Irregularities galore in Bt trials

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Wednesday 15 October 2008

Mahyco flouts rules in Bt rice trials in Jharkhand

mahyco seed company was found conducting field trials of Bt rice in Jharkhand, flouting all the rules and regulations prescribed for trials of a genetically modified crop.

The trials were being conducted at Saparong village in Ranchi district of Jharkhand without the knowledge of the farmers and without isolating the trial field. "Moreover, the Bt rice has not undergone safety tests, so no one knows whether it is safe to eat," said Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based pressure group.

According to Gene Campaign, which found the irregularities, the trial was conducted between March and August this year; a non-rice season for the state. Sahai pointed out that there could have been no pest attacks during this season and hence impossible to test Bt Rice's pest resistance. Moreover, the farmers informed Gene Campaign that officials of Mahyco used to come to 'spray' something.

The trials were held on about half a hectare on top of a hill, increasing the chances of contamination of other fields through run-off. Only one farmer was appointed a caretaker and nobody from the company was present to supervise the harvest and disposal of crop residue. Although Mahyco, in its letter to the Department of Biotechnology, claims it has burnt the residue, Gene Campaign found it was not true. While the caretaker has kept the harvested seed in a cloth bag, nothing has been burnt in the trial field. The company had approached scientists from the Birsa Agriculture University to monitor the trials, but they had refused. Gene Campaign, which runs seed banks in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, feels the Bt genes can affect the genetic diversity of rice. Down To Earth tried to contact Mahyco, but there was no response.

In the us, the California legislature on August 31 passed a bill to protect the farmers from companies like Monsanto, who have been harassing them with lawsuits for contamination of their crop by patented seeds or its pollen.

The bill, awaiting the governor's approval, is the first of its kind in California to bring regulation in genetically engineered crops. It will not only protect farmers who have been unable to stop the contamination of non- gm crops, but also establish a mandatory crop sampling protocol to prevent biotech companies from sampling crops without the permission of farmers.

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