The report is a strong indictment of regulatory affairs, says Coalition for a GM-free India.
Welcoming the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on Genetically Modified crops, the Coalition for a GM-free India has urged the government to accept the report and “not come in the way of delivery of justice.”
The panel, set up by the Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation, has recommended in its final report that it would not be advisable to conduct any field trials in Bt transgenic crops till gaps in regulatory system are addressed.
“The report is a strong indictment of the state of regulatory affairs with regard to modern biotechnology in the country. We urge that the Central government to take the report seriously and act on it in the interests of food safety, security, and sovereignty as well as protection of environment and farm livelihoods,” the Coalition said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
However, the Association of Biotech Led Enterprise - Agriculture Group (ABLE AG) that represents the industry has termed the document — though an improvement over the interim report that called for a 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenic in all food crops (those used directly for human consumption) — as “regressive, biased and a troubled treatise” that promises to push Indian agriculture into an archaic age.
“The industry believes the TEC report, besides being incomplete, is also anti-science and anti-research and will severely dent the future of country's farmers besides destroying the domestic private and public sector research. While improving the testing programmes is a continuous process, we do not believe that testing should be stopped in the interim,’’ said Ram Kaundinya, Chairman, ABLE AG in a press statement.
The report submitted to the Supreme Court has not been signed by R.S. Paroda, the representative of Agriculture Ministry who was inducted after the submission of the interim report last year.
“This is not surprising given the fact that Dr. Paroda’s very inclusion in the Committee was controversial and objectionable — his organisation receives funding from biotech majors like Monsanto and Mahyco — and this constitutes a clear conflict of interest. It is ironical that even this court-appointed committee has had to face such a conflict of interest situation, given that this has been the case with almost all GM-related issues in India so far,” the Coalition’s letter said.
The TEC’s comments with regard to bio-safety dossiers that were approved by the current biotechnology regulator is a scathing indictment of the failings of the existing regulatory regime, the Coalition noted.
The TEC could not find any compelling reason for India to be the first country, where Bt transgenics are widely consumed in large amounts for any major food crop that is directly used for human consumption.
The TEC has therefore reiterated its recommendation made in the Interim Report that there should be a moratorium on field trials for Bt in food crops, until there is more definitive information from sufficient number of studies as to the long-term safety of Bt in food crops.
With regard to herbicide tolerant (HT) GM crops, the panel said that these would most likely exert a seriously adverse impact over time on sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods and the environment. Noting that that HT GM crops are completely unsuitable in the Indian context, the TEC recommended that field trials and release of HT crops not be allowed in India.
Unlike the situation in 1960s, the TEC said, there is no desperate shortage of food and India is in a reasonably food secure position. It recommended that the release of GM crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity as in Bt brinjal should not be allowed. (Philippines Supreme Court has recently banned open field trials of Bt Brinjal.)
Urging the government to accept the recommendations based on sound-science, justice and principle of sustainability”, the Coalition said “vested interests must not be allowed to prevail.”