Insufficient regulatory supervision prior to release of genetically modified crops for commercial cultivation in India

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

(1) Do we need GM crops?

No. We have far better alternatives such as integrated pest management (IPM), biopesticides and appropriate agro-practices including organic farming for almost all crops. IPM is a part of the country’s stated national agriculture policy. It has been shown to be effective but is not being used.

(2) Was appropriate risk assessment carried out in the case of the Bt-cotton crops that have been released?

No. For example, our present system of testing for allergenicity does not take into account recent work (e.g., papers in this area – a paper titled “Allergic potential of novel foods” in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, volume 64, issue No.4, pp 487–490 of November 2005; a paper titled “Allergenicity Assessment of Genetically Modi? ed Crops – What makes sense?” in Nature Biotechnology of January 2008, volume 26, pp 73–81; a paper titled “Transgenic expression of bean alpha-amylase inhibitor in peas results in altered structure and immunogenecity” in Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, 2005, volume 53, pp 9023–9030). The Annexure lists 29 tests relevant to the release of GM crops. Only a few have been done for Bt-cotton and GM crops in the pipeline, and that too inadequately (see item 5 below).

(3) Were ?eld trials adequately done and appropriately monitored?

No. So far no clear-cut objective and substantive parameters for monitoring have been worked out. (Draft guidelines have been prepared only recently.) There has been no professional training for monitors.

(4) Do certi? ed, professionally reliable and competent facilities exist in the public sector at one place for assessment of risks and validation/cross-validation of data provided by companies seeking release of their genetically modi? ed crops?

No. We badly need such facilities.

(5) Have there been fallacies in existing procedures on the basis of which approvals have been given or are being considered for open release of GMOs?

Yes. All the tests carried out so far on the basis of which approvals have been given or are in the pipeline have been done either by the applicants themselves or by organisations to whom samples were supplied by the applicants. No note has been taken of the substantial evidence indicating harmful effects of GM crops, for example, Bt-cotton, the only GM crop approved for open release. Field trials (of, for example, Bt-Okra) have been conducted without appropriate professional approval of the State Government. Inconsistencies between the data and the conclusions drawn by the applicant have been ignored.

(6) Does any system exist for punishment in case of violation of existing laws?

No. We have no law that permits farmers whose ? elds are contaminated with GM plants from adjoining ? elds as has happened at places in the country, to claim compensation. (For example, we have in the market Doritus corn chips now, which have been shown to contain GM corn and GM soya.)

(7) What is the international experience with regard to genetically modi? ed organisms (GMOs)?

We should learn a lesson from international experience and new knowledge gathered since the approval of the ? rst Bt-cotton in India. Thus, on 16th May 2008, a 147-Nation Conference in Bonn concluded that GMOs were responsible for damage to other plants. (Understandably the US was not a party to this conclusion.) The above-mentioned UN study says that India faces a huge risk because of safety norms on genetically modi? ed crops not being in force.

(8) What is my recommendation?

What I have said above would favour a moratorium on the sale of any GM seed or open ? eld trials of any GM crop, for a period of 7 to 8 years. During that period research should be carried out up to the stage of contained ? eld trials and a laboratory set up in the public sector, exclusively for risk assessment of GM crops (see point 4). It should be ? nanced by the Central Government but should be managed jointly by the Central Government and civil society in a manner that will ensure public credibility and acceptance. Concurrently, our requirements for release of a GMO in the environment must be revised taking into account what is stated in this note. A system should be set up for identifying violations of the law with regard to GMOs and appropriate penalties imposed for such violations.

Reference: Insufficient regulatory supervision prior to release of genetically modified crops for commercial cultivation in India. P.M. Bhargava. Journal of Biosciences . June 2009, Vol.34, pp.167-168.

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