Monsanto accused of violating bio-safety rules

The Hindu
July 5, 2011

The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a farmers’ organisation, on Monday joined hands with Greenpeace and sought an immediate ban on all open field experiments of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in the country by Monsanto (a bio-technology company), in the wake of alleged violation of bio-safety norms by the multinational seed firm in Bijapur.

The KRRS’ demand comes in the wake of allegations by Greenpeace that Monsanto had flouted the norms of bio-safety, leading to fears of transgene leakage and subsequent contamination.

KRRS president Kodihalli Chandrashekar called upon Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa to take swift action against Monsanto in the light of the alleged contamination caused due to gross violation of rules during field trials. “If the government does not respond positively to our demand, we will be constrained to take direct action against the multinational company,” Mr. Chandrashekar said at a press meet here.

“The company should be nationally blacklisted and thrown out of Karnataka,” he said.

Greepeace India’s representative Shivani Shah, who was also present, claimed that Monsanto was caught “red-handed” violating bio-safety rules during field trials of GM corn in a village in Bijapur district’s Sindagi taluk. “GM corn cobs with viable seeds have been lying at the field, which was harvested more than a month ago – on June 1, 2011– leading to concerns about the seeds from the plot dispersing to nearby areas. Thus, the rule to destroy all residues after the GM crop has been thrown to the wind,” she said.

Though the guidelines state that the refuge of the GM crops has to be destroyed, it has been left over by the company for the farmer to use as feed for cattle, she alleged.

“Alarmingly, there was neither a fence around the trial plot nor any signboard indicating that the field had untested GM corn in an experimental stage. Further, neither the Deputy Commissioner of Bijapur nor the senior Agriculture Department officials knew about any cultivation of GM crops in the district,” she said.

Convenor of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) Kavitha Kuruganti said the Bijapur field trials showed the company’s “arrogance in defying norms.” Convenor of Coalition for GM Free Karnataka Krishna Prasad criticised the State government for not having a clear stand on GM crops.

Meanwhile, Monsanto has denied the allegations levelled against it.

A company spokesperson said the required permission was obtained from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for limited seed production of biotech corn. “Plantings took place in January 2011 and this information was proactively shared with State-level, district level and village level authorities.”

The area was fenced and display boards were put up. “The allegation that the residue was not burnt is false. In compliance with the guidelines from the regulatory authorities, we are monitoring the fields post harvest for a period of three months,” the spokesperson said.

Permission for 25 acres for each hybrid were obtained in November 2010 and the agreements with farmers were entered into subsequently before planting in Jan 2011, the spokesperson added.