Five Arrested in Indian Transgenic Seeds Protest

By Frederick Noronha

BANGALORE, India, September 26, 2000 (ENS) - Five people were arrested today for a protest against the promotion and introduction of genetically engineered seeds in India, in the southern city of Bangalore.

The five Greenpeace members were arrested while staging a protest at the inaugural session of the Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA) annual conference. The protest was mounted despite heavy security to protect the more than 550 delegates from around the world.

Greenpeace activists dressed in vegetable suits of tomatoes, eggplants and corn, demonstrated against the promotion and introduction of genetically engineered seeds.


Greenpeace activist dressed as an eggplant is arrested by Indian police in Bangalore in front of the APSA conference hall. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
Shailendra Yashwant, a Greenpeace spokesperson, told ENS the five arrested are Indian nationals, and identified them as Michelle Chawla, Samir Nazareth, Humphrey Pauro, Nirmala Karunan, and a man who goes by the single name of Raj.

Greenpeace charged that the "main agenda" of the Asia and Pacific Seed Associationís conference was to penetrate the region with transgenic crops. "The conference was seen as an instrument to promote the seed and biotech industryís plan of introducing genetically modified crops into the region," said Yashwant.

Membership in the Asia and Pacific Seed Association is composed of national seed associations, government and intergovernmental agencies, public and private seed companies. Members hail from around the Pacific Rim, the United States, Europe and South Africa.

Some companies deal only in natural seeds, others such as Dow AgroSciences in the Philippines and Shriram Bioseed Genetics India Ltd. handle genetically modified seeds.

Some members are intergovernmental agencies such as the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute of Malaysia, part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which is cosponsored by the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Programme. CGIAR associates investigate the risks and benefits of genetically modified crops.

Greenpeace demonstrations are well known in Europe and America, but they are a recent phenomenon in India where the group has become active only in recent months.

Critics of genetically modified crops say that in addition to the serious environmental risks they pose, the corporate control over seeds is dangerous. Farmers must buy genetically modified seeds anew for each year's crop. They cannot harvest seeds from the current crop to use the following season.

One of the Greenpeacers arrested, Michelle Chawla from New Delhi, said she is worried about corporate ownership of life itself. "Of serious concern is the fact that the very basis of life - the seed - will be owned and controlled by commercial interests. Corporate controlled vested interests are developing gene altered seeds and utilising the patent regime, claiming exclusive ownership of seeds to gain control over agriculture," she said.

Greenpeace argues that India is a predominantly agrarian economy, and in such a context, a monopolistic hold over the farmers' seed systems so that seeds would only be available on payment of annual royalties could have a "devastating impact" on small farmers.

The lack of corporate liability or responsibility in the case of contamination of seeds by genetically manipulated varieties is another issue of serious concern as it would intensify the risk of genetic pollution of India's agro-ecosystems, critics say.

At a time when mounting concern over the ethics and environmental risk of genetically engineered crops and food has led to their rejection in many European countries, Greenpeace is suspicious of claims that genetically modified crops can feed the world.

Instead of being particularly beneficial for small scale farmers, Greenpeace says that dreams of enough food for all are being used to promote biotechnology in agricultural economies of Asia for the benefit of multinational companies' bottom lines.