“Put a stop to GM crop field trials for 10 years”

Highlighting the possible disastrous consequences of field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, an expert committee has recommended to the Centre to implement a 10-year moratorium on such trials on Bt. Transgenics in all food crops.

In its interim report submitted to the Supreme Court, the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) said: “Based on current overall status of food safety evaluation of Bt. Transgenics, including the data on Bt. Cotton and Bt. Brinjal examined by the TEC, and in accordance with the precautionary principle, the TEC recommends a 10 year moratorium on field trials of Bt. Transgenics in all food crops. Another factor is the possibility of contamination of non-GM food by GM food.”

A Bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and S.J. Mukhopadaya posted the matter for further hearing on November 9 and in the meanwhile asked the parties concerned to file their response to the interim report. The Bench was hearing a petition filed by Aruna Rodrigues for a direction to ban such field trials. The TEC was constituted by the court to give its recommendations to the government.

The report says: “In India, given the small plot size and relative lack of control in harvesting, storage, transport, it is likely that such contamination would be high. Organic farmers whose products need to be certified as being free of chemicals/pesticides and non-GMO would be particularly strongly affected.”

The report illustrates one possible hazard posed by such trials, saying that “in 2011-12, India was the largest exporter of rice in the world. If the rice is contaminated with GM rice, then essentially India stands to lose the entire European market. The total value of rice export from India worldwide is about Rs. 14000 crore. If the value is small and much less than projected benefits, that is one thing, but if it is high then it could do grave damage. To the best of TEC’s knowledge this possibility has not been considered by regulatory bodies when allowing development of transgenic rice in India, which is presently in full swing and there are several applications before Genetic Engineering Approval Committee .”

The Committee pointed out that there was no mechanism for the payment of compensation to the farmers whose product could be affected and that there was no statutory method in place to address these issues. It further said: “The TEC is of the view that the policy of delegating responsibility by leaving the choice of site selection [for field trials] to the applicant and also allowing the work to be sub contracted is contrary to the basic safety requirements, and is most likely to lead to violation of the conditions of safety.” Additional toxicity tests comprising long term and intergenerational studies should be added to the existing requirement that needs to be met before field trials can commence, said the Committee. It noted that the existing requirement stops at sub-chronic studies.

‘Possibility of economic loss caused due to contamination has not been considered by regulators’

There is no mechanism for the payment of compensation, points out panel

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