Close to 100 scientists from across the country and several farmers groups have appealed to the Supreme Court to accept in toto the interim report of the court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) in the matter of field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops.

In its interim report submitted to the court, the panel had recommended a ban on field trials of GM crops until the regulatory system was completely overhauled. It also called for a 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt food crops (which are modified with the Bacillus thuringiensis gene, such as the proposed Bt Brinjal), and a complete ban on field trials of transgenics in crops which originate in India.

In an open letter written on Thursday to the apex court, the scientists led by Pushpa Bhargava, Supreme Court-appointed observer in India’s apex regulatory body for GM Organisms (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee), expressed the hope that the court will not overlook important analysis and recommendations of the TEC and would take a prudent, science-based and precautionary approach.

“This is important for upholding the scientific temper in India and most importantly, not losing the vision of humanity while translating science into technologies,” Ms. Bhargava said.

Referring to the committee’s stress on “precautionary approach” towards GMOs, the scientists said it is completely logical when the TEC recommended that “a comprehensive assessment, including risk assessment, should start with a need assessment of the technology/product and should encompass a socio-economic analysis which looks at its impact on various sections of the society and economy.”

“The glaring gaps in the regulatory system; whether it is lack of rationale for deciding on a particular crop or a trait, particular time or location, incorrect sequencing of biosafety assessment, lack of comprehensive risk assessment including long term independent testing besides serious issues of conflicts of interest are all real issues that beg for an immediate correction. It is to be remembered that unlike any regulatory mechanism in other sectors, regulation here deals with living organisms that can contaminate, reproduce, spread and remain in the system for ever. Hence utmost care needs to be put in place in keeping them contained, until and unless, based on a credible set of biosafety assessments, one can say with confidence that these novel organisms do not pose a threat to health of humans or environment, now or in future,” the scientists said in their letter.

Signatories to the letter include Vice-Chancellor of Kolkata University R.N. Basu, Vice-Chancelllor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth Sudarshan Iyengar, former chief economist (forestry department) FAO, Kerala CTS Nair, Department Head Community Medicine of AIIMS Chandrakant Pandav and retired Deputy Director National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad Veena Shatrughana.

Several farmers unions too have urged the apex court to put an end to field trials of GM crops. “The interim report on field trials of GM crops was submitted by the TEC on the October 7 and in the last hearing on the October 29, the Court said it wanted to hear the views of stakeholders like farmers’ unions,” said S. Kannaiyan, Coordinator of the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements in the letter written on Wednesday.

The matter of the TEC recommendations on GM crops is coming up before the Supreme Court on Friday.

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