A farmer works on his cotton field in Warangal district, Telangana. Nearly a million farmers have planted “unapproved” illegal herbicide tolerant cotton during 2017-18, the Indian Express reported on September 28, 2017.
“Information related to the cultivation of herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton was brought to the notice of GEAC very recently,” according to Amita Prasad, chairperson, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), in an interview published in The Financial Express on October 10, 2017.
Prasad is wrong since the minutes of the GEAC meeting held on December 9, 2009, available here, mention “representation from Monsanto and Aruna Rodrigues on the illegal sale of HT cotton seeds in the country”.
Nearly a million farmers have planted “unapproved” illegal HT cotton during 2017-18, the Indian Express reported on September 28, 2017. The report also indicates that the estimated production has grown four-fold over the last two years.
Source: South Asia Biotechnology Centre
The GEAC is “responsible for approval of proposals relating to release of genetically engineering organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials”, as per the guidelines of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change.
Herbicide-tolerant crops are designed to tolerate specific broad-spectrum herbicides that kill surrounding weeds but do not kill the crop on which the herbicide is sprayed. Weed resistance to glyphosate, the largest selling herbicide being used in illegal HT cotton, has been recorded in 27 countries.
“The agriculture commissioner of Andhra Pradesh informed that based on the complaint received from Monsanto, the joint director of seeds was deputed to Prakasham and Guntur district,” according to the GEAC meeting on May 12, 2010, based on minutes available here.
The minutes from the meeting state that in Prakasham district, eight samples out of 11 tested positive for HT cotton containing Monsanto event 1445 (a Monsanto-specified crop trait). In Guntur district, two samples tested positive (for HT cotton).
“On December 6, 2008, the director of agriculture, Gujarat raided a ginning mill at Mansa and seized 3-5 metric tonne suspected illegal HT cotton seed,” the report said.
“Due to lack of clarity on testing of material, the director of agriculture, Gujarat released the sealed material on April 19, 2009. The industries responsible for production and sale of HT cotton were Parvardhan Seeds and Akshay Seeds, both sub-licensees of Monsanto in Bollgard -1. Monsanto collected and tested samples from the released material and found the presence of unintended event viz HT cotton containing Monsanto 1445 event. The company shared the report with Parvardhan Seeds, and, as mutually agreed, destroyed the released material on July 13, 2009.”
“GEAC has time and again abdicated its role and responsibility and did not act on repeated complaints,” according to Kavitha Kuruganti, national convenor of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a broad-based platform for over 400 organisations committed to promoting sustainable agriculture in the country.
“In 2013, we complained with evidence from Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh that illegal sales of HT cotton seeds were happening but GEAC did not even acknowledge our complaint.”
“The committee is of the opinion that the casual approach of ministry and GEAC is indicative of the indifference of these agencies towards environmental safety and health hazards of human and animals,” the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) standing committee on science and technology said in its 301st report in August 2017. “The committee is also of the view that there is a conflict of interest in the appointment of some of the members of GEAC. ”
There have been reports as early as 2013 around the use of HT cotton in at least three states–Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra.
Glyphosate has been classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans“ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization.
“Glyphosate does not only cause cancer,” according to the Federation of Health Professionals of Argentina that represents 30,000 medical professionals in Argentina. “It is also associated with increased spontaneous abortions, birth defects, skin defects and respiratory and neurological disease”.
Glyphosate is banned in Sri Lanka and banned or restricted in several European countries including Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden because of alleged links with a variety of health problems–not just cancer but other issues ranging from birth defects and kidney failure to celiac disease, colitis and autism, The Guardian reported on April 21, 2015.
A ban on glyphosate is currently being debated in the European Union, and a ban is also being sought by Indian activists.
(Parakh works in a social enterprise in Bengaluru.)