Report on Bt brinjal’s commercial use plagiarized

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A charge of plagiarism has been leveled by an anti GM crop advocacy group against a high profile report from the six leading science academies of India which declared Bt brinjal as being safe.

The report prepared by the heads of some of the top Indian institutions has it seems lifted material almost verbatim from a biotechnology advocacy newsletter without proper acknowledgement.

Read the whole story: NDTV, India Today, Mint


Six top science bodies’ verdict: Bt brinjal safe

Six premier Indian science academies, given the task of evaluating Bt brinjal by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, have declared it safe, but their findings also say all genetically modified (GM) items pose a risk if the science behind them is flawed. The academies, as part of their mandate, have made key recommendations, including allowing the use of GM crops to meet growing food demands.

However, they said, India’s food security is “too critical an area” to be left entirely to the private sector. Therefore, public sector organisations should be the main facilitators of GM technologies.

The launch of Bt brinjal, India’s first GM food crop, was aborted in February after a safety debate broke out. While putting a moratorium on the genetically-engineered eggplant, the world’s first, Ramesh had said a decision to release it would have to be “responsible to both science and society”.

Ramesh had then appointed the academies to scrutinise Bt brinjal and give a rigorous opinion on GM crops.

K. Kasturirangan, Planning Commission member heading farm research, was asked to steer the project involving Bangalore-based Indian Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy and National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, all New Delhi-based, and Allahabad-based National Academy of Sciences.

In GM crops, the genetic material (DNA) is altered to improve its qualities. Bt Brinjal, for instance, has been inserted with a bacterial protein so that it resists pests.

The academies, which have submitted their findings to the government, found no evidence that the protein used in creating Bt brinjal, Cry1Ac, is unsafe. “The same Bt protein present in another food crop has been consumed elsewhere in the world with no evidence of any scientifically established negative effect,” the report, reviewed by HT, states.

Some people can still be allergic to Bt brinjal, the findings say, just as some people develop allergies to common foods such as milk or nuts. So, no food can be declared 100 per cent safe for all from this viewpoint.

Read the whole story:  Hindustan Times


Researchers develop protein-packed potato in India

Researchers in India have developed a genetically modified potato that is packed with up to 60 percent more protein and increased levels of amino acids.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, the scientists expressed hope that the transgenic potato would find more acceptance because it uses a gene from the amaranth seed, another edible crop.

"Because potato constitutes an important part of the diet of many people in developed as well as developing countries, it is apparent that this can add value to potato-based products with enhanced benefits for better human health," they wrote.

Amaranth is a tall, broadleaf plant that produces tiny seeds. It was a major food of the Aztecs and earlier American cultures, and started to be grown as a grain crop in the United States in the late 1970s.

One of its genes, Amaranth Albumin 1 (AmA1), is regarded as agriculturally important because it endows the plant and its seeds with high protein levels and higher concentrations of several essential amino acids.

Led by Subhra Chakraborty at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research in New Delhi, the scientists inserted the gene into seven types of potatoes and then grew the transgenic potatoes over two years.

They found that the transgenic potatoes contain between 35 and 60 percent more protein than unmodified potatoes. They also contain increased levels of amino acids, notably lysine, tyrosine and sulphur, which are usually limited in potatoes.

Read the whole story: REUTERS


Govt hikes onion MEP for Sept again by $75/tonne

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Barely less than two weeks since the minimum export price (MEP) of onion was revised upward, the government further hiked the price for exporting the commodity by USD 75 to USD 350 a tonne for the current-month to boost domestic availability and curb price rise. Early this month, the government had raised onion MEP for September by USD 55 to USD 275 a tonne from the last month.

"As prices of onion in the wholesale markets are rising, it was decided to further hike the export price of the commodity to ensure domestic supply increases and prices come down," a senior Agriculture Ministry official, who looks into horticultural crops, told PTI. The wholesale prices at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra, which is Asia''s biggest onion market, have risen sharply by 48 per cent in just one month. Onion prices have gone up to Rs 1,373 per quintal today from Rs 925 per quintal the same period last month, according to the official data.

The current demand is being fulfilled with onion stock stored in the cold chains. As a result, prices have hardened because fresh crop is expected to arrive only after November, the official said, adding that the priority is to ensure enough supply in the domestic market.

In Maharashtra, about 13-14 lakhs tonnes of onions are stored in cold chains, of which 40-50 per cent of the stock is sold and the rest will be available till October-end, according to the National Horticulture Research and Development Foundation. An onion trader said that higher MEP would further slow down onion exports, which have declined for the fifth consecutive month in August.

The country''s onion exports fell by 53 per cent to 87,428 tonnes in August, from 1,86,144 tonnes in the same period last year, according to onion export regulator Nafed. Agri-cooperative major Nafed, along with 13 other agencies involved in onion export, regulates exports by fixing the MEP every month.

No export can take place below the MEP and all contracts are registered with the Nafed.

Source: Business Line


Kerala Minister objects to Biotechnology Bill

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kerala Minister for Agriculture Mullakkara Retnakaran has expressed strong reservations about the Biotechnology Regulatory Bill approved by the Union Cabinet recently.

In a letter to Union Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar seeking his intervention, Mr. Retnakaran objected to the move to centralise and vest a three-member Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India with full powers to take all decisions related to biotechnology including introduction of genetically modified crops and foods in the country.

Terming the provisions of the Bill as draconian, he said that the even representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment and Forests were not proposed to be included in the Authority. Besides, the Bill sought to curtail freedom of expression and punish anyone who records any view against introduction of any genetically modified crop or food. Even peaceful demonstration against introduction of genetically modified crops could attract imprisonment and fine.

The Minister told The Hindu that serious consultations with States, experts and the people should be undertaken before enacting the legislation. The biodiversity of the country was varied, and it was not even the governments but people who protected this diversity. The responsibility of protecting the biodiversity should remain with the States.

Mr. Retnakaran noted that the Bill proposed centralisation of authority contrary to the tendency to decentralise decision making. The powers of the State to take policy decision on matters related to agriculture was being sought to be trampled upon.

He said that he would soon be writing to the members of the Parliament from the State to oppose the provisions of the Bill in Parliament. Though he had communicated his objections to the Centre earlier, they had received due consideration.

In his earlier communication, Mr. Retnakaran had said that almost all the provisions of the Bill were undemocratic and authoritarian. Commercial interest of the corporate bodies was given prime protection. Commercial information was exempted from disclosure even under the Right to Information Act. Independent Research on genetically modified crops was not allowed, as the entire research was to be done only by those organisations notified by the Biotechnology Authority.

“We are sure; you would agree with me that the destiny of India’s agriculture cannot be left to a three member Authority with unlimited powers and unquestionable freedom, that too without an iota of accountability and transparency,” he said.

Read the whole story : The Hindu


Another buffalo calf cloned in India

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In this June 6, 2009 picture Garima, the second cloned buffalo is seen at the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal. On Sunday, another cloned buffalo calf was born where two calves were cloned a year ago.

A cloned buffalo calf was born at the Karnal-based National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) on Sunday, where two calves were cloned a year ago, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) announced here on Monday.

The buffalo calf, named Garima-II, was born through the new and advanced ‘hand-guided cloning technique'.

It weighs 32 kg and is apparently normal and healthy.

“This cloned buffalo calf is different from the earlier clone calf because, in this case, the used donor cell was an embryonic cell,” said NDRI Director A.K. Srivastava in a press statement.

According to him, the technology could go a long way in facilitating faster multiplication of superior milch buffaloes in the country.

“There is an acute shortage of good bulls in the country. The technology of cloning will decrease the gap between supply and demand by breeding the bulls in the shortest possible time,” he said.

Dr. Srivastava said that although the world's largest population of buffaloes was in India, and it contributed about 55 per cent to the total milk production in the country, the percentage of elite buffaloes was low.

Dr. Srivastava and his team of scientists, including M.S. Chauhan, S.K. Singla, R.S. Manik, Shiv Prasad and Aman George, feel that embryonic stem cells have a better cloning ability as compared to somatic cells (used in earlier cloning) that are lineage committed.

The world's first buffalo calf through the ‘hand-guided cloning technique' developed by the NDRI was born on February 6 last, but it could not survive beyond five days.

The second cloned calf, Garima-I, was born on June 6, 2009. It survived and is reportedly healthy.

The new calf was developed from embryos that were cultured and grown in a laboratory and then transferred to recipient buffalo.

It was born in a Caesarean operation carried out by a team of doctors from the NDRI and Chaudhary Charan Singh Agricultural University, Hisar.

Read the whole story: The Hindu


Bill on GM food likely to be tabled next week

A bill seeking to regulate the use of genetically modified (GM) food is likely to be tabled in parliament next week, government sources said Saturday. 

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill is aimed at creating a mechanism to regulate the use of biotech in agriculture. 

The bill was cleared by the union cabinet Monday. 

The bill will address a wide range of issues related to BT brinjal to BT cotton, as concerns have been raised over the safe usage of these genetically modified agro-products. 

Some environment groups and members of the civil society allege the bill will open the floodgates to GM food. 

Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has earlier said that the bill, once tabled, will address the concerns of the civil society. 

The minister has also clarified that safety and commercial clearances of GM food will be handled by separate agencies under the mechanism. 


India says no to Bt brinjal, for now

Friday, February 12, 2010

Placing an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of Bt Brinjal, which would otherwise have been the first genetically modified food crop in India, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh Tuesday said he took the "precautionary approach" as there was no clear consensus on the subject among Indian scientists.

"It is my duty to … impose a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till such time that independent scientific studies establish satisfaction of both public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of long-term impact on human health and environment," Ramesh said at a press conference here.

He pointed to the opposition to the genetically modified vegetable from 11 state governments, green activists and farmers during his public hearings over the issue at seven cities around the country.

"The decision is based on information that there is no clear consensus within the scientific community. The environmental scientists raised so many questions which were not satisfactorily answered," Ramesh said.

"There was also so much opposition from various states," he said, adding that the "negative public sentiments" could not be ignored since there is no "overriding urgency to clear Bt Brinjal".

Ramesh clarified that the moratorium in no way implied a "conditional acceptance" of Bt Brinjal.

"I would like to say that this approach (moratorium) is responsible to the scientific community and responsive to the society," he said.

The minister also clarified that the moratorium was to the version of Bt Brinjal being developed by Maharashtra-based firm Mahyco. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, the University of Agriculture in Dharwad (Karnataka) and two laboratories of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research are also developing genetically modified versions of brinjal.

Asked about the possibility of spurious Bt Brinjal seeds making their way into the market, Ramesh said it was up to state governments to check this. "I hope we don't see a repeat of Bt Cotton where spurious and illegal Bt Cotton seeds found their way into the market," he said.

The decision on Bt Brinjal was originally scheduled to be announced Wednesday, but the environment minister advanced the declaration by a day. The issue has raised tempers around the country and in political circles. The agriculture and science and technology ministries had supported the commercial release of Bt Brinjal after the government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee had cleared it last October. It was up to the environment ministry to decide on the matter.

Ramesh said his decision followed consultation with senior scientists including M.S. Swaminathan, the father of India's Green Revolution. "I have spoken to a large number of scientists, but in this case science is inadequate," he said.

India is the world's largest brinjal producer. West Bengal produces more than any other state, and the Left Front government there was one of the 11 that had declared it would not allow commercial release of Bt Brinjal.

Read the whole story: The Economic Times


Don’t hasten introduction of Bt brinjal: M.S. Swaminathan

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The government should not be in hurry to introduce Bt brinjal until fundamental issues were addressed, agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan said here on Saturday.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a consultation on “Effective community management of biodiversity in an era of climate change,” Dr. Swaminathan said: “Every technology has its benefits and risks. But it all depends on our capacity to analyse risks and benefits. We must analyse whether risks are more or benefits are more. There should be an authority to analyse the risks and benefits in a transparent way. Unfortunately, we don’t have an authority like that.”

He added: “In my report in 2004, I had recommended an autonomous statutory body such as a bio-technology regulatory authority which is to be led by eminent professionals and has its own facilities for testing — not only going by the company or by the breeder.”

The authority should have its own facilities to analyse long-term chronic effects and all bio-safety aspects, and the sooner the country had, the better, Dr. Swaminathan said.

The Union government had till date not accepted the report, he added.

“Brinjal is consumed throughout one’s life. It’s a vegetable of very widespread consumption. Therefore what will be the chronic effect? Brinjal, there is so much of variability in the country. Will that variability and the biodiversity be destroyed by growing one or two varieties of brinjal in the place of numerous [varieties]? What happens if the resistance breaks down? We would have then lost our bio-diversity. Are steps being taken?” Dr. Swaminathan said.

He added that genetically modified crops should not be introduced in the biological and agricultural hotspots of the country.

Read the whole story: The Hindu


Indian scientists develop GM tomatoes that stay fresh for 45 days

Researchers at National Institute of Plant Genome Research in New Delhi have developed tomatoes genetically modified to stay fresh for 30 days longer.

Dr. Asis Datta and colleagues found a way to keep tomatoes firm for 45 days, when usually they would start to go soft after 15, reports the Scotsman.

Boffins believe the breakthrough could apply to other fruit - including bananas, mangoes and papaya.

The researchers made the breakthrough after identifying chemicals that make tomatoes go soft. By suppressing two enzymes, known as A-Man and B-Hex, which accumulate at critical stages during ripening, the researchers were able to extend shelf-life by a month.

The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Datta said, “Overall the results demonstrate a substantial improvement in fruit shelf-life.” He emphasized that there were no “ill effects”. “In conclusion the engineering of plants provides a strategy for crop improvement that can be extended to other important fruit crops,” he said.

Read the whole story: The Hindu


Govt. raises minimum onion export price by USD 5/tonne

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The government has raised the minimum price for exporting onion by USD 50 to an average of USD 500-505 a tonne for January to increase domestic availability.

“The Minimum Export Price (MEP) has been raised by USD 50 a tonne for January 2010,” said a senior official with agri co-operative Nafed, which is the government’s agency to regulate onion export.

After the hike, the MEP now stands at USD 500-505 per tonne for export to Dubai and Sharjah, and at USD 515-530 a tonne for other destinations in the Gulf, he added.

The increase in MEP has been made even though export was lower in December 2009, the official said, adding, “there could be a check on retail prices through this move.”

According to data maintained by Nafed, onion export for December 2009 was 77,000 tonnes against 1.02 lakh tonnes during the same month in 2008.

Citing retail prices of onion at over Rs 20 a kg in many places in the country, he said the high MEP may bring down export further, thereby raising domestic supply.

Nafed, alongwith 13 other agencies involved in onion export, decides the MEP every month.

No export can take place below the MEP and all contracts are registered with the Nafed.

Read the whole story: The Hindu
Read related story in Hindi


Indian companies buy land abroad for agricultural products

Indian companies are buying land overseas, mainly in Africa, to grow agricultural products that can be exported to large markets, including India.

Companies and investment houses prefer the African route to agriculture as direct investment in this sector in India is fraught with bureaucratic hurdles. Also, land is relatively cheaper in Africa and fertile. Contiguous nature of land — a company can get large tracts contiguous land — are the other main drivers.

According to statistics provided by governments of various countries in east Africa, more than 80 Indian companies have invested about £1.5 billion (about Rs 11,300 crore ) in buying huge plantations in countries in eastern Africa, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique that will be used to grow foodgrain for the domestic market.

The list of companies that have purchased land in Africa is quite long and includes companies in businesses ranging from agriculture and horticulture to engineering and metals. They include the Kolkata-based Kankaria group (manufacturing and textiles), Kommuri Agrotech (floriculture and horticulture), Surya Electrical (electrical products), Karuturi Agro Processing, AVR Engineering (construction), Nelvo International (minerals), Allied Chemicals, BP Jewellery, KSR Earthmovers.

Read the whole story: The Economic Times


Two GM varieties of wheat developed by Mahyco registered

The first of the genetically modified seed varieties developed in India will make it to the market soon as the government has registered two such wheat varieties developed by Mahyco, an Indian seeds company. This will create competition in the market dominated by multinational companies and thereby help lower seed prices. The registration of vegetable varieties will begin in March next year.

The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FR Authority) has registered these two hybrid wheat varieties. “The registration of the novel varieties is considered crucial since MNCs have so far dominated the sector and have even used the research knowledge and genetic material available here to register expensive varieties of food crop seeds,” PPV&FR Authority chairperson Nagarajan told ET.

Read the whole story: The Economic Times

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