Matters concerned with Environment

Friday, February 26, 2010

A fitting Tribute to Dr Ravi

Ravi Sankaran Fellowships
A biodiversity conservation initiative of Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation

Are you a young person with a passion for wildlife? Do you want to use your energy and skills to make a difference to biodiversity conservation in India? The Ravi Sankaran Fellowship Program can help. This Program has been set up in memory of the late Dr. Ravi Sankaran who followed up his detailed field studies of wild species with innovative projects to conserve their populations.

The Program funds three major activities:

A Master's degree at a university abroad
An internship with an organisation abroad
A short conservation research or implementation project within India (in a Small Grants program)
What it covers: Fellowship recipients will receive a stipend, travel funds and an amount covering course fees (where relevant). Fellows may also be granted an additional amount towards project expenses, subject to a maximum of Rs 200,000 per year (most grants of this nature will be under Rs 100,000 per year).

Selection: Each activity is intended to have an explicit conservation focus, with an emphasis on clear on-ground conservation benefits. Successful applicants will ordinarily hold a Bachelor's degree (in any discipline) and be below the age of 30 on the date of the application deadline.

Monday, February 22, 2010

കാന്‍സറിനും ഹൃദ്രോഗത്തിനും വെളിച്ചെണ്ണ

വെളിച്ചെണ്ണ കാണുമ്പഴേ 'കൊളസ്‌ട്രോള്‍, കൊളസ്‌ട്രോള്‍' എന്നു പറയുന്നതാണ് നമ്മള്‍ മലയാളികളുടെ ഇപ്പോഴത്തെ പതിവ്. പലകാര്യങ്ങളിലും വില്ലനാണെങ്കിലും ജീവിതശൈലീ രോഗങ്ങളോട് പൊരുതാന്‍ വെളിച്ചെണ്ണയ്ക്ക് കഴിവുണ്ടെന്നാണ് പുതിയ വാര്‍ത്ത.

ഉത്തര്‍പ്രദേശിലെ ലഖ്‌നൊവില്‍ ഞായറാഴ്ചയാരംഭിച്ച സമ്പോസിയത്തിലാണ് വെളിച്ചെണ്ണയുടെ ഈ ഗുണഗണങ്ങള്‍ വെളിപ്പെടുത്തപ്പെട്ടത്.

തായ്‌ലന്റുകാരനായ ഒരു ശാസ്ത്രജ്ഞനാണ് വെളിച്ചെണ്ണയെക്കുറിച്ചുള്ള ഗവേഷണഫലങ്ങള്‍ ഒന്നൊന്നായി പറഞ്ഞത്. ഹൃദ്രോഗം, അര്‍ബുദം, പ്രമേഹം തുടങ്ങിയ ജീവിതശൈലീ രോഗങ്ങളെ ഫലപ്രദമായി നേരിടാന്‍ വെളിച്ചെണ്ണ ഉത്തമമാണത്രേ.

സാര്‍സ്, എയ്ഡ്‌സ് തുടങ്ങിയ വൈറല്‍ രോഗങ്ങളുടെ കാര്യത്തിലും വെളിച്ചെണ്ണയ്ക്ക് പ്രതിരോധശേഷിയുണ്ടെന്നാണ് പ്രൊഫസര്‍ നരോങ്‌ചോംച ലൗ പറഞ്ഞത്. വെളിച്ചെണ്ണ സംരക്ഷണത്തിനും വികസനത്തിനുമായുള്ള തായ്‌ലാന്റ് ഫോറത്തിന്റെ അധ്യക്ഷനാണ് നരോങ്‌ചോംച.

പൂരിത ഫാറ്റി ആസിഡുകള്‍ അടങ്ങിയ വെളിച്ചെണ്ണ ആരോഗ്യപ്രശ്‌നങ്ങള്‍ പരിഹരിക്കുന്നതിന് ഏറെ ഫലപ്രദമാണെന്നാണ് അദ്ദേഹം പറയുന്നത്, വെളിച്ചെണ്ണയിലെ മീഡിയം ചെയിന്‍ ഫാറ്റി ആസിഡുകള്‍ കരളില്‍വച്ച് നേരിട്ട് ഊര്‍ജ്ജമായി പരിണമിക്കുന്നു.

ശരീരത്തില്‍ ശേഖരിക്കപ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുന്ന കൊഴുപ്പുകളെ ചെറുഘടകങ്ങളാക്കി മാറ്റുന്ന പ്രവര്‍ത്തനത്തിനാവശ്യമായ ഉത്തേജനവും നല്‍കുന്നു. അണുക്കള്‍ക്കെതിരെ പോരാടാനും വെളിച്ചയിലെ ഘടകങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് ശേഷിയുണ്ടത്രേ

Friday, February 19, 2010

Super Green Design for British Columbia

The University of British Columbia's Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) will be a candidate to be regarded as one of the greenest buildings in North America once it is completed. The building, which is presently under construction in Vancouver, is not only a superb example of sustainability in building design, but its purpose is to foster and accelerate sustainability and to bring together researchers, businesses, and nonprofits to work collaboratively on issues of sustainability.
The mission statement (PDF) for the building calls it a "living laboratory of sustainability." The design of the building avoids checklist green building, and instead is reaching to become a truly sustainable building:

"The first goal is to build a building that as far as possible lives off its biophysical income: the flows of energy and matter that are found on its own site. A substantial portion of the electricity that CIRS uses will come from the sunlight landing on the building. A significant portion of the ventilation will be supplied naturally by the wind. All of the lighting for all parts of the building will come from the sun, when it is available. All of the heating for the building will be supplied by capturing waste heat from adjacent buildings and through a ground source heat pump system. All of the water used in the building will be treated and reused."
What is notable about this goal is the encompassing nature of what is projected for building performance: Daylighting for all parts of the building, when it is available. All water used in the building will be treated and reused. The building is even expected to be a net producer of energy. Rather than talking about the building systems in percentages, as is often seen when talking about the benefits of green buildings, the descriptions of CIRS are stated in absolutes and imperatives

The second goal also is extremely well suited to a green building by making many parts of the building replaceable.  All building systems are meant to be treated as a research test-bed, to be able to be "replaced in a 'plug-and-play' fashion as technologies improve."  Rather than fixing the building at the technology of the present day, a modular approach is being taken so that improvements in technology can readily be adapted into the building.  The construction of the building is further described as having a "demountable structure that is constructed from precast concrete and wood that will allow easy deconstruction and material recovery."
Here, as well, the design team recognizes that green building is still very much a changing field, and what they are doing now is not necessarily going to be the best practice 10 or 20 years from now.  By building in flexibility, they make it easier for ongoing operation of the building, as well as keeping it relevant and at the forefront of green building.  Testing of materials and systems can also be carried out more easily when one product is swapped for another, to allow observation of different systems in the same environment
The design approach also seeks to be reproducible.  "[G]old-plated sustainability is not replicable. Our goal is to build CIRS for roughly the same cost as other comparable university buildings coming on line in the same time period."  This makes the building relevant as an example that others can look to with design strategies that are accessible and applicable for other buildings. 
Monitoring the building is also an important part of tracking and evaluating the performance of the building.  "A thousand points of monitoring will be built into CIRS, to collect data on the building’s performance and to develop a set of indicators applicable to the monitoring of other buildings," according to theGreater Vancouver Green Guide.
Interestingly, while architect Busby Perkins + Will has hundreds of LEED accredited professionals on staff, and the firm has completed numerous LEED projects, there is no mention of LEED certification of the building in any of the materials reviewed.  The building is presently under construction, which you canfollow on Flickr, with an anticipated opening in 2011.
Rendering credits: Busby Perkins + Will; noticed at EcoGeek.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kudos to Jairam Ramesh on Bt Cotton decision

Congratulations Mr. Jairam Ramesh !.
Although the MoEF has failed to act like a Scientific Ministry, that it
was originally conceived as, we finally have a Scientifically oriented
Minister at its helm. Hope it is the beginning of change for MoEF.
In his latest decision on Bt Brinjal, he rightly and succinctly points out ;
"When there is no overriding urgency, it is my duty to take a
precautionary approach.... It is my duty to adopt a cautious,
precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on
release of BT Brinjal, till such time independent scientific studies
establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the
safety of the product from the point of view of its long term impact on
human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing
in brinjal in our country. "..... Jairam Ramesh, Minister, MoEF

Friday, February 5, 2010

MoEF back to Science ?

 The Ministry of Environment & Forests today announced a series of measures to strengthen the scientific base underlying the activities of the Ministry. The Ministry has introduced five specific initiatives in this direction.

I     A Global Advisory Network Group on Environmental Sciences (GANGES)
II   A National Environmental Sciences Fellows Programme
III An Expert Committee to Enhance the Scientific Capacity of MoEF
IV  An Action Plan to Enhance Forestry Science
V  An Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), announced in Oct 2009

            Announcing these initiatives, the Minister of State (I/C), Environment & Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh said, “When this Ministry was conceived in the early 1980s by Smt. Indira Gandhi, it was conceived as a scientific ministry. It was recognized that in order to conserve our environment and forests, we need rigorous science-based policy making and enforcement. Over the years, this science-focus has got somewhat diluted. With these initiatives, we aim to ensure that science is brought back into the mainstream of our work and decision-making.”

[I] Global Advisory Network Group on Environmental Sciences (GANGES)

            GANGES is a new forum, comprising the world’s leading environmental scientists of Indian origin, established to advise the Government of India on the country’s environmental sciences agenda.GANGES will focus on questions such as:

·         What areas of Environmental Sciences should we focus on?
·         How should the government engage on this agenda (identify priority areas, directly conduct research, support and fund outside research, etc.)?
·         Which institutional collaborations should be undertaken in specific areas and in what way? How should academia and private sector be engaged?
·         How should innovation in this space be stimulated, and how do we fast-track development, demonstration and dissemination?

The following scientists are part of the group:

1.         Subra Suresh, School of Engineering, Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology, USA
2.         Jagadish Shukla, Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences, George Mason University, USA
3.         Purnendu Dasgupta, Department of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry, University of Texas, Arlington, USA
4.         Veerabhadran Ramanathan, University of California, San Diego, USA
5.         Asit Biswas, Third World Centre for Water Management, Queens University, Canada
6.         Ashok Gadgil, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA
7.         Pratim Biswas, Washington University in St. Louis, USA
8.         Kamal Bawa, University of Massachusetts, Boston
9.         Tam Sridhar, Faculty of Engineering, Monash University, Australia
10.      Shankar Sastry, Dean of Engineering, University of California,Berkeley, USA
11.      Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, University of Colorado, Boulder Institute, USA
12.      Venky Narayanamurti, Science, Technology and Public Policy Programme, Harvard Kennedy School, USA

 [II] A National Environmental Sciences Fellows Programme

            This new programme will provide our most promising young scientists desirous of working in the forefront of environmental sciences, engineering and technology, the opportunity to do cutting-edge research on critical environmental issues in collaboration with leading institutes and scientists in India and the world. It will provide 10 young scientists under the age of 35 ,where  age limit is extendable to 40 in exceptional cases, with a generous fellowship and institutional support to undertake this research. Each fellow would be attached to an institution which will sign an MoU with the Ministry.  The selection of the fellows and thrust areas for research will be done by Management Committee eminent scientists. 

            This programme will allow young Indian scientists to enhance their areas of expertise under the mentorship of the leading scientists in the world today, and will help create a cadre of top class Indian environmental scientists for the future. The knowledge emerging from the research work under this programme will help inform our environmental policy agenda, ensuring that it is based on rigorous science.

[III] An Expert Committee to Enhance the Scientific Capacity of MoEF

            Scientific personnel have historically made up a large portion of the human resources of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, as it was conceived as a science-based Ministry. Over the years, a number of issues and constraints have arisen related to the scientific resources and expertise of the Ministry. These need to be urgently addressed. With this in mind, and to ensure that the scientific manpower and infrastructure in the Ministry remains cutting edge, the Ministry has set up an Expert Committee to take a fresh look at scientific manpower and infrastructure in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. 

It is proposed that the Committee will comprise of the following members:

1.    Dr. Kasturirangan, Member Planning Commission, Chairman
2.    Dr. Chandra Venkataraman, Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Mumbai, Member
3.    Dr. Kalpana Balakrishnan, Professor, Environmental Health Engineering,Sri Ramachandra University Chennai, Member
4.    Shri Vishwanathan Anand, Retired Secretary, MoEF, Member
5.    Dr. Deepak Pental, Vice Chancellor, Delhi University, Member
6.    Ms. Swati  A Piramal, Director of Piramal Healthcare Limited, Member
7.    Shri M.F. Farooqui, Additional Secretary, MoEF, Convenor

[IV] An Action Plan to Enhance Forestry Science

            On 1oth January, 2010, a special meeting of the Minister with over 100 Indian Forest Service Officers with PhD degrees in forestry science was convened. A number of decisions related to upgrading the scientific capabilities of India’s forestry establishment were taken at this meeting. These included the institution of the following:

1.         A Forestry Fellowship Programme: To recognise outstanding contributions to forestry sciences, a forestry fellowship programme is being introduced.

2.         A National Forestry Knowledge Forum: A platform where expert knowledge in various issues in forestry will be shared is being developed. This forum will facilitate virtual interactions of experts in forestry.  It will be physically located in Delhi and will be open for national and international experts in the field of forestry science.

3.         National Forestry Information Network:  A network is being established with a robust foundation using remote sensing, GIS and MIS.  All land based forestry interventions will be geo-mapped and monitored on a time scale, and will be put in the public domain. The process is being guided by a core group of forestry professionals.

4.         IT for fire monitoring:  A programme to use satellite data for early transmission of fire signals to the mobile phones/ PDA’s of field officers is being undertaken. The University of Maryland has agreed to share all active fire data obtained from TERRA and AQUA satellites of NASA every six hours for this. This will not only help in quick fire detection and reducing the response time, but has also helped in identifying fire sensitive areas.  This was originally conceived by the MP forest department, which a national e-Governance Award for the initiative.

5.         National Bureau for Forest Germplasm:  A Forest Genetics Resource network is being established along the lines of the Plant Genetics Resource Bureau.  The objective would be to identify, characterise, preserve the valuable germplasm of a wide number of forestry species in the country.  This will protect our valuable genetic resource against extinction and exploitation
In the Union Budget for 2009-10, the government has already made a special grant of Rs. 100 crore to the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) for modernisation of forestry research. This grant is being used to support some of these initiatives, among other things.

[V] Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA)

            Established by the MoEF in October 2009, INCCA is a network-based programme to make science, particularly the “3 Ms” – Measuring,Modelling and Monitoring – the essence of our policy-making in the climate change space. It brings together over 120 institutions and over 220 scientists from across the country.

            The first Report of the INCCA – an updated emissions inventory of greenhouses gases of anthropogenic origin of India for 2007 – will be released on May 11 2010. A comprehensive “4x4” assessment of key sectors in India – agriculture, water, natural ecosystems & biodiversity and health – and key geographic ‘hotspots’ – the North-East, the Indian Himalayan Region, the Western Ghats, and the Coastal Areas – will be released in November 2010.

            A group has also been constituted under INCCA comprising of scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), ISRO andMoEF to run specific regional models for the Indian subcontinent for the monsoon in order to enable better assessment of impacts and reduction of uncertainties in monsoon projections over the South Asian region.

            The “4x4” and the regional assessment will be provided to the IPCC as part of the input to the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (AR5). This is the first time that India will be providing institutional inputs to the IPCC. This has already been communicated to the Chairman, IPCC. Both these initiatives will help fill an important scientific knowledge gap in the IPCC assessment, by providing robust information at the sub-regional level.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Open letter on Bt Brinjal

A very interesting and well written Open letter to Jairam Ramesh from Mr Bharat Mansata. Definitely worth reading and a must read for all who are interested in the ongoing Bt Brinjal debate
Open Letter dated January 30, 2010

Mr Jairam Ramesh,
Minister of Environment and Forests
Government of India

Subject: Bt Brinjal;

Dear Mr. Jairam Ramesh,

Any decision permitting the environmentaI release and sale of Bt Brinjal in India is fraught with the most serious, far-reaching and irreversible consequences affecting our land and her inhabitants – human and non-human – for generations to come. With over 50 more genetically modified (GM) crops reportedly in the Indian pipeline, we must exercise utmost caution. Once released, these cannot ever be recalled, nor can the chain reactions they unleash be stopped.

You are well aware that a broad cross-section of Indian citizens – including outstanding scientists of undisputable integrity, as also large numbers of farmers and consumers – have opposed the sanctioning of Bt Brinjal, expressing grave concern for the potential hazards posed to human, animal and environmental health, and to the very food security and sovereignty of India. These are certainly not trivial matters permitting any foolhardy haste in pushing Bt Brinjal down the throat of this nation.

Prudence demands that all the above burning concerns should first be rigorously addressed and satisfactorily resolved, before a highly controversial crop like Bt Brinjal is even considered an option. The people of India refuse to be anyone’s ‘lab-rats’ or sacrificial goats, as you have plainly heard from many.

From your Public Consultations at Kolkata and Bhubaneswar, it is clear beyond doubt that the people of the states of Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal – that produce 60% of all the brinjal grown in India – overwhelmingly oppose the release of Bt Brinjal. The Chief Ministers of these 3 States have reportedly written to you recording their opposition, and have pointed out that since agriculture is a state subject, the Centre should not impose the unwanted Bt Brinjal on them, even ‘unofficially’ via a neighbouring state, as would inevitably happen if Bt Brinjal is at all permitted anywhere in India.

At least 5 more States, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh, have also opposed the release of Bt Brinjal – to protect their citizens and the natural wealth of their land. Indeed, several of these States are in favour of a total ban or moratorium on GM crops. Till date, has any State pleaded for expediting the environmental release and sale of Bt Brinjal – without any further evaluation or debate in the matter? If so, please inform which State/s, and what urgent reason/s they have cited in justification.

I was able to speak briefly at your Kolkata Public Consultation on the 13th January, when I also presented you copies of my relevant books, ‘The Great Agricultural Challenge’ and ‘Organic Revolution’. I now submit (herebelow) my detailed presentation, as requested by you.
1)  What is this unseemly rush for Indians to be the world’s first guinea-pigs for Bt Brinjal, bearing a bacterial gene of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that secretes its own pesticide? A baingan (aka brinjal/eggplant/aubergine) engineered to be pregnant with poison! The first such Bt ‘food’, anywhere on earth, specifically targeted for human consumption rather than fibre or fodder – if India finally permits it.
2)    India’s foray into GM began with Bt Cotton. The toxin generated by the plant was aimed at the bollworm, but did not know where to stop killing. Thousands of cattle died grazing on the Bt crop residues. Thousands of farmers cultivating it were driven to suicide. And yet, introducing Bt in our brinjal? A popular vegetable – consumed widely by rich and poor alike – inexpensive, and in no short supply. Why? What is the need? A convincing reply remains elusive.
3)    Organic poly-cropping (mixed planting) with native local varieties of brinjals and other vegetables/plants, cultivated appropriately, have no significant pest problem. This is the experience of traditional/organic farmers all over the country. Various strategies of ‘Non-Pesticidal Management’ (NPM) successfully thwart or check pest damage. Hence, no Bt crops or synthetic pesticides are required if such classically sound agronomic methods are widely promoted. This is the saner, safer, simpler model -- offering multiple benefits in a sustainable, holistic manner – that India needs to follow, and which the Ministry of Environment and Forests must pro-actively canvas and support.
4)    While unsustainable monocultivation of brinjal does entail the use of chemical pesticides, the farmers are yet able to control the dosage, depending on pest incidence. With Bt, there is no scope for moderation according to need. The genetically tampered crop uncontrollably generates its noxious pesticide, 24x7, deep in every part and cell of the plant – including leaf, root and vegetable  And there is no possibility whatsoever of washing off the toxin. The poison is potently inescapable!
5)    There is no mandatory labelling of Bt Brinjal required to warn consumers, mocking their right of free choice, and thus trampling a fundamental human right enshrined in our constitution.
6)    To respect, beyond mere tokenism, the consumer’s inalienable right to choose his/her food on the basis of its time-tested safety, you must consider how any mandatory labelling of Bt/GM foods would be actually enforced in practice. In the absence of strictest enforcement, you should leave alone both the monster (Bt) and its tail, declining sanction for its release.
7)    Consumers, consumer organisations, doctors and mothers have warned that if Bt Brinjal infiltrates the market, significant sections of people, conscious of its hazards, may be forced to stop eating brinjals altogether. They would thus be deprived of a cheap and “excellent source  of vitamins, minerals, … and amide proteins” that our many indigenous brinjal varieties are acknowledged to provide. Such nutrients are especially needed by the poor, who your government is expected to protect.
8)    It is significant that brinjal is one of the most affordable vegetables abundantly available all over India, second only to the potato in the total quantity grown and consumed. Why should we wilfully destroy it? And who benefits economically from such destruction?
9)      India is the global centre of origin and diversity of brinjal, grown in this sub-continet since well over 4,000 years. Over 2,500 varieties of this vegetable have been recorded here! The release of Bt Brinjal will inevitably and progressively contaminate the hundreds of indigenous varieties that still remain. The well known instability of transgenic lines not only affects agronomic performance, but also safety, tending to enhance horizontal gene transfer and recombination. It is thus imperative to stop Bt Brinjal now before it is too late. Failure to do so would violate the farmers’ fundamental right to grow and save their traditional seeds of choice, free of externally imposed ruinous contamination.
10) By sanctioning the release of Bt Brinjal, we would also be violating the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety adopted at the UN Convention on Biodiversity, to which India is a signatory. Most significantly, no GM crop is allowed to be grown in any region of the world that is a centre of origin or diversity of that crop, as with Brinjal in India. Approving the release of Bt Brinjal would thus be most reckless and inexcusable, causing a loss to both India and the whole earth – a crowning irony in the current ‘International Year of Biodiversity’ (2010)
11) Besides being the centre of origin and diversity of many important agricultural crops, including rice, evolved here over millennia, India hosts at least two important global centres of exceptionally rich, uncultivated, indigenous biodiversity – the Western Ghats and North-eastern India – which are also at high risk from the new genetically tampered species.
12) On 20-1-2010, the Supreme Court of India asked the Indian Government to detail the steps – including the rules and implementation mechanisms/measures – it has put in place to protect India's traditional crops and plants from possible contamination by field trials of genetically modified seeds. With Bt Brinjal too, we must know what mandatory steps your Ministry will take to protect our indigenous crops and plants from contamination. How will you ensure that the minimum prescribed isolation distance of 300 (three hundred) metres between Bt Brinjal and other old native varieties is not violated by commercial Bt growers, researchers or corporate interests.
13) In West Bengal – which cultivates over a hundred indigenous varieties to produce 30% of India’s entire output of brinjal – more than 90% of the farmers have small or marginal holdings, each touching the next. Thus, even a 30 (thirty) metre isolation distance may be extremely difficult or impossible to ensure. This is true too of Orissa, Bihar and several other states. How then do you propose to protect such small farmers and their many traditional varieties from contamination? As cross-pollination in brinjal is possible even with an isolation distance of three kilometres (3000 metres) or more, how can you ensure that the pollinating agents of nature, the bees, etc., do not transgress the prescribed limit of 300 metres that seems rather arbitrary?
14) Prof TK Bose, former Vice Chancellor of Bidhan Chandra Agricultural University, and a veteran agricultural scientist, warns that the release of Bt Brinjal would also likely result in the contamination of the entire Solanacae family of crops to which brinjal belongs. This includes the potato, tomato, and chilli, portending disastrous consequences to the nutritional security and livelihood security of consumers and farmers. As already pointed out, potato is the most widely consumed vegetable in India, followed by the brinjal – both from the same Solanacae family.
15) It was also pointed out to you at the Kolkata Public Consultation that the fruit/shoot borers, for which Bt claims to offer protection, are only two of the fifteen or so insect pests that attack the brinjal in monocultural cash-cropping of this vegetable. The concerned farmers clearly do not expect any significant reduction in the use of pesticides by planting Bt Brinjal; rather, they are apprehensive that more chemicals (both fertilisers and pesticides) may soon be needed.
16) GM crops are totally prohibited in most nations. In much of Europe, including UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the ban continues in defiance of WTO directives. Over 85% of global GM cultivation is confined to just 4 countries: US, Canada, Argentine and Brazil; and to a mere 4 crops – corn, soya bean, cotton and canola.
17) India’s Planning Commission Task Force to review GM policies and laws, chaired by the eminent geneticist, Suman Sahai, recommended that our regulatory system must first be vastly improved, and all alternatives thoroughly explored. Meanwhile, there should be no commercial release of GM crops. But throwing caution to the wind, rice, pigeon pea, mustard are already under open field trials; to be followed by wheat, jowar, ragi, bajra, corn, cassava, potato, onion, sugarcane, tea; also various pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits and spices. Bt Brinjal seems just the first test case, opening the floodgates for the rest to follow, unless checked right now.
18) The Supreme Court of India appointed Dr Pushpa Bhargava – globally renowned scientist, honoured with Padmabhushan, a former Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, and Vice Chairman of India’s National Knowledge Commission – to oversee the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC).  Dr Pushpa Bhargava has categorically declared: GEAC failed to take note of “the numerous research publications by well-known and highly credible scientists working in prestigious institutions, … that have appeared in some of the world’s best known scientific journals,” warning against indiscriminate release of GM crops, which cannot be recalled, no matter how much damage they cause. Dr Bhargava adds, “ … some 30 tests are needed … Monsanto has done less than 10; and we have no facility in the country to determine whether the tests were actually done, leave aside their validity… There were many scientific errors even in these tests, (which were all) on samples provided by Monsanto, a company that has proved itself most untrustworthy… No studies were done on the effects of Bt on soil microbial species, or on soil nutrients, or on cattle microflora. …It is perfectly possible that the increased health problems in the US in the last decade are due to increased consumption of GM corn and soy.”
19)  Following a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India, leading to the public disclosure of Monsanto-Mahyco’s Bt Brinjal biosafety data, an independent analysis of such data by a team led by Prof Seralini of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), France, concluded: “Bt Brinjal release into the environment may present a serious risk to human and animal health and should be forbidden.” It pointed out that the longest toxicity tests done were for only 90 days, and hence did not assess long-term effects like the development of cancerous tumours, or effects on succeeding generations fed on the Bt crop. Will Monsanto, Mahyco, or the Indian Government advise citizens not to consume Bt Brinjal for more than 3 months?!
20) In case Monsanto and Mahyco are confident of even the long-term safety of Bt Brinjal, what legally binding responsibility and liability are they willing to commit themselves to if adverse health and environmental consequences do manifest within the next 5, 10 or 20 years?
21) The effects of Bt Brinjal consumption on young children, pregnant mothers, the aged and diseased, as well as the synergistic ‘cocktail effects’ of multi-toxins with Bt have also not been studied at all.
22) For any truly independent system of objective evaluation, India must set up a lab of her own, having high public credibility, which must be governed and staffed by an impartial body of people with unquestionable integrity, who have no economic link/s whatsoever (direct or indirect) with any GM producing or marketing company. It is such a body that must undertake – in a totally transparent, peer-reviewed manner – all the required bio-safety and related tests, monitoring, assessment and evaluation, including multi-generational studies. This has been stressed by the Supreme Court appointee, Dr Bhargava, by the Planning Commission Task Force on GM policies and laws, and by many others, including a host of acclaimed scientists and other citizens. Without such independent, credible testing and evaluation, any approval of a GM crop would only be based on make-belief science – and engineered/tampered second-hand information – remaining at the mercy of extra-territorial economic and political interests.
23) Multinational corporations like Monsanto make no secret of their resolve to wrench total strategic control of world agriculture through control of seeds and other inputs. Already, nearly half the global trade in seeds is controlled by a handful of MNCs, of whom Monsanto is the undisputed leader in the controversial GM crops. Within India too, the USA and American MNCs presently account for more than half of the $1 billion organised seed market. Fortunately, almost 80% of India's farmers still follow the traditional system of saving, sharing and exchanging/bartering seeds, and hence do not buy them. It is this section that the MNCs greatly want to target.
24) Shri Vasant Futane, an organic farmer of Amravati District, Maharashtra, relates that no cotton seeds apart from Bt are now sold in his area; the local farmers there (as also in Andhra Pradesh) have no choice but to buy Bt. This is a consequence of aggressive ‘market capture’, beyond misinformation. Shri Futane adds, “Our healthy indigenous seeds, handed down over generations, are inevitably contaminated. What right do the GM companies have to pollute our seeds, the very lifeblood of Indian agriculture and many millions of self-reliant livelihoods?”
25) The WB Agriculture Commission, chaired by Prof RN Basu, recommended in its 2009 Report “a complete ban on all open field trials and commercial cultivation of GM crops” at least until all relevant safety and sovereignty concerns were “rigorously addressed and resolved.” Other States that oppose the release of Bt/GM crops include: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. Several other states too, like Tamil Nadu, have expressed reservations about allowing Bt Brinjal, and hence oppose any hasty decision in the matter.
26) Overall, there has been significantly increased consumption of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation with Bt Cotton and other GM crops, rising progressively over time. This is the experience worldwide. Leading GM seed companies like Monsanto, Du Pont, Syngenta, Bayer are also the top pesticide companies in the world. They have no economic interest in reducing their sale of chemicals, from which they have made massive fortunes.
27)  The Chairperson of India’s Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board projected that even a 6% expansion in GM crop area would lead to a doubling of chemical fertilizer consumption! And already, India’s annual fertilizer subsidy bill stands at a whopping Rs 1.2 lakh crore, a recurrent and mounting expenditure – each year – that starkly exposes the inherent economic bankruptcy of the industrial model of agriculture, even without considering the huge uncalculated costs of ecological devastation, water scarcity, health problems and lost livelihoods – suffered by present and future generations.
28) A Canadian Govt study showed that after just 4-5 years of commercial growing, herbicide resistant GM oilseed rape (canola) had cross-pollinated to create invasive super weeds resistant to upto 3 different broad-spectrum herbicides. Similarly, a recent analysis of data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that the cultivation of GM corn, soybeans and cotton has increased the overall use of toxic herbicides by 318 million pounds in the U.S. over 13 years from 1996 to 2008, because of the emergence of herbicide resistant super weeds infesting millions of acres. About 46% of this increase occurred over the last 2 years, 2007 & 2008, for which data was available. In our Indian agro-climatic conditions, such problems are expected to manifest much faster.
29) Bt insecticide producing GM crops have inexorably, over time, led to increased resistance in pests, resulting in rising chemical applications and the emergence of ‘super-pests’. In China, Bt Cotton seemed initially successful in suppressing the boll weevil, but in subsequent years, there appeared increasing populations of pests like mealy bugs and mirids, highly resistant to Bt, necessitating more spraying and/or stronger pesticides – a growing treadmill of toxins. Vandana Shiva (Navdanya) similarly reports that in the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, the proliferation of aphids, jassids, army bug and mealy bug has resulted in a whopping 13 (thirteen) fold increase in the use of pesticides!
30) Ironically, Bt producing crops irreparably damage beneficial insect populations, including bees and butterflies, not originally meant to be targeted. This significantly affects the output of all crops that such insects pollinate. Bt crops also endanger many soil dwelling microorganisms and insects vital for the soil’s fertility, as well as beneficial pest predators that are friends of the farmer. (The predator species greatly help to check the build-up of pest populations.) But of course, the agri-business MNCs are not complaining about such ‘collateral damage’.
31) There is growing evidence of Bt toxins entering, lingering, and accumulating in the food chain, thereby posing a grave hazard to humans, animals, aqauatic life and soil organisms.
32) The seeds of Bt/GM crops necessarily have to be repurchased every season from the Company producing them. These patented varieties cannot be re-sown from the farmer’s own harvest, as with traditional seeds. Once the local native seeds are lost, or too hard to source, the helpless farmers inevitably have to pay sharply increasing amounts for buying the MNC seeds.
33) The world is already producing more than enough to feed the entire  population on earth. But almost a billion people suffer from hunger or undernourishment, because the requisite food is not available to them at an affordable price. With GM pushing up production costs, maldistribution and hunger are sure to rise among the poorest sections, apart from malnourishment and cumulative toxemia.
34) GM crops are strictly prohibited in organic farming anywhere in the world, as pointed out by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Presence of GM in any crop immediately debars it from organic certification, with serious consequences for organic exports, a “sunrise sector of the global economy”.
35) The medicinal use of various native brinjal varieties (uncooked) in Ayurveda is seriously threatened through contamination by Bt Brinjal, rendering toxic the intended medicines.
36) The development of antibiotic resistance, directly linked to the consumption of GM crops containing antibiotic resistant markers, is another glaring consequence. Many doctors believe that this would render ineffective various national health programmes like the drive against drug-resistant tuberculosis.
37) GM technology, artificially transferring genes from one species to another, permanently and progressively alters Nature’s blueprint. For example, the world’s first GM vegetable, the ‘Flavr Savr Tomato’ (containing a fish gene meant to delay ripening) was withdrawn from the market under public pressure, but the genetic contamination it unleashed cannot be recalled.
38) What stops highly secretive GM corporate giants – not known for scrupulousness – from genetically modifying rice to contain a scorpion’s gene, or wheat to bear a pig’s gene, or sugar to include a cow’s gene? Wilful sabotage and bio-terrorism, beyond plain mischief, are also possible. An introduced bacterial toxin can be modified to make it especially hazardous to humans. The concerned companies would obviously suppress any such information, witholding it from governments. While direct toxicity may be detected through tests, induced carcinogenic activity or toxicity caused through interaction with other foods could take decades to detect, if ever. The danger is particularly significant in the absence of independent testing (and testing facilities), monitoring and transparent evaluation by an impartial body of competent people with high integrity.
39) Genetically tampered ‘Terminator Seeds’ or ‘Suicide Seeds’, originally developed by the US Department of Agriculture and some seed MNCs, contain a ‘Terminator Gene’ that prevents plants from producing fertile seeds. The ostensible intent of such engineered sterility was to force farmers to buy new seeds every year, rather than save and replant from their own harvest. But once the terminator seeds are released into a region, the trait of seed sterility can pass to other non-genetically-engineered crops and plants, making most or all of the seeds in the region sterile! The possibility that the terminator gene could be transferred is not denied by anyone. In fact, the tendency of the inherently unstable GM crops/plants to ‘leak’ traits is exceptionally high. Following worldwide condemnation of the terminator seeds, the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (2000) recommended a de facto moratorium on their field-testing and commercial sale. This was re-affirmed in 2006. But now, there is a new push by companies like Monsanto to overturn the moratorium, and try to re-introduce terminator seeds, ironically under the guise of ‘bio-safety’. If they succeed, this would be an unparallelled disaster to all humanity, agriculture, and the world of Nature.
40) Even forgetting conspiracy theories, and assuming for a moment that companies like Monsanto are compassionate angels, more interested in harnessing the power of ‘advanced technology’ for the progress and well-being of humanity, rather than money and power for themselves, here is an interesting quote from an outstanding organic farmer, now 87, hailed as the ‘Gandhi of Natural Farming’. He says in his Open Letter to MS Swaminathan (The Great Agricultural Challenge, Earthcare Books): “By its very mandate, genetic manipulation strives to maximise the ‘performance’ of certain essentially limited features, not knowing what the wider consequences may be. But Nature works through the interplay of an incomprehensibly vast array of factors, far beyond the professional concerns or cognitive reach of genetic engineers. While (they) may have certain economic or political interests in mind, they cannot even begin to imagine trying to forge an overall balance that fosters health – the mysterious harmony of diverse elements and forces.”
41) The British Medical Association (BMA), with over 120,000 members – representing more than 80% of British doctors – has asked people to reject all GM foods. It has also called for a halt to all GM food trials.
42) More recently, in May 2009, a leading US association of physicians,  the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) released its position paper on GM foods, stating that they "pose a serious health risk, … (particularly) in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health." The AAEM called for a moratorium on GM foods, and immediate implementation of long term safety testing and labelling of GM foods. It further called upon all physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid GM foods.
43) The only published human feeding study revealed what may be the most dangerous problem from GM foods. The gene inserted into such food transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. Thus, long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially harmful GM proteins produced continuously inside of us. Put more plainly, eating a corn chip produced from Bt corn might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of our lives. It is thus no surprise that the scientists working for companies like Monsanto, reportedly refuse to eat any GM food themselves if they can avoid it!
44) After four years of study and deliberation by an international panel of over 400 agricultural scientists from 60 countries, the final report of the ‘International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development’ (IAASTD) was released in April 2008. It recommended that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods are the way forward, with indigenous knowledge playing an important role. It pointedly noted that GM crops are not the answer to hunger, poverty or climate change.”
45)  To conclude, here is another quote from Shri Bhaskar Save, the wise old farmer: “ If only we see that there is nothing lacking in the genetic code of the myriad time-tested species gifted by Nature, we would realise that there is no need to tamper with their DNA ribbon of life. And that much saner and happier paths exist to provide for the well-being of all -- Sarvamangalam!”
I do hope the above wisdom prevails on you, and you steadfastly refuse to grant sanction for the release of Bt Brinjal or any other GM crop in India.

With regards,
Bharat Mansata

About the Author:
I am a writer-editor and environmental activist, particularly involved in environmental regeneration and organic farming.
I have authored: (1) The Great Agricultural Challenge, and (2) Organic Revolution, both published by Earthcare Books (; and have also edited ‘Ecological Vision’, published by Development Research Communication and Services Centre (
For the past 15 years, I have been closely associated with a collective ‘forest-farm’, Vision Acres (Van Vadi), which has grown into a rich forest – dense, tall and high in biodiversity. (It is now one of the best forest patches between Matheran and Bhimashankar in the foothills of the Sahyadris, and a source of joy and inspiration to visitors.) Our rainwater harvesting and organic farming too have been quite successful, as also our initiatives in non-formal environmental/Nature learning.


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Ecologist, Environmental Scientist...