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December 1, 1998


Govt assures Parliament terminator gene seeds won't be allowed to enter India

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The government told the Rajya Sabha that it had taken immediate and adequate steps to prevent entry of the American terminator gene and declared that the farmer would not be denied the right to reuse the seeds.

Replying to a calling attention motion moved by K R Malkani and others, Agriculture Minister Som Pal said the terminator gene technology had not been perfected yet and it was only at the conceptual level and at the laboratory stage.

He said the government had instructed the authorities concerned not to allow any seed with terminator gene technology.

About the BT cotton toxic bacteria, Pal said it had been allowed after due care as it would obviate the need to spray the crops to kill insects and worms.

However, the BT cotton had been allowed only for experiments so far, he added.

He denied that the government was under any pressure from the US government or companies to allow entry of American seeds.

He said it would also be ensured that the entry of transgenic planting material in the country even for research purposes was done only through one entry point.

The minister said the Directorate of Plant Protection in the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation had issued instructions to the import permit issuing authorities to ensure that seeds imported into India do not have terminator genes.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Department of Bio-technology would develop a suitable technology and also standardise the technique for detecting the terminator genes or their combination in the seeds, Pal added.

The terminator gene, according to the University of Agriculture Science, Bangalore, is one that blocks the genetically altered seed from germinating after one season. This is lethal and poses a global threat to farmers, bio-diversity, food and ecological security.

The use of this technology would threaten the farmers' rights to save the seed for their harvest. Because of the lethal nature of the product, the public has been asked to be vary of the introduction of genetically modified foods, Pal said.

A patent on control of plant gene expression has been taken jointly by Delta and Pineland company, which is a subsidiary of Monsanto and the United States Department of Agriculture for controlling the viability of seed produced without adversely affecting the crop.

In the patent, the method of producing the transgenic plants that renders seeds sterile, has been used. The technology alters the genetic constitution of seed so that it will not germinate if used for raising the second crop.

The company claims that terminator technology is useful to the extent that it improves the productivity of crop and will provide more choices to the farmers for selecting high-yielding variety of seeds.

However, it is harmful in many ways. The farmer will be dependent upon terminator seed and will have to buy the same seed again and again. The company producing the seed can charge any price from the farmers. The farmer will not be in a position to use seeds saved from the previous crops. It will threaten the farmers' expertise in seed selection and traditional conservation-cum-improved ways of carrying forward the seeds.

The technology would have serious implications on the crop bio-diversity. It may lead to gradual extinction of traditional varieties. Crop-related wild varieties, important for natural evolution for crop species, would be affected by cross- contamination. This concern would be of special relevance to India, since the country abounds in land races and wild relatives of crop plants.

The terminator technology for transgenic gene has not yet been developed to a stage where seeds incorporating such technologies can actually be produced. Monsanto has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore regarding general research which according to them does not include research on terminator seeds.

Parliament members demanded that the entry of the American terminator seeds into India be banned.

Malkani of the Bharatiya Janata Party regretted that the government was not dealing with the terminator seeds issue in the manner it deserved to be. He said the import of these seeds should be declared a criminal offence.

S Ramachandra Reddy of the Telugu Desam Party said the entire farming community felt that the American seeds did not suit the Indian climatic conditions.

Janeshwar Mishra of the Samajwadi Party said such a seed was harmful not only for India but the entire world.

Adhik Shirodkar of the Shiv Sena said the American companies were only interested in making money while M Sankaralingam of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam wanted that the Seed Act be amended so that action could be taken against the importers of harmful seeds.

Jalaluddin Ansari of the Communist Party of India said the testing of American seeds in India would destroy the agricultural land while Dr Y Radhakrishna Murthy of the Communist Party of India-Marxist alleged that the trials of the American seeds were going on in various parts of the country.


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