Technical Expert Committee’s recommendation of ban on GM herbicide-tolerant crops is violated
The Coalition for a GM-Free India has released a report showcasing 15 instances of serious regulatory lapses in the appraisal and approval of Delhi University’s GM herbicide-tolerant (HT) mustard. The report was released ahead of a crucial hearing by the Supreme Court on the approval of GM HT mustard.
The Coalition is a platform that works to keep India’s food systems free from gene technologies, and to promote safe, farmer-controlled, sustainable and viable alternatives. The Coalition stated that the report "was released mainly as a public response to the false assertions of the Government of India in the Supreme Court. The way Government of India is seeking to mislead the Honourable Court on at least five issues related to GM mustard was highlighted in a past media outreach in the month of November 2022. This particular report focuses not on GM mustard per se, but the regulatory regime that appraised and approved GM mustard."
The report states that no health expert participated in either of the two regulatory processes that appraised the safety of GM mustard. Nevertheless, the subcommittee set up by the GMO regulator GEAC went ahead and approved the mustard, including the health safety aspects. Also, GM mustard was not tested as a herbicide-tolerant crop, by conducting investigations into the impacts of the sprayed herbicide. And the inadequate environmental safety testing of the GM mustard violated the government's own guidelines – for instance, pollen flow testing was only done in one location instead of the stipulated minimum of three.
Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition said, “In the Supreme Court of India, the Attorney General (AG) on behalf of Union [central government] of India has been attempting to move the Honourable Bench’s attention away from the Court-Appointed Technical Expert Committee’s (TEC) ban recommendation with regard to HT crops. The Technical Expert Committee’s ban recommendation on HT crops is based on scientific evidence and after listening to various stakeholders including the Government of India. The Government of India-nominated experts into the TEC were also asking for this ban, unanimously with three other independent experts nominated by the petitioners. This should have clinched matters, and the Government should have banned these dangerous crops.
"We sincerely urge the Court to pass orders that indeed ban HT crops given the numerous hazards that they bring in; similarly, a ban on transgenics in all those crops for which we are the Centre of Origin and/or Diversity. Mustard is one such crop. However, we are also cognisant of the arguments being put up by the AG defending India’s regulatory regime. He was heard asking the Bench to look into whether there is an adequate regulatory mechanism or not, and if they are able to find any deficiencies in the regulatory processes. It is against this backdrop that we are putting out this report, to show serious and objectionable deficiencies, and how the appraisal and approval of GM mustard showcase the story of a compromised regulatory regime in India."
Sridhar Radhakrishnan, co-convenor of the Coalition, said: “Our report presents 15 illustrations of serious regulatory violations and infirmities, to show that what the Union of India is claiming about the robustness of our regulatory regime is a set of falsehoods yet again. These are only illustrations. These are to show how unreliable the regulators are, and the regulatory regime is, to protect ordinary citizens and their environment from risks of modern biotechnology. We show how even without a formal approval letter being issued, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) jumped into the picture on behalf of a third party applicant, to ensure that seeds are planted in great haste, and a fait accompli delivered. Delivering the fait accompli itself is a violation of a court undertaking by the Union of India.
"We show through right-to-information (RTI) responses that no independent health expert ever participated in GM mustard appraisal. We show the timing of when a GM mustard developer is made into a GEAC member and how he participated, despite what the AG tried to showcase to the Honourable Court. We show how testing of GM mustard for environmental safety violates the limited guidelines/protocols laid down in India’s regulatory regime; similarly for food safety too. We show how studies are recommended/prescribed and permitted by the regulatory body, but then not done, because the crop applicant would have sought exemption on some unscientific ground or the other, and the regulators simply agreed to these requests!"
Kapil Shah, co-convenor, said, “There are other instances showcased too, which show that India is callous and negligent about sticking to commitments made in Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Our regulatory regime is seriously compromised. We are putting out this report in the public domain so that the regulators and Government of India cannot perpetrate falsehoods about the regulatory regime being robust. While this is so, on the matter of HT crops, given the large credible body of scientific evidence on the ill effects of such crops, and given the regulatory failures amply visible with regard to curbing farmer level illegal usage of unapproved HT crops and herbicides, we urge the Supreme Court to pass orders for a ban on HT crops, as recommended by its own independent technical experts."
Source: Coalition for a GM-Free India