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New Delhi, Apr 7 RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch today sought a ban on a US-based biotech major, alleging it illegally introduced a genetically modified cotton variety in the country that led to "severe environmental and health hazards".
Addressing a joint press conference here, Manch's national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan and environmental activist Vandana Shiva of NGO Navdanya, said, "We will seek legal proceedings" against Monsanto.
The agro major has rejected the allegation, saying, "Monsanto conducts its businesses in a transparent and ethical manner and in adherence with the laws of the land."
Mahajan, however, alleged the firm has "caused severe environmental and health hazards on account of illegal introduction of herbicide-tolerant genetically modified organism (GMO) Roundup Ready Flex Bt cotton (RR Bt Cotton)".
"We are going to write to the Environment Ministry seeking a ban on the company," he said.
Shiva said Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide, has been declared a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"It is World Health Day today and therefore we wanted to raise awareness as to how a few powerful MNCs have formed a 'poison cartel' and spreading toxicity for profiteering," she said.
The activist, who has been challenging Monsanto's entry into India and its genetic trials for nearly 30 years, said, "We also want to shake up our government, as they have failed in checking entry of such companies, which only care about profits and not human welfare."
"In our letter to the government, we will also request it to cancel any proposals related to it that may have come up to the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee)," Mahajan said.
The GEAC is the apex body constituted in the Ministry of Environment and Forests under 'Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/ Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells 1989', under the Environment Protection Act.
"After reports of contamination, we with help of farmers collected sample from different areas (of Maharashtra) and sent them to the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), where they confirmed the presence of Roundup Ready (RR) Bt cotton, which is not only illegal but a massive fraud on the faith of Indian government and Indian people," Mahajan claimed.
"Roundup should be banned immediately. It not only causes cancer but also leads to kidney failure, DNA damage and even disrupts the endocrine system. In Sri Lanka thousands of people have died due to kidney failure attributed to glyphosate exposure," Shiva said.
She also claimed that due to the effects of Roundup, a "broad-based herbicide, which affects everything green, many cattle have given still-birth".
Shiva further alleged the company has "looted and exploited our farmers", by levying royalty on them.
Monsanto in a statement said, "Commercialisation of any new technology in India happens only after we secure the requisite permissions from the regulatory authorities. As consumers ourselves, the safety of our products is paramount to each of us who work at Monsanto and our company is built on a foundation of science."
"The history of safe use of glyphosate is supported by comprehensive assessments of the scientific evidence that span four decades. Glyphosate is one of the most widely used and comprehensively evaluated herbicides with a 40-year history of safe use," it said.
The US-based firm said technologies introduced by it have been "subject to rigorous regulatory evaluations over the years and have been approved by the country's regulators".
Meanwhile, the government today informed Rajya Sabha that area estimated under Bt Cotton was 0.29 lakh ha in 2002-03 which increased to 86.40 lakh ha in 2016-17.
CICR has developed 21 Bt cotton varieties, it said, adding, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has taken up seeds production programme of three varieties in nine acres through CICR regional centre in Coimbatore.
"There is no shortage of cotton seeds and sufficient quantity of cotton seed is available for Kharif 2017. The government has notified the Bt Cotton hybrids, maximumsale price of Rs 635 (0 trait value) for BG-1 and Rs 800 (trait value of Rs 49) for BG-II cotton hybrids for Kharif 2017.
"The production of cotton during 2016-17 is 325.07 lakh bales which is more than the domestic requirement," the government said.