables. In 1962, he bred a radish variety that can weigh up to 15kg and tastes better than the commercial variety .

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