“10-year Moratorium on field trials of Bt food crops, Moratorium on field trials of Herbicide Tolerant crops (till independent assessment of impact and suitability) and Ban on field trials of GM crops for which India is Centre of Origin/Diversity”
In an Interim Report signed off on 7th October 2012 (D.No.1944/2005/SC/PIL in the Assistant Registrar PIL (WRIT)’s office, dated 17th October 2012), a 5-member Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2005, with Aruna Rodrigues and others as the petitioners in a PIL pertaining to GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), unanimously presented its view that all field trials should be stopped until the following conditions have been met:
i) Specific sites for conducting field trials have been designated and certified and sufficient mechanisms for monitoring the trials put in place.
ii) A panel of scientists, qualified in evaluation of the biosafety data of GM crops has been engaged for scrutiny and analyses of the safety data.
iii) Conflict of interest in the regulatory body has been removed (as discussed above).
iv) The requirement for preliminary biosafety tests prior to field trials including sub-chronic toxicity in small animals has been included.
More importantly, the TEC recommended the following with regard to certain classes of products:
“9. Based on the 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 ten year moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenics in all food crops (those used directly for human consumption).
10. In view of the concerns bearing on health, environmental and socio-economic considerations, the TEC recommends a moratorium on field trials of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops until an independent committee comprising of experts and stakeholders has examined and assessed the potential impact of HT technology and its suitability in the Indian context.
11. India is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol which recognises the crucial importance of biodiversity as a long term resource. The TEC accordingly recommends a ban on field trials of transgenics in those crops for which India is a centre of origin or a centre of diversity, as transgenics can contaminate and adversely affect the biodiversity.”
The TEC specifically recommended for a re-examination of all biosafety data for applications in process as well as those that have been approved for release by scientists who are qualified in biosafety science and experienced in evaluation of biosafety dossiers for transgenic plants. Citing its rationale as “given the findings of the TEC that there have been several cases of ignoring problematic aspects of the data in the safety dossiers”, the Committee recommended that the re-examination, “if necessary, be done by international experts who have the necessary experience”.
It also recommended long term and inter-generational studies in rodents to be added to the tests and performed for all products whether already approved or yet to be approved.
Further, “acute and sub-chronic feeding studies for all applications including those in progress should be completed before BRLI, as also molecular analysis and allergenicity tests. If these studies indicate potential risks of any kind, the GM event should be rejected outright to save time, resources and contamination”, the report said.
“Genome-wide expression analysis in the toxicity studies of the test organism (eg. rodent) that is being exposed helps to identify changes in biomarkers that are indicative of toxicity. This is an important test to be included as biomarkers are sensitive indicators and are capable of revealing changes before visible symptoms appear” read specific recommendation 4 of the TEC.
For BRLI and BRL II trials, ‘the regulator needs to designate and certify a defined number of sites in different parts of the country. All field trials should be carried out only at these sites. These sites should be used only for growing GM plants and not the non-GM material. Trials should not be conducted in farmers’ fields. This also applies to those trials for which permission may have previously been given by the regulator’, the TEC stated.
The Coalition for a GM-Free India welcomes this interim report from the Technical Expert Committee set up by the apex court of India and awaits the Supreme Court’s hearing on the 29th of October 2012 in the matter. While earlier inquiries and debates have been discounted by GM proponents as ‘political’, or ‘emotional’, or ‘non-scientific’ inquiries and recommendations/decisions, it is worth noting that the TEC consists only of scientists, including of scientists from the government as its representatives. Further, 22 of the 31 submissions studied by the TEC in their nearly 4-month-long inquiry/study were from people with scientific background.