The final report of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up by the Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has said that it will not be “advisable” to conduct more field trials till gaps in the regulatory system are addressed.
The report was much awaited as a representative of the Union Agriculture Ministry (R.S. Paroda) was added on the panel after the submission of its interim report in October last on the Court’s directions at the behest of the Ministry. The farm Ministry had objected to the absence of its representative on the panel.
However, Dr. Paroda has not signed the report and there is no clarity on whether he gave a “dissenting note” or his comments were annexed to the report. He attended the meetings but did not attend the signing of the report on June 30 in Chennai, The Hindu was told by a member of the panel. Dr. Paroda was not available for comment.
In its final report, the TEC has suggested that the members of the regulatory authority be free of conflict of interest, such a body be set up under the Ministry of Environment or Health. There should be a secretariat of dedicated scientists with area expertise.
Stakeholder participation, need, socioeconomic considerations, societal impact, and sustainability should be some of the dimensions to be incorporated in the risk assessment and this should be done at an early stage in the risk assessment process.
There is a need to include chronic and trans-generational toxicity testing.
The single largest number of applications for field trials to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee is for Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis — a commonly occurring bacterium found in insect-rich habitats and soils) transgenic (including food crops such as rice and a range of vegetables).
The TEC pointed out that the safety of Bt transgenics with regard to chronic toxicity had not been established and this needs to be done before it can be considered safe. In this regard, the largest deployment of transgenics worldwide is in soybean, corn, cotton, and canola, all of which are used primarily for oil or feed. Nowhere are Bt transgenics bring widely consumed in large amounts for any major food crop that is directly used for human consumption. The TEC found no compelling reason for India to be the first to do so.