Say No To GMOs! logo
August 2008 Updates

New Biosafety Proposals Are Biased Against Safety

By Vandana Shiva
Deccan Herald
August 19, 2008

Citizens have a right to health and environmental safety. Hence the existing biosafety law needs to be upheld.

While the country has been preoccupied with the Indo-US nuclear deal, there is indifference to the US-India agricultural deal, under which India is being pressurised to dismantle her biosafety regulations to put genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) on a fast track.

GMOs are transgenic organisms made by introducing genes across species boundaries. Thus Bt cotton, Bt rice or Bt brinjal have genes for a toxin taken from soil bacteria and put into the food crop. In addition, GMOs use anti-biotic resistance markets, viral promoters and cancer genes as vectors. These new genes can have risks for public health and the environment. Ensuring safety in the context of genetically engineered organisms is referred to as biosafety.

India has one of the most sophisticated laws of biosafety in the world. The rules for the manufacture, use/import/export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms/GMOs or cells, 1989, is notified under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986 (EPA). This is a science-based, public interest oriented legislation, created long before the commercialisation of GMOs and crops and long before the International Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, came into force.

The genetic engineering industry, in particular Monsanto, which controls 95 per cent of all GM seeds sold worldwide, first tried to bypass India's biosafety law when it started field trials without the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the statutory body for biosafety regulation.

That is why, when Monsanto- Mahyco started field trials of Bt cotton in 1997-98 without approval of the GEAC, we initiated a case in the Supreme Court. As a result, commercialisation of Bt cotton was delayed up to 2002.

The latest attempt at biosafety deregulation by the biotechnology department is to float the proposal for a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) and the National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill, 2008.

The false argument being used is that biotechnology regulation is currently spread over multiple Acts. This is not true. There is only one Act, the rules for GMOs under the EPA, regulating GMOs in all fields. It is also being argued that the NBRA will promote public confidence. The public will not and cannot have confidence in an industry driven, centralised, undemocratic, unaccountable law and institution floated by the agency which is a biotechnology promoting agency and has done everything in the last decade to undermine citizens rights and public interest.

This is a direct attempt to replace India's excellent biosafety law with industry-friendly legislation, and to replace the GEAC as a biosafety regulation authority with the NBRA to promote biotechnology, not biosafety.

The proposed authority undermines the regulatory role of diverse ministries and the rights of states and districts. The GEAC consists of members from different ministries, agencies and departments, as well as experts ­ heads of agricultural research, medical research, scientific and industrial research, health services, directorate of plant protection, pollution control boards.

In the proposed authority, the statutory bodies' role of diverse ministries has been replaced by an Inter-Ministerial Advisory Board, with no authority, but only to promote Central government cooperation. The checks and balances, and the decentralised institutions, which are part of the existing law are being destroyed to make it easy for the industry to get approvals.

Different ministries, diverse agencies and the states have thus been robbed of decision-making powers, which is vital to the functioning of democratic structures in the public interest. Instead of a multi-ministerial committee, all powers for decision making are proposed to be concentrated with one individual, the chairperson, who will be a biotechnologist, with skills in genetic engineering but no skills or expertise in biosafety.

The proposed authority is thus centralised, individualistically biased in favour of genetic engineering and hence will lend itself to easy influence of the genetic engineering industry.

The Bill clearly states that the following laws will stand repealed when it becomes an Act: rules for the manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms, GMOs or cells, 1989 issued under EPA. Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006; Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 8th Amendment; Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Bill, 2007; the Seed Bill, 2004; proposed Plant Quarantine Bill.

In other words, all safety regulation for health and environment will be demolished in one swoop if the National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill is passed and the NBRA is established.

The existing biosafety law needs to be upheld. It is an excellent law. Weakness in implementation needs strengthening of institutions and processes. Not the dismantling of a good law and its replacement by a centralised, biased law which is a disaster for citizens right to health and environmental safety.


Charles in GM 'Disaster' Warning

BBC News
August 13, 2008

Companies developing genetically modified crops risk creating the biggest environmental disaster "of all time", Prince Charles has warned.

GM crops were damaging Earth's soil and were an experiment "gone seriously wrong", he told the Daily Telegraph.

A future reliance on corporations to mass-produce food would drive millions of farmers off their land, he said.

The government said it welcomed all voices in the "important" debate over the future potential role of GM crops.

However, Dr Julian Little, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, said he was "disappointed" by the Prince's comments because "they do not seem to be based on any solid evidence".

"Our experience from over 10 years of GM cultivation shows that GM technology has been found to deliver real environmental and economic benefits," he said.

Mr Little added: "At a time when demand for food and fuel is rising and in the face of growing environmental challenges, we need to find ways to feed an ever-increasing global population."

BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said the Prince's "robust" comments were "likely to rankle with the government", which has given the go-ahead to a number of GM crop trials in the UK since 2000.

"Even for a prince who's a long-established champion of organic farming and critic of GM crops, these are comments which verge on the extreme," our correspondent said.

ety ever launched its partial review as it had been presented at an international conference prior to the Society's review. Curiously, the Royal Society has also described the opinion piece by Gasson and Burke as 'primar

Relying on "gigantic corporations" for food would end in "absolute disaster", he warned.

"That would be the absolute destruction of everything... and the classic way of ensuring there is no food in the future."

What should be being debated was "food security not food production", he said.

He said GM developers might think they would be successful by having "one form of clever genetic engineering after another", but he believed "that will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time".

Prince Charles, who has an organic farm on his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire, said relying on big corporations for the mass production of food would not only threaten future food supplies but also force smaller producers out of business.

"If they think this is the way to go, we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness," he said.

The prince also told the Telegraph he hoped to see more family-run co-operative farms, with producers working with nature and not against it.

The Prince's comments come at a time of rising world food prices and food shortages.

The biotech industry says that GM technology can help combat world hunger and poverty by delivering higher yields from crops and also reduce the use of pesticides.


In June, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said the government was ready to argue for a greater role for the technology.

But green groups and aid agencies have doubts about GM technology's effectiveness in tackling world hunger and have concerns about the long-term environmental impact.

Responding to the prince's comments, a spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Safety will always be our top priority on this issue."

Anti-monarchy Campaign group Republic said: "Prince Charles is quickly making his position as heir to the throne untenable with his meddling in politics."


Behind the Headlines: GM Food

By Steve Dube
Wales on Sunday (
August 17, 2008

Prince Charles caused a stir this week with his strongest comments yet on GM food. But why? Farming editor Steve Dube investigates

What's it all about?

Prince Charles doesn't like genetically modified (GM) food. It gives him nightmares.


As a passionate organic farmer, Prince Charles is worried that the GM genie might wreak havoc once it's out of the bottle. There have been food scares before -- look at Mad Cow Disease.

What does he think might happen?

He thinks GM could be the biggest environmental disaster of all time and says "millions of small farmers all over the world face being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness".

How does he work that one out?

Well, he knows that farmers and plant breeders have been improving plants for thousands of years by carefully selecting the best ones. And there's nothing wrong with that. Long live the Brussels Sprout.

But genetic modification is different because scientists extract one or more genes from one species and add it to another.

What's wrong with that?

Well, no one can control what happens when genetic material from different species is mixed -- like putting a gene from, say, a fish into a plant. It might do what you want it to do, or it might change the plant in unexpected ways and even make it poisonous. For example, when scientists tried to increase the starch content of potatoes with yeast genes, they found the starch content actually fell, and there were other undesirable effects.

It can't all be bad?

Some of it is very good, according to the biotechnology companies. But they would say that, wouldn't they, because they are investing heavily in GM technology. There are 30 million kinds of plants in the world and just four -- rice, wheat, maize and soya -- provide 60% of our food. The biotech companies are concentrating on these.

One particular gene, which provides resistance to a type of weedkiller called glyphosate, has been inserted into at least nine different crop plants now on the market in the EU and the United States.

Sounds like there's a lot being grown?

Too right. The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, the umbrella body for the huge multi-nationals that produce GM seed, says 12 million farmers in 23 countries plant GM crops. And Americans have been eating GM food for a decade or more.

So the gene genie is already out of the bottle then, isn't it?

Yes. It's been in our shopping baskets since 1996 when Sainsbury's and Safeway put the first tin of American-grown GM tomatoes on sale.

So what's the problem?

Those tomatoes were clearly labelled as being genetically modified. And hardly anybody bought them. European consumers don't like GM.

So how come it's in our shopping baskets then?

Any processed food containing maize or soya -- and that's a lot of food -- is likely to contain GM material. And it only has to be labelled in Europe if the GM content exceeds 0.9%. But animal feed does not have to be labelled, and nor does food produced from animals that are fed GM -- and that's just about all cattle, pigs and poultry, except those produced organically. There is no GM labelling at all in the United States.

It's not done the Americans any harm, has it?

Strangely enough, nobody knows because nobody is asking that question, although we do know that American life expectancy is getting shorter and more Americans are dying early from food-related problems. But some scientists have tried to ask questions. Take the mysterious case of Arpad Pusztai.

Who's he?

Dr Pusztai is a Hungarian-born scientist who worked in the Rowett Research Institute at the University of Aberdeen.

He was a world expert on plant lectins. These are proteins in plants that kill insects and other invaders. Pusztai had published more than 300 scientific papers, when, at the age of 69 in 1998, he spoke about GM potatoes in a World in Action TV programme. He said he had compared rats fed ordinary potatoes with others fed potatoes that had been genetically modified with a lectin from snowdrops.

The rats on the GM diet suffered damage to their intestines and immune systems. That's when all hell broke loose.

What happened?

The Institute's director Philip James phoned to congratulate him after the programme. But the following morning his attitude mysteriously changed. Professor Robert Orskov OBE, who worked at the Rowett for 33 years and is one of Britain's leading nutrition experts, claims the sudden change followed a series of phone calls that started with the US biotech multinational Monsanto, which produces most of the world's GM food. This first call went to then US President Bill Clinton, who phoned then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in turn phonedJames.

Pusztai was suspended and later dismissed, his data seized and he was banned from speaking publicly. So he had to stay silent when he read newspapers saying his GM potatoes contained a lectin gene that is poisonous to mammals.

Did they?

No. The misinformation was included in a press release issued by the Rowett Institute. James says Pusztai approved the press release but Pusztai says he knew nothing about it. Even today pro-GM scientists dismiss his research as muddled and based on a schoolboy error.

Does everyone share that point of view?

No. Pusztai is a hero to anti-GM campaigners, who regard him as someone who stuck his neck out for the public good. And they're not alone. In 2005 he was honoured with a whistleblower award from the Federation of German Scientists.

What happened to his research?

A paper was published by Pusztai and a colleague in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet in October 1999.

Because of all the controversy the paper was reviewed by six scientists -- three times the usual number -- and five approved it. The paper used data held by Pusztai's colleague Dr Stanley Ewen, so it was not covered by the ban. It showed that rats fed on the GM potatoes with the snowdrop lectin developed unusual changes to their gut tissue.

No doubt there has been other research, if so, what has it found?

There has actually been very little independent research. The first known human trial of GM food was carried out by scientists at Newcastle University and published in the journal Nature Biotechnology in 2004. It showed that DNA material transfers from GM food into the human gut -- disproving the claims of the biotech industry. The Food Standards Agency, which commissioned the research in response to public pressure, said the results were not significant.

It sounds as though more research is needed. Is anyone doing it?

Unfortunately no, and for a simple reason. GM seeds are owned by the company that manufactures them and scientists can study them only if the company agrees.

Is the only research into the safety of GM food done by the companies that produce it?

That's right. And since 99.9% of GM varieties are designed to resist or absorb pesticides or to produce a toxin that kills any insect that bites it, it's the first time in history that what amounts to a drug or pesticide is not tested before release by anyone other than the company that makes it.

And the stakes are high. Farmers who sign up for the promise of GM crops have to agree to use fertiliser and pesticides from the seed supplier and not to save any seed. Some are even "terminator" seeds that are infertile. Meanwhile GM corporations are systematically buying up seed companies and taking varieties off the market. Control the seeds that feed the world you become 100 times richer than Bill Gates, because you can say which country has which seed, and you get paid every time someone uses your seed. And once you add green oil - bio-fuel -- into the equation you become master of the world -- richer than any country. The eight biggest drugs companies are the biggest producers of GM, and the biggest pesticide manufacturers. They began with maize and soya, they had the patent last year for wheat in the US and now they're working on rice.

What about insulin for diabetics? I heard that's now nearly all GM material.

It is, but there's a case in point: some people have an adverse reaction to it and can't use it.

But won't GM crops help us to feed the world by making stronger plants with bigger yields?

You've heard the propaganda put out by the GM companies, who have a permanent presence at European Commission and easy access to ministers and civil servants that for some reason believe what they're told. The United National International Assessment of Agriculture, carried out by 400 leading scientists, found no evidence that GM crops increase yields or that they could feed a hungry world. And the US Department of Agriculture reported earlier this year that some GM crop yields are actually lower. GM is not about feeding starving children. People are hungry not because there's not enough food in the world, but because they haven't got the money to buy it. GM won't make their pockets any heavier, and they won't be able to afford to buy the seed.

Is that why Prince Charles is worried?

Partly. There's also the environmental impact -- the effects of increased pesticide use on insects, birds and other wildlife. And the Prince thinks GM systems and the agribusiness and globalisation promoted by the world's Big 8 nations such as the US and UK, are behind a worldwide decrease in the number of small farms. And as people leave the land they end up unemployed and disaffected in Third World slums.

Is there any evidence for this?

The UN says globalisation is the biggest underlying reason for the growth in slums -- the Prince's "unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness".

OK, we know he doesn't like GM. But surely it's worth giving it a go?

Perhaps, but maybe not like it's being done now. Professor Barry Commoner, a distinguished biologist and philosopher of science at Queens College, New York, sums it up like this: "The genetically engineered crops now being grown represent a massive uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable. The results could be catastrophic."

So what's the answer?

At the moment, it IS the stuff of nightmares. History has shown that we need scientists with the public good in mind to study new technologies and give honest answers about its effects on nature and humans. That way we may avoid disasters like thalidomide and Mad Cow Disease. But while science is powered by the pursuit of money, people like Prince Charles are right to put up their hands and ask why.


Michael Russell on GM Crops

By Michael Russell
Sunday Herald
August 25, 2008

In recent weeks, the Prince of Wales has reignited the GM debate. Some people, such as UK environment minister Phil Woolas, were quick to criticise, but many others have indicated agreement. The Scottish government also supports his argument. GM is not the panacea its advocates claim it is, and the dangers of GM crop cultivation continue to outweigh the advantages.

The criticism from Woolas was particularly strange. We are both environment ministers and should approach such matters with the precautionary principle firmly in mind. The principle that "if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action."

This makes sense. That is why it is enshrined in European law and is commanding global respect. Indeed, the Indian Supreme Court is considering a petition which would ban GM experimental crop cultivation. It is merely common sense to be careful; once the GM genie is out of the bottle it would be impossible to get it back in.

But for Scotland there is a second principle - one that I call the preventative principle. Scotland is lucky - we enjoy a clean, pure and sustainable natural environment. This not only attracts many tourists, but also underpins our ability to sell our whisky, beef, lamb, salmon and so many natural products. It makes no sense to play fast and loose with such an asset. Fortunately most people in Scotland agree, as every poll on the issue has shown.

But, contrary to the pro-GM spin, we are not alone - not even in these islands. The government of Northern Ireland agrees, as do many others across Europe. They share our concerns and, like us, are prepared to stand up and be counted. Earlier this year I discussed the issue with European environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, who has urged sensible caution on the issue.

There is no evidence GM will feed the world. Conventional plant breeding techniques - at which Scots scientists excel - have a far better track record in improving yield and protection from disease. Scotland does not need GM crops, Scotland does not want GM crops and Scotland should not have GM crops. Scottish agriculture and exporters are better off without them. And so is the environment right across our planet.

Michael Russell MSP is Minister for Environment (Scotland)

top of page