India farmers risk arrest for sowing unapproved Monsanto cotton seeds

A farm worker sprays pesticides on genetically modified cotton crops in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The federal environment ministry said last year planting the genetically modified seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. (Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2018

India farmers risk arrest for sowing unapproved Monsanto cotton seeds

MUMBAI: Many Indian farmers are openly sowing an unapproved variety of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds developed by Monsanto, as the government sits on the sidelines for fear of antagonizing a big voting bloc ahead of an election next year.
India approved the first GM cotton seed trait in 2002 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber. But newer traits are not available after Monsanto in 2016 withdrew an application seeking approval for the latest variety due to a royalty dispute with the government.
The herbicide-tolerant variety, lab-altered to help farmers save costs on weed management, has, however, seeped into the country’s farms since then. Authorities say they are still investigating how that happened.
“I will only use these seeds or nothing at all,” said Rambhau Shinde, a farmer who has been cultivating cotton for nearly four decades in the western state of Maharashtra.
The federal environment ministry said last year planting the seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. But many farmers are desperate to boost their incomes after poor yields over the past few years and are willing to ignore the warnings.
A government official in New Delhi, who deals with matters related to GM crops, said it was difficult to keep farmers away from something that they saw benefit in.
“If you don’t allow them to plant legally, illegal planting will happen,” the official said, requesting anonymity, adding that Monsanto had yet to reapply for an approval to sell its latest variety of GM cotton in India.
A Monsanto India spokesman said the company was confident that the government would prosecute those involved in the illegal trade of the unapproved seeds.
Except for GM cotton, India has not approved any other transgenic crop on concerns over their safety, and large foreign companies have been increasingly unhappy at what they say is the infringement of their intellectual property by widespread planting of unapproved seeds.
Farmers say they prefer Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) strain of cotton seeds as they can cut input costs by as much as 10,000 rupees ($150) an acre compared with other varieties.
Cotton growers are also getting support from farmers’ unions, who are already at loggerheads with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government amid a fall in prices of many agricultural commodities.
Without new varieties of seeds, they fear being outplayed by other major cotton producers and exporters such as the United States, Brazil and Australia, said Anil Ghanwat, the president of a farmers’ organization in Maharashtra.
“The government is asking us to carry a sword to fight the enemy with AK-56 rifles,” said Ghanwat, who has urged farmers to sow the unapproved GM seed. “We will protect them if government authorities try to destroy the crop or harass them with legal cases.”
Last year, just before cotton harvesting, authorities found plantations of unapproved seeds in key producing states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the south.
In February, authorities in Telangana told two local companies that cotton seeds they sold to farmers may have contained traces of Monsanto’s RRF strain, though the companies denied that.
This year various states have formed inspection teams to curb the sale of such seeds, though farmers have built a parallel network to distribute them without getting caught, said M.S. Gholap, director at Maharashtra’s agriculture department.
The seeds were being produced secretly, mainly in Gujarat and Telangana, and then smuggled to other states, Gholap said.
Maharashtra has seized unapproved seeds worth 12 million rupees ($178,000) in the past two months, enough to cultivate 10,000 hectares, said Gholap.
Farmers are paying as much as a 30 percent premium for the unapproved seeds in Maharashtra and Gujarat compared with seeds of older strains.
The proliferation of unapproved seeds could force the government to grant approval to the new seed technology, as happened in 2002 when New Delhi legalized planting of the Bt Cotton GM strain, said C D Mayee, head of South Asia Biotechnology Center, a New Delhi-based non-profit organization.
The strong demand for the illegal seeds has alarmed some federal government officials.
“Once farmers realize laws are toothless, then they could cultivate GM soybean, corn and other crops,” said one official, who asked not to be identified. “It would have serious impact on our biodiversity.”


On 16th birthday, California student opens fire at his high school, killing two

Updated 15 November 2019

On 16th birthday, California student opens fire at his high school, killing two

SANTA CLARITA, California: A Southern California high school student pulled a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun from his backpack and fired on fellow classmates on Thursday morning, killing two and wounding three others.
He saved the last bullet for himself. It was his 16th birthday.
The teenaged gunman, whose name was not provided by police, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head but was in grave condition in hospital, law enforcement officials said.
Captain Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told reporters the entire incident, captured on videotape, took 16 seconds as the young man stood in one spot and fired on one student after another.
“From right where he was standing, he doesn’t chase anybody, he fires from where he is until he shoots himself,” Wegener said.
The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at US schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.
Wegener confirmed the suspect posted a message on his Instagram account before the shooting that said: “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.” The post was later taken down.
The two slain students were a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. Two other girls, aged 14 and 15, were wounded, as was a 14-year old boy, Wegener said.

Students are evacuated from Saugus High School onto a school bus after a shooting at the school left two students dead and three wounded on Nove. 14, 2019 in Santa Clarita, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)


Motive unknown
Investigators said they did not yet know what led the student to open fire at the school 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles.
Police said the accused shooter had acted alone. Investigators descended on his family home, blocking off the street. They found no further danger there.
A next-door neighbor, registered nurse Jared Axen, said the suspect had seemed introverted, quiet and sad, possibly despondent over the loss of his father from a heart attack in December 2017.
Axen, 33, said it was the boy who found his father deceased, not long after the older man had regained his sobriety and gotten his life “back on track” after years of struggling with alcohol abuse.
“I would say he (the boy) was hurting and couldn’t ask for help,” Axen said of the suspect, who was a track athlete at the school, involved in Boy Scouts and liked the outdoors, going on hunting trips with his father.
He was of mixed race, born to Japanese-born mother and white father, with an older sister who became a nurse and moved away.
“I would ask him how school was ... he would never bring up concerns of bullying or being a loaner there,” Axen said.
There was no immediate word on where the teen gunman obtained the weapon.
“How do we come out of tragedy? We need to say ‘No more!’ This is a tragic event. It happens too frequently,” said Captain Robert Lewis of Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s station, striking an emotional note in an otherwise somber news conference.


Latest school shooting
A 16-year-old Saugus High School junior named Pamela, who spoke to Reuters on condition that she not give her last name, said she was in her first-period choir class when some girls ran into the room and said there was a shooting going on.
“Our teacher immediately grabbed a fire extinguisher and got us into her office and locked the door,” Pamela said, adding that one of the girls had been shot in the shoulder.
Taylor Hardges reported seeing people running in the hallways shouting “Run!” She raced into a classroom, where a teacher barricaded the room.
“We’ve had drills. It doesn’t prepare you for the real thing,” she said after reuniting with her father at a designated spot in Santa Clarita’s Central Park.
Her father, Terrence Hardges, said he felt his heart race after Taylor texted him from inside the classroom with the message: “I love you. I’m pinned in a room. We’re locked in.”
The shooting at Saugus was the 85th incidence of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group. It seems sure to reignite a debate over gun control in the 2020 presidential election.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, where two teenagers went on a rampage, fatally shooting 12 students and a teacher and wounding more than 20 others before killing themselves.