Pharmaceuticals giant Bayer BioScience is pressing charges against protesters in India following an anti-GM demonstration last month.
Thirty-five individuals were arrested on 22 June after five Greenpeace volunteers cordoned off a field of GM rice in the village of Chinna Kanjarla, Hyderabad, planting scarecrows and ‘biohazard’ signs.
The charges include trespassing, causing damage and 'criminal intimidation'. Some of those arrested included members of the public and press. Greenpeace claims the field trial is a violation of an assurance it received from Bayer in 2004 that GM research in India had been halted.
‘[The charges are] clearly a move to silence any opposition to the unrestrained release of risky GM crops into our food chain,’ said Jai Krishna, sustainable agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace India.
‘Citizens have the right to protest against unhealthy and hazardous GM food trials. If disobeying the law can stop GM rice from contaminating our rich rice biodiversity then so be it, we will do it again. The rights of farmers to save their seeds and the rights of consumers to have safe food is more important than a company’s profits.’
With its lax laws on genetic modification, biotech corporations see India as an ideal testing ground for their products.
The Indian government has confirmed plans to release 170 GM varieties in 41 different crops, among them more than 25 varieties of GM rice. Scientists at the University of Caen, France, have already said the release of Bt brinjal (aubergine) should be forbidden, as it ‘present[s] a serious risk for human and animal health’.
Farmers and food campaigners also point to the deaths of hundreds of sheep and goats in Warangal district, thought to have died as a result of eating stalks and leaves from GM cotton.
A further protest outside Patancheru police station today was designed to highlight the issue of GM trials in India.
Actor and activist Amala Akkineni said it was 'an honour to be part of a just battle'.
‘The father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi led by example and showed that some citizen rights are not to be negotiated,' she said. 'The right to safe food is one of them. We must demand from our government to be responsible and be on the side of citizens. I don’t think anyone in Hyderabad wants GM biriyani.'