On the eve of the Supreme Court Hearing in the PIL related to GMOs (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2005, by Aruna Rodrigues and ors) which is to look into the interim report of the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Court, the Coalition for a GM-Free India condemned the attempts by the industry, media and a couple of MNC-supportedfarmers’ outfits to lobby heavily against the TEC report. The Coalition urged the learned Bench to accept the TEC report and urgently pass appropriate orders to ensure that this risky technology is not deployed unscientifically in our country.

The Coalition said that the Court has rightly appointed a committee consisting of experts nominated by both the petitioners and the respondents and that the TEC did an in-depth inquiry into one of the terms of reference that it picked up before giving its interim report. “We welcome the recommendations and more importantly, they reflect the findings and reiterate the recommendations made by other committees/task force reports as well. The TEC has aptly justified each of its recommendations after studying the challenges posed by this living technology as well as the pathetic state of regulatory affairs in the country, which reeks of apathy, incompetence in biosafety assessment, inability to monitor GM crops trials, conflict of interest, lack of rationale while processing applications, and most importantly, allowing unnecessary experimentation when other solutions exist”, said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor of the Coalition for a GM-Free India.

Rakesh Tikait, leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union, stated, “We welcome the report of the Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court recommending moratorium on field trials of GM crops. We believe that the recommendations are in the interests of the Indian farmer, who is suffering from the onslaught of anti-farmer policies and technologies. We have full confidence that the Supreme Court will take the correct decision accepting the committee’s report.”

“The claim made by some vested groups that this technology has been successful in the USA is ridiculous and unfounded.. The reality is that in the USA, despite and probably because of such technologies, the government is forced to subsidizing its farmers heavily and prop up agriculture to make it viable. If GM technology was so effective why do American farmers require unprecedented levels of governmental support to make agriculture viable? . Further, there is no scientific evidence to claim that there are no GM-related health problems in the US – in fact, there have been increased food-related health problems in the US during the same period when GM foods have become part of their diet. It should also be kept in mind that a vast majority of GM produce in the US goes into livestock feed, industrial use and bio-fuel production. The environmental (and related health) problems with increased use of chemicals like herbicides, linked to GM crop cultivation, in the USA and South American nations is well-documented – superweeds and superpests have become serious threats and there is much scientific literature on the same. We do not need such hazardous technologies in our farming here”, said Kannaiyan Subramanian, Convenor of South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements. He added that there has been strong opposition from farmer organizations to the introduction of GM food crops, as extensively expressed during the public hearings on Bt Brinjal, and as stated publicly by many key farmer unions – both non-party and party-affiliated. He condemned the attempts by certain MNC-backed farmer outfits to claim that Indian farmers require GM crops.

The Coalition condemned the attempts by some groups to paint the TEC as unscientific and for claiming that this is the end of scientific research in India. It pointed out that this is misleading since the TEC was not talking about all of biotechnology but only transgenics, that too in crops, which is a minor part of “biotechnology” . However this tool has gained undue interest essentially because it allows for easier IPR controls for the industry/MNCs and thereby, market monopolies.

The Coalition pointed out that pest control without the use of pesticides (the ostensible reason for which Bt crops are promoted, incidentally by the same companies which have given us pesticides, claiming them to be safe) is indeed possible without resorting to Bt technology and the TEC is right in stressing that field trials should be need-based. It is also true that Bt crops have showed up their true colors where they have been deployed –negative animal and human health problems have gone uninvestigated despite ground level reports, the resistance in target pests, the lack of reduction in the volumes or cost of chemical pesticides consumed in the country even after 10 years of Bt cotton, adverse changes in pest and disease ecology etc., are all well-documented.

The Coalition pointed out to the Court that what the TEC is recommending is not something new; the recommendation by a Task Force headed by Dr Swaminathan in 2003 ( accepted by the government of India) had clearly stated that the transgenic option is to be used only when alternatives are unavailable or not feasible. The Task Force also recommended the same for to the introduction of Herbicide Tolerant Crops and crops for which we are the Centre of Origin/Diversity. These have been cautioned against by others inquiring into the matter of GMOs in India too.

Further, what the Committee pointed out as serious biosafety issues with Bt cotton and Bt brinjal are issues that have been raised by respected independent scientists from the world over who studied the biosafety dossiers of these GMOs. The TEC has rightly pointed out to the same problems as the other experts have.

The fact that India has indiscriminately allowed field trials without any rationale for locations, without any ability for proper ‘containment’ to prevent contamination (on which the SC has already passed on order expressly asking for no contamination from field trials), without any biosafety review, without a system for monitoring field trials, without a scientific, rigorous, independent and sequential process for risk assessment etc., were all appropriately pointed out by the TEC. The TEC was also correct in pointing us all to India’s international commitments including the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.

The Coalition hoped that the Supreme Court will now accept the interim report and ensure that no risk emerges from field trials of untested, new organisms especially in all those cases where such research is unneeded in the first instance.

For clarifications

Sridhar Radhakrishnan – 09995358205

Kavitha Kuruganthi – 09393001550

Kannaiyyan Subramanian – 09444989543

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