Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





June 27, 2006


India Special - Food for the World; Frontline Attack; Bt Cotton Economics; GM Eggplant; Revolutions Galore; Farmer Suicides - Beyond the Obvious


Today in AgBioView Special - from http://www.agbioworld.org - June 27, 2006

* Growing in India: Food for the World
* Frontline - GM Seeds Controversy?
* Indian Scientists Should Speak Up
* Indian Seed Industry Association and Bt Cotton Economics
* Time for Re-Assessment of Crop Bio-Technology
* GM Eggplant Not Harmful to Environment, says Monsanto
* Crop Biotechnology: The Next Revolution In Agriculture
* Green or Gene Revolution
* Workshop on Biosafety for Science Journalists
* Expats Willing to Offer Expertise
* GEAC Dismisses Bt Cotton Affecting Sheep
* India - Farmer Suicides: Beyond the Obvious
* What Detroit Can Learn From Bangalore and India, Inc.

Growing in India: Food for the World

- Anand Giridharadas, International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2006

Within days, the monsoon will arrive in India. If generous, it will lend another year of survival to hundreds of millions of villagers. If miserly, crops will wither and bankruptcy will run virally through the villages.

One-tenth of humanity resides in rural India, in villages haunted by the perennial specter of harvesting too little food. But now a country that long struggled to feed itself is making preparations to feed the world.

Full article at http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/2006/05/26/business/wbfood.php


GM Seeds Controversy?

- Shanthu Shantharam, Letter sent to the Editor of Frontline (India) (Biologistics International, LLC; sshantharam.at.biologistics.us)

Apropos Venkitesh Ramakrishnan's story on "Seeds and Protests" (June 17, 2006), it seems the controversial pitch is queering to newer heights in India due to anti-GMO activism. I wish Mr. Ramkrishnan had taken the time and trouble to contact some knowledgeable scientific experts to put the story in proper perspective. If the activism were to be based on verifiable facts, then it would be possible to address the problems. But, most of what is reported is political and emotional cry against GM seeds based on anti-MNC, anti-globalization and anti-technology ideology. The chairman of GEAC Mr. Parsheera rightly said that his committee cannot take any decision based on generalized emotional objections.

Most objections articulated by the activists quoted in Ramakrishnan's story are indeed just baseless scare mongering campaign. First of all, Indian government is not approving these crops without proper scientific review. There is simply no scientific basis to charge that Bt brinjal will not contaminate normal brinjal supply. The charge by Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture that companies are making meaningless presentations is really ridiculous and is clearly comes from someone who does not seem to understand basic science.

The only top "biotech" scientist who is quoted is Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, the former director of CCMB, Hyderabad. He is quoted as saying that GEAC does not have specialized scientists only betrays his ignorance of the constitution of the committee. He charges that nowhere in the world there is a satisfactory system of assessing risks is equally baseless. Not only there are some of the best regulatory review systems in North America and the European Union, but they have all demonstrated their effectiveness more than ably.

The safety record of commercialized GMOs in the world stands a testimony to the effectiveness of the systems in place. Just because, the decisions of these systems are not to the likings of these opponents, the system cannot be considered imperfect. Dr. Bhargava may not know some basic facts of Bt cotton approval where literally hundreds of feeding trials were carried out by the applicant for almost 8 years at the behest of GEAC and also by CSIR labs before they were approved. Mr. Parasheera has said it well that it was the government labs that carried out food and feed safety tests.

Dr. Bhargava should look into those test data before saying something that is unfounded. Moreover, final agronomic trials were conducted by ICAR and not the company. Dr. Bhargava wonders why there is no food security issues in Europe where there are there are no GM crops. Food and nutritional insecurity is an issue exclusive to the developing world right from the beginning. Biotechnology has the potential to be a part of the solution and it will be fool hardy to ban GM crops in India. It will be like throwing baby with the bath water.

All other allergenic problems reported from Madhya Pradesh are atrociously so unscientific that it does not merit any comment. But, at the cost of being repetitive Cry1Ac is not a powerful immunogen and has not been demonstrated to be so and the only report published was tests with rats that have not been reproduced by anyone else. The antibiotic resistance marker gene issue and the cauliflower mosaic virus promoter turning on Hepatitis B virus are outlandish scientific claims that have been addressed thousands of times around the world, and it is really meaningless to deal with this kind of scientific nonsense anymore. Virologists laugh at such claims, but do little to correct the mistaken notions.

As far GMOs harming environment and biodiversity, there cannot be any more imaginary fairy tale than these. These questions have been addressed hundreds of time by some of the best scientific experts in the field around the world and it is really getting tiring to address such concerns again and again. It is only in the minds of these die hard anti-GM activists that GM technology has wreaked disaster in India, but has no resemblance to the reality on the ground. If it were to be true, companies purveying Bt cotton seeds would not be doing such a brisk business five years in a row with all these hawks hovering over them.


> Biotech brinjal

> "The Cry1Ac gene is a powerful immunogen and can prompt adverse reactions from the immune system. If humans eat Bt brinjal it is possible that the Bt toxin can enter the human digestive system and interfere with the bacteria in the intestines " (!)

> "The cauliflower mosaic virus, a viral promoter used in Bt brinjal, is similar to the hepatitis B virus, and could reactivate dormant viruses. Studies worldwide have shown that eating GM food can result in wasteful growth of gut tissues and bacterial proliferation, intestinal tumours, immune system suppression and interference with the development of the body's vital organs." (!)
> Seeds and protests


Indian Scientists Should Speak Up

- T. M. Manjunath, Ph.D., Bangalore, India; manjunathtm.at.gmail.com

Bt cotton in India, even before and after the GEAC approval, has been the target of unjustified attack by the anti-GMO activists. Now they have added Bt-brinjal (eggplant) which has been cleared by GEAC for large scale field trials. Their allegations against these biotech crops are far beyond scientific facts, but they all, as in a trained orchestra, sing the same song in the same tune and the media gives wide publicity without verifying with experts. Please read http://www.frontline/stories/20060630004902400.htm to get a feel.

The activists are remarkably more organized, united and orchestrate in one voice against the biotech products, no matter even if it is a scientific nonsense, than biotech scientists in defending and promoting this technology. Most of the scientists show no concern when somebody else’s products, duly approved and with proved safety and benefits, are attacked, not realizing that it may be their own turn tomorrow.

The Indian scientists should set aside their affiliations and bias, join hands and come out openly in protecting this remarkable technology. There should be a massive ‘Save Biotechnology’ movement involving the like-minded scientists, farmers, teachers, students and others. Otherwise, the activists may succeed in delaying or suppressing this technology.


Indian Seed Industry Association and Bt Cotton Economics

C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India;
June 23, 2006; krao.at.vsnl.com,

China is now the rallying point and model in all discussions on Bt cotton in India. While identifying the ills of Bt cotton economics in India, the President of the Indian Seed Industry Association (ISIA) made certain incongruous remarks citing China as an example.

He stated that affordable prices of Bt cotton technology in China had helped it become a global leader in cotton production, with almost twice the average yield of India. This is wide off the mark, since it is the profitability to the farmer and the business community, and not yields, which is linked to technology costs.

A farmer determines the acreage under Bt cotton basing on anticipated returns and not on just seed costs. Yield depends upon the potential of the basic plant variety, its suitability to the soil type, control of pests and diseases, adequate and appropriate inputs of fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, and proper and timely advice given to the cultivators. If the Indian cotton varieties are deficient in yield potential, only the seed developers are to be blamed. Growing cotton as a rain fed crop on red soils increases acreage under the crop but brings down averages of quality and yield.

The cost of seed is an investment and should be weighed against returns. Considering the many advantages of Bt technology, the difference of Rs. 1350 per acre between Bt and non-Bt seed, even at last year’s prices is not a crushing burden. Now this difference is Rs. 430, which is certainly affordable. If the ISAI is so strongly concerned about farmers’ burden, it should sell Bt cottonseed at the same price as non-Bt cottonseed, to help the poor farmer.

ISIA appealed to the Government to source technology for commercial use in India by making a one-time payment to the developer and make it available to the farmers at an affordable price. A farmer cannot use the technology without the intervention of the seed developer. In the end, the Government would bear technology costs, while the seed industry and rich farmers reap the benefits. A better option would be for the Government to buy Bt cottonseed at the market price and either distribute it free of cost to the poor farmers, or subsidize it.

It is true that Bt technology costs mounted up due to avoidable delays of the Indian regulatory regime. The monopoly of Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (MMB) until recently was not due to any machinations but due to the failure of the other players in both the public and the private sectors, unlike in China.

The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade practices Commission (MRTPC) has insisted that India should fix a lower technology fee as in China. MRTPC’s assumption and the persistent claim of the activists that a packet Bt cottonseed costs far less (around Rs. 34) in China and in the US (Rest. 108), appear to be incorrect. Chandrashekhar (Business Line, June 4, 2006) analyzed the issue of Bt cottonseed costs in China.

Cottonseed is sold by weight or as a requirement to plant on one acre (or hectare). As the quantity of cottonseed required per acre varies significantly depending upon if they were hybrids or varieties, plant type, plant density, agronomic practices such as drill sowing and broadcasting and soil type, direct comparisons are illogical, but approximations are possible.

In China, the Biocentury Transgene Technology Company (BTC) and Monsanto, jointly offer Bt technology. BTC also uses the indigenous technology developed by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), which was sold to over 30 seed companies. The technology fee is charged by the BTC. The Chinese Government being a major shareholder in BTC, is a party to cost fixation and profits. Contrary to the assertion of the ISIA, there is no mentionable competition in the market place in China, as BTC is the only virtual player, with nearly 80 per cent market share of Bt cottonseed.

In China, the price difference between Bt and non-Bt cottonseed is high as in India. The farmer pays 360 Renmibi or Yuan (RMB or CNY, Rs. 2088) for Bt cottonseed per acre as against 72 RMB (Rs. 418) for non-Bt cottonseed, which means that Bt technology cost is 288 RMB (Rs. 1670.oo). In the US, the technology costs are $ 64 (Rs. 2880). In India, non-Bt cotton seed costs around Rs. 450 while Bt cotton technology cost was around Rs. 1350 last year, which is now Rs. 880.

Cotton technologists recommended 450 g of Bt cottonseed per acre. To this 120 g of non-Bt seed is added for the refugium. There is no special merit in selling cottonseed in 350 g or 500 g packets, as suggested by the ISAI, basing on the Chinese practice.

The ISAI should note that the cost of non-Bt cottonseed between Rs. 450 to 600 per packet being marketed by the Indian seed industry is higher than in China.

ISIA suggested a lump sum annual payment of royalty as in China. This will help the big companies but is not in the interests of small companies, as royalty is not linked to their turn over. Royalty charged per packet sold is in the interests of the small companies.


India: Time for Re-Assessment of Crop Bio-Technology

- R. K. Sinha and Bhagirath Choudhary , Hindu Business Line, June 27 2006

'GM cotton has raised yields and reduced pesticide application leading to net gains to farmers and the textile industry.'

The Bt cotton technology has drawn much attention in recent times. While its supporters swear by it, its opponents blame it for the plight of farmers in many of the cotton belts in the country.

But a recent report based on the consultation with farmers on crop biotechnology, organised by the National Commission on Farmers, strongly felt that in biotechnology lies the hope for increased productivity, sustainability and profitability for farmers.

It claimed that the cultivation of Bt cotton led to additional net profit of at least about Rs 12,000 per ha, and 40-50 per cent savings in pesticide use, while other varieties reported failure due to drought and multiple pest epidemics. Also as Bt hybrids mature early, they enable double cropping in previously single-cropped areas.

Lack of awareness. The consultation raised concerns about the lack of general awareness of biotechnology, especially transgenics/genetically modified organisms. Knowledge was generally low as most Bt cotton farmers did not grow refugia nor provided the recommended isolation distance needed for preventing cross-pollination between Bt and non-Bt strains. This is considered necessary for resistance management in Bt cotton varieties.

The consultation raised serious concerns about the sale of spurious/illegal seeds. It recommended that unofficial release of transgenics be prevented. It advocated that serious efforts to enhance general awareness on biotechnology and genetic literacy should be launched.

The consultation identified the next priority area for application of biotech in agriculture such as tolerance to drought and other abiotic stresses, tolerance to saline conditions, nutritional enrichment and so on.

It also advocated that a large-scale training programme be introduced at the Krishi Vigyan Kendras and the State-extension system to ensure safe and effective transfer of the agri-biotech technologies/products.

Dr Keshav Kranthi's scientific paper is often cited by critics of agri-biotech. However, the research publication (by Kranthi et al. in Current Science, 2005, 89, 291-298), says that "despite the variability in toxin expression, the pest control properties are unlikely to be affected significantly at least until the crop becomes 100-115 days old. Though a few larvae survived on various plant parts in in vitro bioassays, the surviving larvae on all the parts were stunted with a weight reduction of 48.8 to 98 per cent, compared to the larvae on non-Bt cotton plants."

The American bollworm Helicoverpa armigera generally infests cotton during 60-120 days of the crop. While Bt cotton is highly effective during the 60-115-day period, insecticide sprays should be used during the remaining one-to-two-week period when bollworm populations may reach economic threshold levels due to the decline in Cry1Ac expression levels. Hence, it is incorrect to conclude that the paper says that the Bt technology in India is per se ineffective in controlling the bollworm.

A recent global study by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot of the socio-economic and environmental impact of genetically modified crops says that the global farm economy benefited by $4.8 billion in 2004, totalling to over $19 billion since the introduction of GM crops in 1996.

The study reported a cumulative gain of $124 million to the Indian farm economy in the last three years. The main impact of using GM cotton has been the major increase in yield and reduction in pesticide application, culminating in net gains to farmers to the levels of profitability of $171 per hectare in 2004.

The Indian scene. In India in the current season, the legally permitted Bt cotton has been planted on over 14 lakh hectares in northern, central and southern cotton-growing areas compared to 45,000 ha in 2002-03. The area under Bt cotton accounts for 15.6 per cent of the country's total cotton area of around 90 lakh ha in the 2005-06 season.

In 2002, there were three Bt cotton hybrids. Now nearly 20 hybrids, developed by half- a-dozen companies, have been planted, and this is likely to grow further. In 2004, more than three lakh small and medium farmers in central and southern India enjoyed the benefits of the technology, and this is increasing every year.

The increase in the cotton yield during the last five years outstrips the cumulative rise in the last five decades. As a result cotton production touched 250 lakh bales (1 bale = 170 kg) in the 2005 season, higher than the projected target of 220 lakh bales for the Tenth Plan under the Technology Mission on Cotton (TMC) of the Government of India.

Cotton production has surpassed all targets. The yield that directly measures the income of poor farmers has increased from 309 kg/ha in 2001-02 to 460 kg/ha in 2004-05, and is estimated to reach 475 kg/ha in the 2005-06 season.

The figures speak volumes for the contribution Bt cotton technology is making to the farming community while providing new avenues for the Indian textile industry in the post-quota regime of the World Trade Organisation. The sustained supply of good quality raw cotton was an uncertainty a few years ago, but this has been addressed with the commercialisation of Bt technology.

Exports of cotton textiles have increased from $3 billion in 2001 to $4 billion in 2005. The textile industry is expected to reach a size of $85 billion by 2010 from $42 billion now, both in terms of exports and domestic consumption.

Taking cognisance of the performance of various Bt cotton hybrids in different agro-climatic zones, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has commenced diversification in Bt genotypes by permitting more companies to introduce different Bt genes.

The farmers and the cotton textile industry are comfortable about Bt technology. The resurgence of cotton is destined to revive the lost glory of this sector. The farmers have accepted the technology, it is time for the critics to did the same.

(The authors are respectively Executive Director, All India Crop Biotechnology Association, and National Coordinator, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.)


GM Brinjal (Eggplant) Not Harmful to Environment, says Monsanto

- Financial Express, June 27, 2006 http://www.financialexpress.com

Mayhco-Monsanto, the Indian arm of the US-based seed and biotech major Monsanto on Friday said the genetically modified (GM) version of brinjal developed by it causes no adverse affect on animals or beneficial insects.

The company, which has sought the government's permission for large-scale trial of the crop, has come under fire from environmentalists who claim that the transgenic brinjal contains toxins harmful for the health of animals and might affect humans adversely.

Mahyco also claimed that there was no significant difference in the chemical composition between the transgenic brinjal and the normal one. During the cooking trials, experts also found that it rotted in less time than the conventional one. The biotech major also claimed that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar)have also certified that there was no difference between the both versions.

The transgenic brinjal variety is developed by Monsanto in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (iivr), Varansai, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and Cornell University, US and University of Philippines.

Brinjal, cultivated in about 0.5 million hectares with total production of 8.2 million tonne and is very prone to insecticides. Farmers have to spray a large quantity of pesticides to get a blemish free yield and on average 25 to 80 different varieties of chemicals are used to save it.

As per the field trials conducted by icar and iivr, its production capacity is 54 to 113% more than conventional seeds, Mahyco claimed. Meanwhile, a delegation of Greenpeace, which is opposing introduction of GM crops in India met agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on Friday.

The NGO had earlier met health minister Ambumani Ramdoss. "No test has been done any where in the world to conclusively prove the safety of GM brinjals for human consumption," Greenpeace said in a statement.


Crop Biotechnology: The Next Revolution In Agriculture

- Felipe Osorio, Indian Express, June 26, 2006

India is one of the largest agrarian economy in the world. However, the agriculture output has declined in last one decade because of various reasons like disease, pests and weeds, the subsistence nature of farming, unprecedented climatic conditions, limited water, poor land condition, drought, heat and saline soil conditions.

India has 25% of the world's cotton acres, an estimated 4 million cotton farmers, and some 60 million people depend on cotton and the textile industry to make a living. Textile industry accounts for India's single largest export sector. However the country produces only 12% of the world's cotton. Its average yields are among the lowest in the world.

There is thus a need to improve the techniques of producing cotton. Integration of biotechnology can accelerate the pace of agricultural improvement and is relevant to an agrarian country like India.

Crop biotechnology can provide the needed fuel and can be the engine of growth. It can help reduce poverty, promote rural development, strengthen trade and economy and agricultural sustainability, and also deliver direct benefits to farmers and consumers.

India has witnessed a tremendous rise in cotton production since the introduction of Bt cotton technology in 2002.

Monsanto all know what value Bt cotton is bringing to farmers in India, and the challenges faced by Bt cotton technology in the country. The year 2006 has been a year of successes and challenges for crop biotechnology in India.

The company prides itself to have been associated with Indian Agriculture for more than 55 years now. But it is also a fact that Monsanto and its Indian partners are facing one of the toughest challenges.

So much has been written about it in the media now that many of you know by now that the company are sadly contesting an unprecedented interim order by the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Commission. While the MRTPC order has directed us to revise the fee of our technology in line with what we charge in China, the governments of Andhra Pradesh and several other states have sadly gone one step further in determining the maximum selling price of Bt. Seed, irrespective of the technology provider, to Rs 750. This is when the Indian farmers have hailed the commercial production of genetically modified cotton, welcoming it as a miracle solution for hard-hit cotton growers. Indian farmers are growing Bt cotton on an ever-increasing area because it delivers consistent benefits in terms of reduced pesticide use and increased income.

I would like to give some basic details about Bt cotton:
Bt cotton is grown by more farmers than any other crop biotechnology product in the world today. India is just one of the nine countries where Monsanto and its partners sell Bollgard cotton technology. Bollgard creates significant benefits for farmers in every one of these countries.

1) It replaces the costs of spraying pesticides
2) It increases farmers' yields.
3) It brings other benefits in terms of human and environmental safety, efficiency and peace of mind Bt cotton also a need to address the larger food and environmental issues and has reduced the use of pesticides and risks to the health of cotton farmers while improving both yields and farmers' incomes.

Therefore, if I were to put it in a nut shell, our basic philosophy to price our technology is to share most of the value that is generated with the farmer. But these benefits vary from country to country, because farming is different in each country. In some countries pesticides may cost more. In other countries, the yield benefit from Bollgard cotton may be more dramatic.

In spite of this variability, there is one common denominator farmers everywhere use to measure the economic value of Bollgard cotton-profit per acre. Because Monsanto's business is based on making farmers more profitable, the company price Bollgard technology based on the value the technology delivers in rupees per acre. When the company price Bollgard cotton, it consider all the variables in a given market. Once the company understand how much additional profit, yield, time and other benefits a farmer can expect to gain per acre from our technology, it set a price that ensures the farmer takes home a substantial part of Bollgard's value as his own profit per acre.

The company keep some of that value to share with our seed company partners, to cover our costs of doing business, and to reinvest in developing future products for farmers, including exciting new technologies such as drought tolerance. Many, who question the difference in prices of Bollgard technology between markets in different countries, have done so in the name of fairness to farmers. Ironically, some of these arguments about Bollgard price forget the way farmers make more money.

- The author is MD of Monsanto India


Green or Gene Revolution

- Ashok B Sharma, Indian Expresss, June 26, 2006

Is the green revolution giving way to the gene revolution?

Notwithstanding continuing protests from NGOs, farmers' organisations and a group of scientists, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is slated to take a call, next month, on the proposal for large-scale field trials of four transgenic brinjal (eggplant) hybrids developed by Mahyco.

The transgenic brinjals are designed to protect the crop from fruit and stem borer. That's not all on the genetically modified (GM) food crops front.

Transgenic mustard and potato have completed their requisite rounds of contained field trial and are awaiting the nod for large-scale field trials. GM mustard - developed by Deepak Pental of Delhi University - has barnase-barstar genes incorporated in its genome, with claims for increasing oil content. And GM potato, developed by Asish Dutta of National Centre for Plant Genome Research by inserting genes from the amaranthus plant, is claimed to have improved protein content. Mustard and potatoes are winter crops and can wait for further trials in the next season. The case is different for brinjal that can be grown in both the seasons.

GM mustard was earlier developed by ProAgro in collaboration with Aventis and PGS. After large-scale field trials when it came up for approval for commercialisation, the GEAC turned down the proposals in April 2003 saying data presented on health safety was enough convincing.

If GM brinjal qualifies the rounds of large-scale field trials and is subsequently approved for commercialisation, it would be the country's first transgenic food crop. At this juncture both the advocates and opponents of Bt brinjal are leaving no chances.

Interestingly, the Bt gene used in brinjal is the same used in Bt cotton. The GEAC has been fast in approving Bt cotton for cultivation. In 2002, only 3 Bt cotton hybrids were under cultivation in a limited area in south India. Today there are 59 Bt cotton hybrids of different seed companies under cultivation in different cotton growing regions of the country. The GEAC in 2005, however, had discontinued cultivation of Mahyco's three Bt cotton hybrids in some areas on receiving adverse reports of its performance.

However, the case of Bt brinjal, being a food crop is of sensitive nature. It is already in the midst of controversy with Mahyco (Indian joint venture of American seed giant, Monsanto) claiming its health and environment safety and NGOs and farmers' organisations, alongwith a group of scientists, disputing its claims, citing some evidences. The controversy gains importance in the light of the fact that brinjal is used in India not only as food but also as a medicine in the traditional system.

Mahyco claims that its four Bt brinjal hybrids - MHB-4 Bt, MHB-9 Bt, MHB-80 Bt and MHBJ-99 Bt - are resistant to fruit and stem borer - one of the major pests on the crop. It is safe for animal and human consumption. Dangers of cross pollination is negligible as pollen flow is up to a maximum of 20 metre distance. The GEAC has put up company's claims on the website and invited public comments.

Studies done at Mahyco Research Centre show that transgenes (Cry 1 Ac, Npt1 gene, Aad gene) in Bt brinjal behave as a single gene, dominant Mendelia factor and are stably integrated in the plant genome. The protein causes death to the insect by disrupting its digestive process and not to non-target species. Mahyco also claims that Cry1Ac, the Bt toxin used in Bt brinjal, is non-toxic in nature.

Mahyco in its presentation before the GEAC said that the brinjal plant is usually self-pollinated. However, the extent of cross-pollination is believed to be as high as 48% and hence, it is often classified as a cross-pollinated crop. It listed 22 Indian species of genus Solanum (brinjal) The NGOs and farmers groups, in this context, said that pollen flow can occur up to kilometers and endanger traditional varieties and wild relatives. It would jeopardise the situation as India is one of the centre of origin brinjal biodiversity.

NGOs and farmers' organisations have said Bt gene is a known toxin that impacts human and livestock health adversely: They cited reports of mortality of 10,000 sheeps grazing over Bt cotton fields in Andhra Pradesh, which is under probe. Responding to this, the GEAC has decided to take up leafy toxicity studies.

Noted nutrition expert and toxicologist, Arpad Pusztai has come to their rescue and said: "Studies have revealed that toxin form of Cry1Ac is potent antigen in mice, following gastric administration. Specific IgG and IgM antibodies and locally produced IgA and IgG antibodies to the toxin were detected. Several human cell cultures, including colonic epithelial and liver cells, demonstrated a number of cytotoxic reactions when exposed to Bt toxins and immunologic sensitisation of farm workers has been well documented. Accordingly, it would be unwise to use Bt toxin-containing foodstuffs for human or animal diet."

Norwegian scientist Marjt R Myhre and his team found the plant virus promoter (35S CaMV) used in Bt brinjal "active in human enterocyte-like cells." The NGOs in their representation to GEAC also cited several studies done by scientists at the Center for Genetic Engineering. They have begun lobbying with agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, health minister Ambumani Ramadoss and environment minister A Raja trying to convince them with their arguments. Aruna Rodrigues and others have filed a suit in the apex court asking for a moratorium on approval of GM crops. The hearing of the case is in process.

On the apprehensions of environmentalists, sources in department of biotechnology say, "We want to go to the market with transgenics but will never compromise with bio-safety." While issues of efficacy of transgenic gene against pests and bio-safety will be addressed during large-scale field trials, for the consumers the proposed legislation on food labeling is expected to provide a safeguard.


Workshop on Biosafety for Science Journalists

- New Delhi, India; July 5 - 6, 2006; Indian Science Writers' Association

Deadline for registration: 30 June 2006

Over the past 30 years our ability to alter life-forms has been revolutionised by modern biotechnology. For example, scientists can insert genes from a coldwater fish into a tomato to create a frost-resistant plant (!), or use bacterial genes to make herbicide-tolerant corn.

Experimenting and manipulating harmful and toxic bio-organisms may cause disasters (!) if necessary measures at various levels are overlooked. The concept of bio-safety encompasses a range of measures, policies and procedures for minimizing potential risks that biotechnology may pose to the environment and human well being.

The basic thought behind this workshop is to bring journalists and writers to the fold of bio-safety, biotechnology, biodiversity and related issues, so that they are at home with the subject and can do justice to the importance and inevitability of the subject while covering these issues in the mass media.

Mr. L.D. Kala, Science Technology and Development Initiative (STAD), C-3/D-II, IIT Campus, Hauz Khas, New Delhi-110016, India. Tel: +91 11 26 86 38 11. Email: ldkala@yahoo.com
Dr. Manoj Patairiya, Indian Science Writers' Association (ISWA), 25/3, Sector-I, Pushp Vihar, New Delhi-110017, India. Tel: +91 11 29 56 58 72. Email: manojpatairiya@yahoo.com; iswacom@hotmail.com


Expats Willing to Offer Expertise

- B S Satish Kumar, Deccan Herald, June 25, 2006 http://www.deccanherald.com

There is some good news for the state's agriculture sector which is reeling under serious problems. A large number of prominent agricultural scientists, including BT experts from Karnataka who are working abroad, have expressed the desire to offer their expertise for the development of the state's agriculture sector.

These scientists, who have made a name for themselves globally, are ready to come to India for a brief period to associate with the state's research projects and policy initiatives, according to Dr C S Prakash, who is director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research in Tuskegee University of the US. "This association with the state will be purely on a voluntary basis and we are not expecting any monetary returns. After all we were given education at the expense of the state's tax payers," he says.

Dr Prakash, who is also a member of the scientific advisory board of the American Council on Science and Health, told Deccan Herald that over 100 agricultural experts from Karnataka are working in the US alone. Most of them were keen on associating with Karnataka projects, says Dr Prakash.

"We are waiting to make a formal offer in this regard to the state government and also hold talks with its representatives," he says. "All that we want is some office space and laboratories to work whenever we come to Karnataka." Apart from offering their services, they also want to get the expertise of their foreign colleagues to Karnataka.

Dr Prakash notes that it is possible to get the best of global experience to Karnataka farming sector through such an association. China has already commenced the move to associate with its expatriate experts to provide a boost to its agriculture sector.

America's agricultural insurance project's top executive is from Karnataka. Similarly, an agricultural expert from Karnataka is heading a leading food processing unit in America. All these people could be of great help in providing crucial inputs to the state, Dr Prakash observes.

Dr Prakash, who headed the erstwhile K-Ganga (Karnataka Global Advisory Group on Agriculture) is also considering reviving it to build a network between the government and the Karnataka experts abroad. Such a network with a few experts and some firms exists even now. But there is a dire need to network with the government, he points out.

Though agricultural research activity is being taken up seriously by the private sector in India, it mainly pertains to major cash crops. Hence there is a need for the government organisations to take up research from the point of view of poor farmers, he argues.

Though Karnataka is the country's leader in BT sector, not much hardcore BT research is going on in the state, Dr Prakash cautions. "Karnataka is just scratching at the surface. Most of the major BT firms in the state are handling soft BT issues like production of bulk drugs and plant tissue culture. But there is not much activity in genetic research."


GEAC Dismisses Bt Cotton Affecting Sheep

- BV Mahalakshmi Yahoo Finance India June 21, 2006 http://in.biz.yahoo.com/

Hyderabad - The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the ministry of environment and forests, has finally brushed aside recent allegations made by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), an NGO, that mortality in sheep flocks was affected after grazing on Bt cotton fields in Warangal district, Andhra Pradesh.

Besides, the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM) under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has decided to bring in leaf toxicity studies as part of the bio safety studies in future.

Deliberating at length on the representations of CSA; Anthra, an Andhra Pradesh-based NGO; AP Shepherd and Goatherd Association, the GEAC committee pointed out that Bt cotton, which was released for commercial cultivation, has been approved after evaluation of bio safety data, which includes feeding studies.

The 90-day animal feed studies conducted at the Industrial Toxicology Research Center, Lucknow, feeding studies conducted on lactating cows at GB Pant University of Agriculture, and on fish at Avian Research Institute, Izzatnagar, indicated no toxic effect, informed sources told FE.

The CSA report, which surveyed randomly three villages, said, "Animals that fed continuously on Bt cotton for a week, became listless with erosive lesions in the mouth, nasal discharge and blackish diarrhoea." However, after reviewing the case and the available data, the GEAC felt that the report appears highly exaggerated and is based more on hearsay than on scientific facts.

"The RCGM also agreed that, in future, leaf toxicity studies need to be included as part of the bio safety studies. The committee has further decided to refer the matter to the state department of agriculture for a factual report on the allegations and the findings of the post-mortem report," the sources said.

Further, the GEAC also recommended, that the DBT may sponsor a study to assess the problem in Warangal district with the help of the local veterinary hospital. It has also requested the DBT to expedite the study so that the allegation made by the NGOs can be brought to a conclusion, the sources added. Explaining further, acute oral toxicity study of Bt protein in mice conducted at Agriculture Group/Environmental Health laboratory, US, concluded that there was no treatment-related adverse finding in any of the groups administered Btk HD-73 protein by oral gavage at dosages up to 4,200 mg/kg.


Bt is Not the Culprit

- Shanthu Shantharam and CS Prakash, BioSpectrum (India), June 15, 2006. Excerpt below.. Full text at http://www.biospectrumindia.com/content/columns/10606151.asp

There is a sensational headline grabbing lots of media attention lately: sheep are dying in India by eating Bt cotton leaves!

Bt protein such as in the genetically modified (GM) cotton in India has been extensively tested in feeding trials and consumed in hundreds of millions of meals by not only livestock but also humans. There has not been a single problem ever, much less a fatality. This suggests one might want to look for a more likely culprit. In this case, as soon as one does that, the culprit seems to leap out-conventional pesticide poisoning. Or even the natural toxins that are abundant in cotton leaves.

The sheep-death-by Bt Cotton-story is the latest scandalous report from the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) of Secunderabad, a "dyed-in-the-wool" group of activists who are hell bent on stopping Indian agriculture on its track to progress. They claim that hundreds of sheep died after eating leaves of Bt cotton, a crop that has been genetically modified (GM) to protect against insect attack. A close examination of the issue reveals that pesticide poisoning or the natural toxins in the cotton leaves rather than the Bt protein are the likely culprits here.

Link to scientific citations at http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Cotton/Bt-is-Not-the-Culprit-AF.pdf

Comments from T. M. Manjunath, Bangalore (India), manjunathtm.at.gmail.com

Shantharam and Prakash have exposed very well the mischievous propaganda by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) that Bt-cotton was responsible for large scale death of sheep that fed on this crop. The so-called research (?) carried out by CSA seems to suggest that Bt cotton can kill so many other organisms except bollworms for which this technology has been specifically developed! GEAC has also refuted this allegation, but as we all know, CSA will continue its tirade against this technology and mislead innocent people.


India - Farmer Suicides: Beyond the Obvious

- Arindam Banik and Pradip K Bhaumik Hindu Business Line June 20,2006 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/

Extension of highly regulated institutional banking services is not the sole means of realising economic efficiency and distributive justice as far as dealings in credit markets are concerned

Almost all farmer-suicide cases in India are debt-related. While the government is reportedly ready with a package that will provide low-cost credit, alternative sources of income, including from dairy and poultry, improved irrigation and probably crop insurance, These may be helpful but perhaps not sufficient

It may not be factually incorrect to say that farmer suicide is a global phenomenon. But while these are largely engendered by psychological and sociological factors in the developed world, in India and other developing countries, the causes are primarily economic

Almost all farmer-suicides in India are debt-related. The farmer-debtor is generally required to repay his/her debt right after the harvest is in. This means that the farmer is trapped in a regressive market mechanism in two ways

First, with no other means to repay the debt, he/she is forced to sell the produce immediately after the harvest - quite often to the creditor or to the creditor's agent, probably at a pre-arranged price or in pre-decided quantities

Second, sale of crops immediately after the harvest means that the farmer-debtor probably receives less for his/her produce than what he/she could have obtained at a later point in time when the market prices stabilise

Credit and marketing
The evidence also suggests that, in general, there are strong links between credit and marketing. Farmers, on an average, borrow much larger amounts from commission agents or traders than workers do from employers or tenants from landlords, or even those who have no other dealings with their creditors

Moreover, links between credit and output are the strongest in the more commercialised areas. On reflection, this is hardly surprising since traders and commission agents will seek out business - and seal it with finance - where there is a substantial marketable surplus

An important related question is the extent to which farmers participate in the formal and informal segments of the credit market. The rationality of the farmers' decision to approach the informal lender for credit despite the high interest rate has been a matter of theoretical debate

Interestingly, most of the informal lenders operate in a limited area or in a niche market where personal knowledge of borrowers makes transactions possible

This enables informal lenders to reduce transaction costs (for example, those relating to loan appraisal, documentation and legal fees) to a minimum. Such loans are characterised by quicker processing time and disbursal, more effective screening techniques and enforcement devices and also by higher interest rates

Cash crop farmers
While all that has been stated above is true of farmers in general, the case of cash crop farmers deserves special attention. Interestingly, farmers who go for cash crops such as tobacco, sugarcane, or cotton are not the typical small farmers

They are the ones with relatively large land holdings and risk appetite and for them farming is an act of commerce. The anticipated incentives in the output market are the motivating factors for hard work as well as for high input costs. The results are, however, not always as expected

During harvest time, supply of crops often overshadows demand and thus price goes down. This is due to the pressure created by both formal and informal lenders for loan repayment immediately after harvest

As a consequence, not only are marginal input costs higher than the marginal revenue, even average input costs are sometimes higher or just marginally lower than the average revenue, leaving little or no cash surplus for loan servicing

Important trends This must force our attention to two important trends: The rising real costs of agricultural inputs and the simultaneous relative falling of real prices of agricultural commodities

There is no denying that agricultural price in relation to manufacturing price has been declining locally as well as globally

What is the single most important factor for this? The US and the EU agricultural subsidies are the culprits. These have suppressed the agricultural price globally

On the other hand, the developing countries are required to eliminate all agricultural subsidies and open their markets to imports under the World Trade Organisation regime: The government has already withdrawn from the market to buy cotton. So you have the suggestion, "buy low-cost foreign cotton with high subsidy content at the cost of the Indian farmers' poverty." For Indian cotton farmers there could be other major but invisible factors as well. Global firms are now selling GM (genetically modified) cottonseeds in India

These seeds are expected to be pest-resistant and high-yielding. But the Indian farmers have little experience in using these seeds under different agro-climatic conditions. The GM seeds are also not covered by the Seeds Act and the government is unable to take any action when the seeds do not deliver the promised benefits

These seeds cannot be saved by the farmers and have to be purchased from the producers on a recurring basis who also charge a high "technology fee."

In turn, the high cost seeds need other high cost inputs and together, they turn cotton farming to a high-risk/high-return game, which is not suited to Indian farmers with shallow pockets

Solutions The government has woken up to the distress of these farmers and is reportedly ready with a package for the worst affected districts in four States

It will provide cheap credit, alternative sources of income including from dairy and poultry, improved irrigation and probably crop insurance. These may be helpful but perhaps not sufficient

Take credit: If private credit is dear and scarce, the first step is to establish why it is so; only then is devising a sensible prescription possible. Otherwise, this will create confusion and corruption. There are several ways by which the government can reduce the lender's cost of business

For example, public investments in rural infrastructure and policies which promote agricultural yields may reduce the lender's cost. Thus, it is quite possible that well-functioning rural credit markets are a consequence rather than cause of general development

In any event, it should now be clear that the extension of highly regulated institutional banking services, so vigorously pursued by the government, is not the sole means of realising economic efficiency and distributive justice as far as dealings in credit markets are concerned

Crop insurance is one solution, according to certain quarters. This is particularly true for uncertainties such as agro-climatic factors and natural calamities

It is still not clear how the farmers will deal with the uncertain price during the time of harvest

A systematic investigation of the many relevant policy and operational issues is necessary to provide factual and analytical support for an optimal policy and regulatory environment

Such an investigation may also show how informal credit markets, with all their strengths and weaknesses, can be used in the development process

And finally, more basic and systemic issues leading to declining terms of trade for agriculture will also need investigation and redress

The authors are professors at the International Management Institute, New Delhi.


Although no relevance to agriculture or biotech, India watchers may be interested in these:

What Detroit Can Learn From Bangalore: A booming city's lessons for a town in decline


Time magazine cover story last week on India Inc.