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India: Farmers Urge 10-Year Moratorium on GM Agriculture

Agence France Presse
September 25th, 2000

BANGALORE, India -- A tribunal formed by more than 25 farmers groups in India called Monday for a 10-year national moratorium on the commercial use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

The tribunal came out with 13 recommendations after listening to farmers from across India who spelt our their woes arising from the industrialisation of agriculture and patents on seeds.

The five-member tribunal, consisting of retired judges and representatives of farm bodies, said the role of foreign companies in seed production and distribution must be "balanced with liabilities and responsibilities."

"The public seed sector which is being dismantled needs to be strengthened with a focus on research and development and farmers' participation," they said.

Farmers told the tribunal that sales of genetically modified seeds by private and multinational companies had resulted in crop failures, leading some debt-ridden farmers to commit suicide.

"Strict punishment should be awarded to persons who are involved in the trade and distribution of spurious agri-chemicals," the tribunal said, after farmers testified that large-scale pesticide use had resulted in poisoned drinking water and deaths.

The farmers' associations slammed corporate control over agriculture and said they were against genetically modified seeds being sold to farmers by foreign companies such as US-based Cargill Seeds and Monsanto.

"A moratorium should be imposed for a period of 10 years on the commercialistaion of gentic engineering in food and farming in India," the tribunal said.

Vandana Shiva, an Indian ecologist, said the seeds had ruined India's traditional seed varieties and reduced yields.

"Traditional rights of the farmers to freely conserve, develop, use, share and exchange their seeds are fundemental rights which cannot be alienated by any intellectual property law," the tribunal said, referring to the patents awarded to private firms to make seeds.

Monsanto has been in the thick of controversy in India after the government cleared a plan for trials of genetically engineered cotton seeds despite opposition from non-governmental forums.

French anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove who addressed foreign and Indian delegates before the tribunal's verdict said it was important for farmers all over the world to fight the multinational seed companies.

"This is for the first time probably, I see farmers from all over the world coming together and discussing together to defend their own seeds," Bove said.

Bove, who achieved notoriety in August after his verbal and physical attacks on a McDonalds restaurant in his hometown of Millau, said he had met the director of Monsanto in France and told him to leave the country.

"We told him we do not need you anymore. You can take the next plane back. Our struggle has been a non-violent one. If there are any (genetic) tests conducted by any company we will destroy their seeds," Bove said.

"It is very important in our fight to be together. Farmers from the US, India, Africa must all come together. I believe only then can we win against big corporations," he added.

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