Raising concerns over the open air trial of genetically modified corn in Jabalpur, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has asked the State government to stop it.

In letters to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the Central government, AHRC also said the “trial is being conducted to further the commercial interest of Monsanto” — the U.S.-based seed company.

AHRC — a United Nations-recognised human rights lobbying organisation based in Hong Kong — wrote the letters last week after the National Research Centre for Weed Science at Jabalpur started planting the genetically modified corn for open trial.

The research centre began the work after it received the green signal on June 19 from the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation, set up under the Central government’s Department of Biotechnology.

In its letter, AHRC said that “apart from causing serious health hazards, the corn hybrid that is said to be herbicide-tolerant and pest-resistant would greatly impact the agriculture labour community and would upset the State government’s commitment to traditional farming.”

According to AHRC, herbicide tolerance trait inserted into the crops “would mean that millions of poor agricultural workers will not find employment through de-weeding, one of the main sources of employment in rural India today.”

“Herbicide tolerance might be a technology suitable for countries like the U.S. where only two per cent of the population live off farming but not in India,” says the letter.

Claiming that Monsanto’s commercial interest in pushing the transgenic corn into Indian market threatened to “contaminate the indigenous crops,” AHRC urged the State and the Central governments to prevent the trials.

Genetic engineering or genetic modification, it said, is a technology that involves insertion of foreign genes into local crops. “However, given that many changes are brought about at the molecular level due to such forcible insertion of genetic material from elsewhere, the results are unpredictable and hazardous,” AHRC’s letter added.

“Genetically modified foods, in various experimental studies, have been shown to cause adverse health effects like allergies, impaired immune systems, damage to vital organs like kidneys, liver and pancreas, and causing infertility.”