Ahead of a regulators’ meeting on February 8th 2012, and reacting to the confirmed reports of Monsanto’s illegal planting of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) maize in its GM maize trial, the Coalition for a GM-Free India demanded that Monsanto be blacklisted immediately. The violation was revealed in a response of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee to an RTI application. “This agri-business corporation has been caught violating the law and norms repeatedly. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has also been caught failing in its duties. GEAC, in spite of violations brought to its notice earlier also, has never taken up any deterrent and penal action against this Multi National Company”, said the Coalition in a press statement issued in Delhi and a Press Conference held in Bengaluru. Monsanto’s illegal planting was known to the regulators (as the information was obtained through an RTI response from GEAC), but they chose not to look into the matter pro-actively and the regulators were in effect protecting Monsanto, alleged the Coalition.
The approval for the biosafety research level II trial (BRL-II , the penultimate stage before consideration for commercial cultivation) for Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant, insect resistant GM maize with stacked traits (two Bt genes and one herbicide tolerance gene) was granted during the GEAC meetings held on 15th November 2010 and 8th December 2010. This is also the first GM product of Monsanto in India in its own name and not in the name of associate companies like Mahyco. Monsanto and the biotech industry have been claiming that the herbicide tolerant, insect resistant GM maize with stacked traits would be approved soon.
“Monsanto’s GM maize trials have been going on for several seasons now in various locations around the country. It took a rare scientist in one monitoring team to point out the fact that planting of the herbicide-tolerant GM maize took place without permission from competent authorities! What is more damning is that there is no evidence of any discussion or action by the regulators on this finding. This clearly demonstrates that the regulators are unconcerned about biosafety violations or contamination and are protecting and supporting offenders like Monsanto”, said Kavitha Kuruganti, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India.
The RTI response revealed that a team led by Dr Pradyumn Kumar of the Directorate of Maize Research (DMR is supposed to be supervising all the GM maize BRL II field trials), noted the following in its visit report (5th May 2011): “Before planting NK603 event treatment in future, the permission from competent authority may be obtained”. This clearly demonstrates that this field trial consisted of an unapproved, illegal GM herbicide tolerant maize while the trial is supposed to be for the hybrid of Bt genes’ line (MON89034) and herbicide tolerant line (NK603) (HT/Bt maize). A point to be noted is that trial protocols were prescribed by DMR along with GEAC and it was a DMR scientist who recorded the illegal planting of the HT maize line.
“This appears to be a repetition of an earlier episode of herbicide tolerant cotton (Roundup Ready Flex – RRF cotton) planted by Monsanto’s affiliate, Mahyco, without permission. The GEAC, in that instance, found the clarifications submitted by Mahyco highly unsatisfactory and warned that any non-compliance in future would attract punitive actions under EPA 1986, sought a resolution adopted by the Mahyco Board of Directors expressing regret and reaffirmation that such lapses would not be repeated, and that the data generated during the BRL II trials using the unapproved GMO shall not be considered for regulatory purpose. All of these were decisions recorded in the July 2011 meeting of the GEAC”, reminded the Coalition.
What is ironic in the case of the GM maize trials of Monsanto is that further field trials have been approved after this visit of the monitoring team on 5th May 2011 recorded the illegal planting!
Monsanto has also been caught violating several biosafety norms in its GM maize cultivation plot in Bijapur in early 2011, around the same time as this Monitoring Team’s finding of illegal planting inside the University in Dharwad. The Bijapur episode, documented by Greenpeace and a Kannada TV Channel had been brought to the notice of the regulators and no investigation has been completed so far into this complaint. Egregious violations were also found during various other field trials from 2005 onwards.
In the face of such impunity from these seed corporations and irresponsible inaction by the regulators, it is ironic that when civil society groups try to prevent contamination from these untested GMOs by objecting to such trials like in the case of the Bayer GM rice trial in Patancheru or DuPont GM rice trial in Doddaballapur, they are being treated as criminals! The history of GM crop regulation in India is replete with violations and illegal plantings and repeated failure on the part of the regulators in checking these or even taking serious action post facto. Therefore citizens are forced to step in to uphold biosafety.
“The Coalition demands that the Minister for Environment & Forests fix accountability on Monsanto and its Indian associates for violating Indian law. It also demands that MoEF take action against the regulators who repeatedly fail to check the violations of the corporations, and call on state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to drop all charges against activists involved in biosafety protection”, added the Coalition.
ps: Page 10 to 14 in the scanned document downloadable here do not pertain to the GM maize in question but got inadvertently included in the scanned document. Page 15 to 20 is the relevant monitoring report in this instance.