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GM crop report row

New Delhi, June 17: Four activists claimed today that an Intelligence Bureau report that has named them for campaigning against genetically-modified (GM) crops appears to have been influenced by foreign organisations promoting GM crops.

The activists, who have been campaigning either for tighter regulatory mechanisms for the assessment of GM crops or for a ban on the introduction of GM crops in India, said the IB report appears to support the introduction of GM crops in Indian agriculture.

Government sources have said the IB is doing its job in national interest.

The IB report, leaked to the media last week, had raised concerns that non-government organisations active in campaigning against nuclear power, coal mining and GM crops pose a threat to India’s economic growth.

The report said anti-GM activism was initiated in 2003 by Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, followed by Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign. Kavitha Kuruganti, with the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, and Aruna Rodriguez also joined the campaign.

The four activists have received “increasing support and resources” from Greenpeace International through its Indian subsidiary, the IB said, adding that the NGOs also get funds from German donors, among other foreign sources.

It said the anti-GM campaigns have contributed to decisions by the government to stall the release of GM brinjal for cultivation and by a parliamentary standing committee and a scientific panel to impose restrictions on testing GM crops.

But in a joint statement issued today, Shiva, Sahai, Kuruganti and Rodriguez have said the IB report has quoted a scientist named Ronald Herring at Cornell University which, they claim, is a “hub of blind GM promotion”.

They said the IB report has failed to refer to a report commissioned by the agriculture ministry which had indicted India’s regulatory institutions and the agriculture ministry itself for providing misleading information and lacking expertise on GM crops.

Genetically modified crops have been at the centre of controversy in India ever since the introduction of GM cotton over a decade ago. But several senior scientists believe the anti-GM campaigns themselves have been driven by unsubstantiated fears.

“India has lost time debating GM crops,” Deepak Pental, a senior plant biologist at the University of Delhi who has developed GM mustard plants with high yields and an oil superior to olive oil, had told a seminar in Delhi earlier this year.

A five-member panel called the Technical Advisory Committee, appointed by the Supreme Court hearing a petition against GM crops, had recommended a moratorium on field testing of GM food crops. It had also called for a restructuring of the regulatory system which it termed unsatisfactory and inadequate.