But they are likely to affect higher-level species such as birds, says ornithologist

The long-term environmental impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms need intensive study, but they are very likely to have impacts on higher-level species such as birds.

Dr. P.A. Azeez, director of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Coimbatore, made that observation here in reply to a question on the potential impact of GMOs on bird diversity and health. He was speaking on Thursday on the sidelines of the ongoing Meeting of the Parties on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which covers living modified organisms.

This protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity addresses the issue of damage caused to biodiversity through a supplementary protocol named after Nagoya and Kuala Lumpur, which was adopted in 2010.

Only indicative studies

The ornithologist emphasised that only indicative studies on GMOs and impacts were available at present and these could be superficial. The issue is important to India as it hosts a wider diversity of birds than many countries, such as the United States, although it is relatively small geographically.

Interestingly, the comments made by Dr. Azeez were preceded by a presentation made by Biotech Consortium India Limited (BCIL), on the importance of biotechnology as a driver of the Indian economy.

Database of institutions

BCIL, which is promoted by the Department of Biotechnology, finance companies and venture firms, provides a database of institutions undertaking research on technologies, including GMOs and conducts events on many topics including issues related to foods derived from genetically engineered crops, and current approaches to environmental risk assessment.

Field trials

Some of the GM vegetable varieties had completed field trials, said Vibha Ahuja, general manager, BCIL, listing work being pursued on brinjal, okra, maize, rice, potato and mustard.

In his presentation, Dr. Azeez emphasised the role of communities in protecting biodiversity. The experiment of making the conservation of the Andaman Edible-nest Swiftlet a community-oriented initiative was promising. The nests of these birds fetched a high price, affecting their survival prospects under normal conditions.

Community-led model

An uncommon method of provisionally delisting the bird from Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act was resorted to, in order to make the experiment possible. “If the species gets out of its precarious condition, [with the community-led conservation model], we can go ahead,” he said.

Samples of wild birds found dead in India showed high levels of residues of pollutants, he said, in answer to questions on threats to bird diversity from environmental degradation.

  • Communities’ role in protecting biodiversity stressed

  • Conservation of Andaman Edible-nest Swiftlet cited