Three ‘cows’ and three ‘sheep’, on behalf of 1600 dead cattle, sought an audience with the Minister of Agriculture Mr. Sharad Pawar.
A fact finding report by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad indicates that the widespread death of sheep in April 2006 was closely linked to prolonged consumption of Bt cotton stalks and leaves that were left in fields after cotton had been harvested this season. (2)
"The impact of GM technology on human health and biodiversity remain unpredictable, untested and irreversible. Despite this, the government is on the verge of approving large scale field trials of GM brinjal (eggplant) – the first GM food crop in India," said Rajesh Krishnan, Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner. "Indians will be the first people in the world to eat GM brinjal. It's vital that the Agriculture Ministry first address the question raised by the cows and sheep today – Can GM Foods kill?"
Greenpeace has expressed shock at the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee's (GEAC) decision to rely on reports from the state government instead of bringing in experts on bio safety. The Agriculture Ministry's agreement to this decision (the Ministry is represented on the GEAC) indicates that the Ministry seems keen to promote GM crops, protecting corporate interests rather than the farmers of the country.
"The consistent regulatory failure in the case of Bt cotton has established that large-scale field trials lead to uncontrolled release of unauthorised genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment. Now that t he government is eager to approve large-scale field trials of GM brinjal there is real danger of widespread contamination of food. Moreover the government has provided only 15 days for citizens to respond to the proposal, and highlight the risks posed by GM food," said Rajesh Krishnan.
Greenpeace is demanding that the Agriculture Minister order an investigation on sheep mortality and withdraw all permissions for commercial release of existing GE crops in the interim.
"There must be no further approvals for GM crops until the government assesses the health impacts of GM crops by conducting an exhaustive study of long-term health impacts of various crops, both food and feed," said Rajesh Krishnan, on behalf of Greenpeace India.
Following the two-hour protest Mr. P.M.S. Hakeem (IAS) Secretary, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries informed Greenpeace that he was already aware of the issue and had "informally" requested Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR) to investigate into the deaths.
Greenpeace campaigner Rajesh Krishnan expressed outrage that the ministry has not been proactive and decisive inspite of being aware about the mysterious cattle deaths. "It is a cause for serious concern that the ministry continues to be casual, given the imminent approval of GM brinjal. The safety of our food is in question," he said.
The minister's office assured the activists that Mr. Pawar would meet them the next day to accept the memorandum.
For further information, contact
Rajesh Krishnan, Campaigner GE Free India: +919845650032
Jai Krishna, Campaigner, GE Free India: +919845591992
Vivek Sharma, Greenpeace Communications: +91934378842 / 011-26167624
Notes to Editor
(1) Please see the attached/enclosed Memorandum or visit www.greenpeaceindia.org
(2) Mortality in sheep flocks after grazing on Bt cotton fields, Warangal district, Andhra Pradesh. A report of the preliminary assessment, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, April 2006.