Monthly Archive May 14, 2019

GM brinjal escape
Issue of GM brinjal in haryana is becoming more murky and scary. Tests show that (if we have to beleave the department and NBPGR) the samples are genetically modified but doesn’t contain Cry1Ac but has other promoters and other sequences..which brings us the question..what is this?
there seems to be two possibilities
a. there were 5-6 events which are tried by various public institutions like delhi university, Odisha University of Agril and technology, Indian Institution of Horticulture research, Tamil nadu agril university, National research centre for plant biotechnology at IARI and Indian Institute of vegetable research tried different events..whether any of those went to field knowingly or unknowingly? this could be from the research farms or someone sold it to a private company which is illegally doing this. not many private companies have invested in this area as far as data we compiled..i may be wrong….
b. other situation is the event either the mahyco event or anyone of the above escaped into. nature and getting spread multiplied on its own. the broken elements if the gene event may be more damaging, less damaging ..even donno what is. ..what a scary thing?
whether it stopped with brinjal, or also made in roads into okra, paddy, maize, and other 33 crops where genetic engineering is experimented on.
given this…it’s high time we take stock of situation and put biosafety systems in place. things seems to have deteriorated further than 2009 when a moratorium was imposed on bt brinjal by @jayaramramesh.

EU Threatens To Legalise Human Harm From Pesticides

By Hans Muilerman and Jonathan Latham, PhD

Current EU regulations forbid human exposure to pesticides that are classified as mutagenic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic (toxic for reproduction), persistent or capable of disrupting endocrine systems. By virtue of these and other protective measures EU regulations are considered the gold standard in public protection.

However, experts who are closely linked to industry (or are part of anti-regulation pressure groups) have taken control of the EU’s new Science Advice Mechanism (SAM). These experts have contributed to a report commissioned to reevaluate the EU’s authorisation of pesticides. The report, called “EU authorisation processes of Plant Protection Products”, and published in late 2018, recommends dramatically weakening the EU regulatory system. Especially notable is the adoption of many ideas previously proposed by the chemical industry. For example, the EU currently deems the acceptable level of public exposure to mutagenic pesticides (those that damage DNA) to be zero. The new report recommends scrapping this standard of protection.

ILSI-Europe Headquarters, Brussels (Photo Credit: PAN Europe)

The history of the new SAM report is that it was requested by EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. Its purpose was to determine how to act in cases of so-called ‘diverging views’; that is, when media and public interest groups get involved. The request follows a series of major controversies over EU regulatory decision-making. One such controversy was over the herbicide Glyphosate. A “European Citizens Initiative” delivered more than a million signatures to the EU Commission asking for a ban on Glyphosate. Several cities banned Glyphosate. Even a dairy company banned the use of Glyphosate by their farmers.

With this pressure from all over Europe, the EU Commission had difficulty reaching a decision since many EU member states (Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and the U.K) opposed a ban. Ultimately, a very unusual 5-years extension for glyphosate was agreed but soon the discussion will start again.

Issues with neonicotinoids have also pushed the EU Commission into a corner. Neonicotinoid insecticides are linked by much research to ‘bee colony collapse’ and, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature “represent a worldwide threat to biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services” (Goulson, 2013IUCN 2017). This again placed the EU Commission in the crossfire since many EU member states and their ministries of agriculture wished to keep neonicotionids on the market. Waves of scientific publications and media attention about dying bees and empty beehives forced the EU Commission to finally ban them. Nevertheless, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Lithuania still resist the ban by using derogations.

A third big controversy has been endocrine disruption. Public concern about hormone-mimicking chemicals forced politicians in 2009 to address endocrine disruption concerns in the regulations and ban endocrine disrupting pesticides. An enormous lobbying effort from industry, the US chamber of commerce, EU Directorate General (DG) Enterprise, and EU DG Growth, tried to stop the implementation of the new rules, especially during the TTIP trade negotiations with the US. EU DG Environment was isolated and in the end DG SANTE (health) was found willing to do the dirty work of undermining the rules. Again, waves of bad publicity from the public and scientists harmed the credibility of the EU Commission. This debate too is far from over.

Conflicted science advice

The SAM report is important since it will soon be used by the EU Commission as an input for its ‘REFIT’ programme to evaluate pesticide regulation. This is a programme that the chemical industry sees as a major opportunity for a regulatory roll-back.

Some of the experts invited to help SAM and listed on the SAM website, however, are not independent. Instead, they have strong links to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). ILSI is a worldwide network, a federation of non-profits funded by many industries, including the pesticide industry, and which provides expertise in regulatory issues.

ILSI global includes over 400 company members and ILSI Europe includes 88. Among them are every pesticide multinational.

Sourcewatch writes of ILSI that: “The interests of food, pharmaceutical, tobacco, energy, and other industries have become even more entwined. They have learned to cooperate (rather than blaming each other for the cancer epidemic) and they now form coalitions to fight health and environmental regulations.

“It is notable that [ILSI members] generally employ the same lawyers, lobbyists and PR companies, and use essentially the same tactics”.

ILSI has a negligible public profile, and claims not to be a lobby group, but is very active behind the scenes in obtaining seats for ILSI-associated scientists on regulatory panels such as that of the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and international organisations like WHO, the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, and the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) of the WHO. Experts generally do not disclose their links to ILSI and pretend to be independent academic scientists.

A recent example of ILSI members successfully getting seats on an EFSA-panel concerned the risk assessment idea of a Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC). This idea assumes chemicals are safe at low doses without (expensive) testing. It has been an important goal of the chemical industry to establish TTCs in European and other jurisdictions.

PAN Europe has analysed the process of developing guideline for the TTC at the European Food safety Authority EFSA. We discovered that the chair of the EFSA working group was Sue Barlow, who worked for ILSI and the cigarette industry. She had volunteered to be chair of the EFSA working group. From this position she installed an ILSI network. This EFSA working group then more-or-less copy-pasted the ILSI proposal, making it into an EFSA opinion.

ILSI has been imposing its ideas on many other current EU risk assessment methods too, intending to weaken protections and ease access of pesticides to the market. Thus a PAN Europe survey showed that out of 12 EU pesticide risk assessment methods analysed, 8 were designed and promoted by ILSI. Industry is being allowed, under the radar, to “write its own rules”.

The conflicted scientists

In the case of the SAM, a prime example of these conflicts is UK professor Alan Boobis who is listed on the SAM website as a contributor to the SAM report. Alan Boobis has been active in ILSI  for decades. Until January 2018 he was the chair of its Board of Trustees. Due to his conflicts of interest Boobis was disbarred from a new expert panel convened by EFSA in 2012.

French professor Dominique Parent-Massin is mentioned alongside Boobis as working on the SAM report. Prof. Parent-Massin has previously worked with ILSI member, Ajinomoto – the world’s biggest Aspartame producer.

Also listed on the SAM website is Joergen Schlundt, former Director of the Danish National Food Institute. Schlundt is also a former ILSI board member .

All three are listed on the SAM-website as contributors to the report, or as providers of evidence through another report written by a new network called Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA), or as being part of a ‘sounding board’ and fact-checking process. Despite these counter-indications the SAM website states that “The Commission found that none of the interests declared constituted a conflict of interest.”

Another expert used by the SAM is German professor Daniel Dietrich, editor-in-chief of the journal Chemico-Biological Interactions. With a group of editors of journals of pharmacology and toxicology he has been very vocal in trying to stop the regulation and banning of endocrine disrupting pesticides (in EU Regulation 1107/2009). Dietrich published editorials in several scientific journals that triggered highly critical responses from other scientists, such as members of the ‘Endocrine Society’. Ties between the Dietrich group of authors and industry were exposed by Le Monde journalist Stéphane Horel who found 17 out of the 18 experts of Mr. Dietrich’s group have past or current ties to industry. The Dietrich group has been prolific, publishing articles like ‘Endocrine disruption: Fact or urban legend?’ that disputes the health risks of endocrine disruption (Nohynek et al., 2013). Even after former EU science advisor Anne Glover achieved a consensus between opposing groups that toxicological thresholds below which chemicals are safe (see TTC above) were unproven, Dietrich and his group (along with Alan Boobis) still claimed their opponents used “pseudoscience” (Dietrich et al., 2016). Dietrich also opposed the EU ban of bee-harming neonicotinoids, and both Dietrich and Boobis criticized the IARC-report asserting the genotoxicityof Glyphosate.

Conflicts in EU science advice

The EU has mechanisms to prevent conflicts of interest from derailing its scientific decisions. The SAM website currently presents ‘Declarations of Interest’ (DoI) for its members including for Boobis, Parent-Massin, Dietrich, and Schlundt. But one might wonder if procedures to report conflicts of interest are functioning. DoI’s were not available online when the SAM-report was published (in June 2018). One was even not signed until considerably after publication, in August 2018.

The efforts of ILSI have so far been effective. Several of its campaigning targets are included in an important “SAPEA evidence review report“. SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) is a new body set up by European science academies. This evidence review is intended to feed into the SAM report and featured many of the conflicted scientists above. SAPEA’s report promotes many industry objectives, such as the use of ‘historical control data’. The great importance of this is that, since many potential historical controls exist, their use makes it much easier to ascribe toxic effects observed in animal testing as being simply noise and therefore irrelevant.

Another industry goal is to promote inexpensive (in vitro) ‘mode-of-action assessment’ in preference to expensive adverse outcome testing. A third is to drop the obligation for chronic mouse testing.

The aims of PAN Europe and the Endocrine Society, on the other hand, are: 1) to recognise the reality of ‘low dose effects’ which are currently not tested at all for pesticides; 2) the recognition that chemicals may cause non-linear toxicity responses over a wide range of doses. These are called ‘non-monotonic dose-effect responses’ (whereas regulators presently acknowledge only linear dose-response curves of toxicity and even dismiss effects entirely if they are not linear); 3) mandatory testing for endocrine disruption; 4) to dispute the current regulatory assumption that chemicals have safe thresholds. All are missing from the SAPEA report.

In a further blow to precaution, the SAM report proposes to change EU rules by exchanging the acceptable level of citizen protection from “do not have any harmful effects on humans” for an undefined level, that of “acceptable risk”. This is the change of regulation that would make human harm legal, since it would stop the EU’s much-detested-by-industry ‘hazard approach’ that aims to avoid any exposure of humans to classified (mutagenic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic (toxic for reproduction), persistent and endocrine disrupting) pesticides.

SAM proposes that the EU should re-examine this ‘hazard approach’, which has been under attack by industry for many years; and so it seems that SAM might prove to be the instrument by which industry finally achieves successes for which they have campaigned so long.

The EU has shown itself sensitive to public pressure. What is now needed is for that pressure to be redoubled.


Goulson, D. (2013) An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides. Journal of Applied Ecology 50: 977–987.
Nohynek, G.J., C. J. Borgert, D. Dietrich, and K. K. Rozmand (2013) Endocrine disruption: Fact or urban legend?, Toxicology Letters 223 295– 305.
Dietrich et al., (2016) Allowing pseudoscience into EU risk assessment processes is eroding public trust in science experts and in science as a whole: The bigger picture. Chemico-Biological Interactions 257 (2016) 1-3.
Dietrich et al., (2013) Open letter to the European commission: scientifically unfounded precaution drives European commission’s recommendations on EDC regulation, while defying common sense, well‑established science, and risk assessment principles. Arch Toxicol (2013) 87:1739–1741.

Hans Muilerman works at PAN Europe and is based in Brussels.

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How a rural distress helpline in Telangana is preventing farmer suicides

Set up in 2017, Kisan Mitra provides counselling to distressed farmers and acts as a bridge between them and the government.
The Kisan Mitra team
Shruthi, who heads the team of counsellors at Kisan Mitra, is among the many volunteers in the organisation who are lending a helping hand to the distressed farmers of Telangana. Kisan Mitra, a non-profit organisation, is a rural distress helpline that acts as an intermediary between the government and farmers.

Set up in 2017, the helpline strives to provide financial security to farmers and makes sure entitlements reach their pockets on time. Apart from securing an economically stable future for the farmers, the volunteers at Kisan Mitra also provide counselling to farmers who are on the verge of suicide and handle distress calls from farmers who are depressed and need a ray of hope in their lives.

Why are the farmers distressed?

Telangana is one of the states worst hit by the agrarian crisis. Thousands of farmers have killed themselves  since the inception of Telangana and the state stands second when it comes to farmer suicides in the country. So what exactly is worrying the farmers in the state?
Harsha, one of the founder members of the organisation, tells TNM that it’s the lack of proper implementation of schemes that is drowning the farmers in the state under massive debts.
“Kisan Mitra was floated as a subsidiary of the Centre of Sustainable Agriculture after a number of farmer organisations brought to our notice the farmer distress in the rural parts of Telangana. So over the years, what Kisan Mitra has been able to gauge from its activities is that there is no dearth in the monetary schemes for farmers introduced by the government but there definitely is a lack of interest on the government’s side to ensure proper implementation,” says Harsha.
He goes on to add, “For example, a cotton farmer is entitled to a sum of Rs 30,000 per acre from the government. But the vicious cycle of debt begins when the farmer fails to get the amount on time. For him to continue work on the fields, he borrows money from money lenders at exorbitant interest rates. Some farmers will also submit their land deeds as mortgage. By the time the government money reaches him, he might have already paid multiple installments of the interest money.”
And this is where organisations like Kisan Mitra come into the picture.
“We ensure that the entitlements from the government reach the farmers on time. For this, we begin with creating awareness on what the government schemes are, what are the viable means of investment and also insurance, about which most farmers have least knowledge about,” Harsha explains.
Calling for help still a stigma
Of the hundreds of calls that Kisan Mitra receives in a day, most are distress calls made by men. But Shruthi, who heads the counselling team, says there’s a long way to go before men feel that it’s all right to talk about mental health and not give in to the societal pressure of proving one’s hyper-masculinity.
“To begin with, none of the farmers suffer from any psychological issues. It’s various factors joined together that drives a farmer to suicide. In rural areas, mental health is still a taboo to be discussed. It was only last year that a farmer killed himself after suffering from extensive crop loss. His wife knew of his mental condition but was threatened to not to talk about it to anyone. One day, as he got a cue that his wife was meeting the village head for some financial help, he consumed poison and ended his life. Such is the stigma associated with mental health in our country,” Shruthi shares.
And for the same reason, Kisan Mitra conducts awareness programmes not just for male farmers, but also for women who are in a better position to advise and counsel their husbands.
Shruthi, who was working as a psychologist in Hyderabad, left the job and joined the Kisan Mitra team in 2018.
“It’s mostly the small income farmers who fall into huge debts. While many maybe at the verge of suicide, some may also be just seeking solutions to their problems. For farmers who need immediate counselling, we send our field coordinators to help them. If we think a particular farmer needs monetary help, we make arrangements to ensure he is eligible to some sort of monetary scheme under the government. This may not be a direct government intervention but an alternate mechanism where we ensure that the farmer has enough money to buy food or is able to send his kids to school,” Shruthi explains.
Kisan Mitra currently operates out of three districts – Vikarabad, Mancherial and Adilabad. While its field volunteers are limited to these areas, it receives calls and provides counselling to farmers from across the state. Of the 9000 plus calls that Kisan Mitra has received till date, Harsha says they have been able to resolve over 5000 cases and the rest are still pending for some level of intervention from the government.
The organisation also has its presence on WhatsApp, where it tries to disseminate more information on organic farming and provides knowledge on best farming practices.
“We also visit hospitals and meet farmers who have survived suicide attempts. There are many reasons that can lead a man to desperation. Kisan Mitra is currently trying to zero in on these triggers and help victims cope with them,” Shruthi adds.

Ease of doing agribusiness Index

like ease of doing business, Central government is trying to come up with an index to measure performance of states on supporting agribusiness. here while, the concept notes talks about farmer as entrepreneur, much of the indicators considered to be measured are to process indicators and outcomes are not measured. for example it talks about implementation of market reforms as suggested by centre and not the prices farmers accrued as a result of the reforms.
there is a need to rework on these indices and probably develop an independent one.
here is the press release