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Large-scale Introduction of GM Crops Raises Concern
R. Krishna Kumar
The Hindu,
June 25 2008

*'No safety norms in place; authorities not aware of biosafety measures'
*'Government trying to change the law to facilitate industry'
MYSORE: Large-scale introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops such as Bt cotton in and around H.D. Kote taluk has raised concern about the absence of safety norms and ignorance of biosafety measures that should be in place.
What has upset the farming community is that the Government recently tried to push certain changes to the law without involving farmers when it tried to hold a regional consultation on the proposed national biotechnology regulatory authority. This was opposed by organic farmers who disrupted the proceedings, following which the regional consultation was cancelled.
Vivek Cariappa, an organic farmer and member of the Empowered Committee on Organic Farming, Government of Karnataka, told The Hindu that the authorities tried to hold the regional consultation without involving farmers.
Following this, farmers have taken up the issue with the Government to highlight the perils of large-scale introduction of GM crops without safety measures in place.
Even officials were unaware of the Biosafety Decision Making Structure (BDMS) in India, which, as per law, had to be headed by the Deputy Commissioner at the district level, Mr. Cariappa said.
According to the BDMS, the responsibility of the district-level committee is to "monitor safety regulations, investigate compliance with recombinant DNA guidelines and report violations to higher authorities, and act as a nodal agency at the district level to assess damage, if any, from the release of genetically modified crops and take on-site control measures".
"The subject is so technical that the Deputy Commissioner or other officials are unaware of their role, and it is important and complex an issue to be left to the discretion of the IAS officers alone," he said.
What has peeved a section of farmers is that the Government is trying to change the law to facilitate the industry, without trying to fix any accountability, according to Mr. Cariappa.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cariappa has questioned the Government as to why seeds of non-Bt variety cotton have been pulled out of market when the profits are high in non-Bt variety seeds.
Cotton cultivation
It is reckoned that 40,000 hectares of land comes under cotton cultivation in H.D. Kote and a majority of the farmers are forced to use the Bt variety seeds.
Raising apprehensions of proliferation of Bt variety, Mr. Cariappa pointed out that according to the protocol, an area one-fourth of the size of the land planted with Bt cotton should be provided with non-Bt variety in the surrounding land as buffer or refuge area, and the seed companies were required to provide the non-Bt variety seeds. But this was being violated by the seed companies and the farmers were using the neighbouring fields as refuge area, he said.
This would have a serious impact on the farmers as incidence of pests and the increased use of pesticides would increase the economic burden on them and also create a health hazard.
The farmers have drawn the attention of the Government to the implications of the patent law that governs private companies providing GM seeds.