Civil society groups have cautioned the government against introducing genetically modified crops in the food chain and questioned the credentials of a panel of experts to look into the biosafety of Bt brinjal, which will come up before the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) on Wednesday.

The committee was set up by the GEAC to look into the findings of independent experts who raised concerns at the safety of Bt Brinjal from health and environmental perspectives.

“Conflicting interests”

At least three of its members had “conflicting interests,” the civil society groups alleged on Tuesday. For, two members were involved in an earlier research commissioned by Mahyco, the seed company that has developed Bt brinjal. The third, himself involved in GM crop development, too has a stake in Bt brinjal.

Undue haste was being shown. The report was not put up in the public domain, and “there is total lack of transparency,” the groups said.

Meanwhile, many citizens have represented to Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, reminding him of his assurance to a delegation of the Coalition for a GM-Free India in June.

The civil society groups include the Bhartiya Kisan Union, the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, the Right to Food Campaign, Madhya Pradesh, Greenpeace India, Samvad, Sampark, Thanal and Living Farms.

The developer of Bt brinjal in India is seeking permission for commercial release of this first GM food. The seed company claims this technology will help farmers reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

“If a crop like Bt cotton which is considered non-edible can throw up problems such as human allergies and animal deaths, one can imagine what lies in store from Bt brinjal. No such genetically engineered vegetable exists anywhere else in the world. We don’t want such GM foods coming in and jeopardising the health of Indians,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India. When safer, affordable alternatives existed for pest management all over the country, there was no need for Bt brinjal.

“India is the centre of origin and diversity of brinjal. If Bt brinjal is approved, this will be the first time in the world that a GM crop is allowed in its centre of origin/diversity, risking our bio-diversity. If China can say ‘No’ to GM soy and if Peru can refuse GM potato, why can’t India say ‘No’ to Bt brinjal,” asked Jaikrishna of Greenpeace.

According to Mr Jaikrishna, in response to a consumer campaign with 17 major processed food manufacturing companies, a majority said they chose to be GM-free.

In 2002, the GEAC abandoned a proposal for release of GM mustard after a large-scale protest from citizens’ groups and consumers.

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