Carrying banners and placards featuring monster corn, farmers protested outside the Regional Research Station where open air GM corn trials are being run.
Monsanto, the American multinational seed giant, has been running open field trials of its herbicide tolerant GM corn variety in the Regional Research station of Choudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University (CCHAU) at Kurukshetra.
Since the field trials on GM food crops like GM corn started in the public sector research stations, public opposition has grown.
Under the banner of Alliance for GM free Haryana, various organizations met with the state Agriculture Minister, Mr Paramvir Singh in September and requested a halt to all open air field trials in the state.
The submission pointed to growing scientific evidence of the negative impacts of GM crops on both human health and the environment. It further raised concern over the manner in which the giant seed companies are taking control of the seed sector in India, using their proprietary GM seeds, as in Bt cotton, currently the only commercially cultivated GM crop in India.
On October 18, hundreds of farmers from Bharat Kisan Union, gathered in peaceful protest outside the Regional Research Station. Protesters carried monster corn placards and banners, reading "Monsanto GM corn quit India" in a display of resentment towards the open air field trials of genetically modified corn in the state.
The protest came on the heels of a recommendation of the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee (TEC), to put a 10 year moratorium on all field trials of Bt food crops, HT crops, and a ban on transgenic crop field trials.
Gurham Singh, Haryana State President of BKU, addressed the gathering of protesters, saying, “A month has passed since we met our agriculture minister but the government has failed to act on our behalf. The onus is now on us.”
Singh urged farmers to stand united in the fight for their farms and for good food free from genetically modified contamination or corporate control. He said that BKU will not permit any more field trials in the state.
Currently field trials in Haryana include GM corn, which contains bacterial genes to give herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. Trials have reportedly been permitted for Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta and Dow Agro Sciences. However, Monsanto is reportedly leading with one small scale (BRL 1) of its herbicide tolerant (HT) GM corn and one large scale (BRL 2) field trial of its stacked gene GM Maize. This maize has one bacterial gene for both herbicide tolerance and one (Bt) for insect resistance.
In the original submission, the alliance had also pointed out that these field trials were happening in the absence of any bio-safety assessments that prove their safety to human health and environment.
Addressing the farmers, Pankaj Bhushan, Co-Convenor, Coalition for GM Free India, said, “It is unfortunate that Haryana is becoming the testing ground for risky GM crops which have been rejected by other states in the country.”
“Massive opposition from all quarters in the past forced the central government to put a moratorium on Bt Brinjal 2 years ago but now the governments, both at the center and state, are permitting back door entry of GM crops through such open field trials.”
Dr Ramkumar, retired Senior scientist, CCHAU, said “Experiences from the few countries that grow GM corn commercially, show that this eventually leads to super weeds that are tolerant to these herbicides and the farmers will end up using more and more herbicides with less and less impact. What is worrisome is the recent scientific studies that point to the potency of herbicides like Monsanto's Glyphosate (commonly called as Round Up) to cause cancer, birth defects, female hormone disruptions, etc.”
“By promoting such GM crops, companies like Monsanto make double profits by selling its proprietary seed and its chemical herbicide,” he added.
Sunder Lal, Chairperson, Svashaasan Mission, Khori, Haryana urged the state government to immediately stop the field trials and said that “Given that GM crops in general and the GM corn in particular pose a grave threat to the health of the state's people, our food and farming the state government should take the side of the people and not that of biotech seed companies who have nothing but profits in their mind.”
In its interim report submitted to the court on Monday, the Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court of India has recommended a 10 year moratorium on all field trials of Bt food crops as well as HT crops, until an independent assessment of their impact and suitability is completed.
According to the press release:
The TEC, comprising of eminent scientists in the country on the field of molecular biology and biotechnology, after doing wide spread consultations with experts said that the moratorium is necessitated by the potential harm of GM crops to human health, that of livestock and biodiversity and the possibility of field trials to contaminate our regular crops and our food supply. The concern was also because of the inadequacy of the current regulatory system to assess the safety of GM crops and its ability to safely conduct field trials.
Speaking to the farmers about these developments, Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace India said that “It is unacceptable that after repeated recommendations from such credible agencies, both legislative and judicial, our government continues to permit open releases of GM crops in the country in the name of field trials.”
"The Minister of Environment and Forests, Smt Jayanti Natarajan, under whom sits the nodal agency for open releases of GM crops, should immediately stop all open air releases of GM crop including field trials,” he added,
All people gathered made the demand that the central and state governments stop promoting destructive agricultural technologies like GM crops. They demand support for ecological farming which is economically, ecologically and socially sustainable.
All parties took a solemn pledge to keep both the state and country free from GM crops. They further pledged to take action in the event of any more open releases of GM crops in the name of experimental trials.
Farmers protest an open air field trial of Monsanto GM corn in India