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Illegal Herbicide Tolerant (Gm) Cotton Propagated By Farmers In Gujarat Abject Failure In Regulation By The Geac

The Indian Regulator was formally intimated by the undersigned [Aruna Rodrigues, the chief petitioner in the PIL on GM crops that's been bfore the Supreme Court] on the 26th June 09 that in Gujarat, Herbicide Tolerant (HT) cotton is being illegally propagated, seeded and widely distributed for the 3rd consecutive year by farmers.

Since India only has a single kind of GM crop approved for commercialisation, i.e. Bt cotton, this HT cotton is therefore, ILLEGAL and the implications are very serious. HT cotton is genetically engineered to be tolerant to, say, the herbicide glyphosate, (which is Monsanto's Roundup herbicide; other companies like Bayer have their own herbicide).

The product is called WEEDGARD and is advertised to be an HT cotton seed; it also makes claims to have 2 stacked genes for pest resistance ie two Bt proteins. Preliminary strip tests have returned positive results for a herbicide tolerant (GM) seed.

The letter-document to the GEAC is attached. There are also photos. It essentially recommends a course of action to be implemented at their next Meeting on the 8th July 09, in order to identify the nature of these seeds and test them at internationally accredited laboratories in the US/Europe, because India does not have such test facilities. The GEAC has not responded to this letter.

Implications of illegal HT cotton

*This situation proves that we have no effective regulation of GM crops in India, with the Regulators' essentially promoting them. Therefore, unless there is a fundamental change, we face a fundamental, irreversible crisis with far-reaching consequences. The critical issue that faces us is this: if savvy farmers are propagating their own HT cotton seed in this case, the next step will be a GM food crop. Who will stop them? What then happens to India's environmental and food security; the health of all Indians and our genetic seed stock?

*In December, the Gujarat Government is reported to have confiscated HT cotton from ginning mills. Where is the action both from the Centre and the State Government even at this late stage?

*Herbicide Tolerant crops present very serious environmental and health risks, which are well documented in the scientific literature. Argentina, the US, Canada and Brazil are conspicuous and active examples of uncontrollable resistant super weeds due to HT cotton and HT soy, which are proving impossible to eradicate without resorting to heavy additional applications of herbicide. The result is greater herbicide use & toxic farming. Increasingly, scientific studies by independent scientists are showing significant health problems with lab rats being fed on these products: toxic reactions, abortions, fertility problems and allergies.

*The main objective of an herbicide tolerant crop is to reduce labour inputs on a farm. But in India, we understand clearly and unambiguously that we need to boost rural employment. The current budget recognising this addresses it through an enhanced budget allocation of 144% for NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act/Scheme). These HT crops do not make sense for India. Is the Regulator the GEAC in promoting HT crops, (because they are being increasingly field tested), seriously suggesting that we should pay every person, man or woman who loses his job on a farm growing HT crops, through the NREGA's compensating scheme? Thus, the GEAC is effectively asking the Exchequer to pay Monsanto to cause unemployment and boost its own herbicide use on farms for higher profit. What a Sell-out.

Aruna Rodrigues
sss7th July 2009