The most astonishing fact is that there is one member who is from an organisation supported by Mahyco [Monsanto's partner in India], the biosafety of whose Bt Brinjal is being discussed by the committee.
1. J.L Karihaloo, Coordinator, Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB) - Molecular biologist, GM crop lobbyist
- APCoAB funded by Mahyco
2. Keshav Kranti, Director, Central Institute of Cotton research - GM crop developer
- GM cotton
3. Raj Bhatnagar, Group leader, Insect Resistance, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology - Developer of GM insect resistant crops
4. Akhilesh Kumar Tyagi, Director, National Institute of Plant Genome Research - GM crops to produce pharmaceuticals
5. Deepak Pental, Professor of Genetics and Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi - GM crop developer
- GM Mustard
In addition to this, the group is also heavily tilted towards known GM crop proponents and people like Dr Sesikeran, who has been repeatedly involved in the clearance for Bt brinjal at various stages earlier. Coupled with the absence of a broader range of experts representing the concerns raised, this gives a strong pro-GM bias to this expert group, making its value questionable in being able to give the kind of guidance stipulated in the MoEF [Ministry of Environment and Forests'] decision [to have a moratorium to allow further assessment] of February 9 2010.
--- Press Release: Coalition for a GM-Free India
Civil Society Asks Independent Experts To Keep All 'Moratorium Factors' In Mind in Deliberations on Bt Brinjal & asks GM crop developers to recuse themselves:
Coalition for a GM-Free India warns of increased resistance if all issues are not addressed with regard to this 'unneeded, hazardous food'
New Delhi, April 27th 2011: At the end of a day's deliberations wherein GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) reviewed Bt brinjal with an 'Expert Group' for the first time since a moratorium was placed on this novel food's commercial release, civil society groups reiterated their call for those 'experts' who bring in conflicting interests into the Expert Group to recuse themselves immediately - they pointed out that the lack of independent expertise and balance in the constitution of such Expert Groups comes up with predictable outcomes each time. "It is more or less the same set of people who cleared Bt brinjal earlier and how can we expect different outcomes?", said the Coalition.
Earlier, the Coalition for a GM-Free India sent letters of concern to all the 'experts' invited to this meeting, objecting to the composition of this 'Expert Group' which included several people associated with GM crop development and also reminding members of the pending issues related to this controversial food.
The Coalition urged all independent experts who are part of the deliberations initiated today to keep in mind all the various issues that emerged during the nation-wide consultations that led to the moratorium in the first instance before coming to any recommendation.
"There is no shortage of brinjal production in the country nor any urgency to bring in such GM foods without resolving all the pending issues. We repeat that such hazardous technologies as GM, which are irreversible and uncontrollable, are unneeded in our food and farming", said the Coalition in a statement.
"The 'experts' consulted today consisted of several GM crop developers and ones who have cleared Bt brinjal in the past. It is shocking that people like Dr J L Karihaloo of the Asia Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology were part of the expert group constituted by the GEAC through D.O.No.13/7/2007-CS.III, to review the safety of Bt brinjal Event EE1, when this consortium is funded by M/s Mahyco, which is the Bt brinjal developer. What was the need to include people like Dr Sesikeran, who had been clearing Bt brinjal right from Day One, as part of the RCGM and other committees?
"We were told that some independent experts had no clear information about this consultation. And deliberations are still based on the biosafety data produced by the crop developer, without any independent studies or independent analyses of the biosafety dossier (apart from such analyses from civil society groups through independent experts abroad). This is clearly not what the Minister of Environment & Forests asked for, in his Moratorium Decision Note of February 9 th 2010 and the deliberations have to be independent, rigorous and trust-inspiring", said Sridhar Radhakrishnan of the Coalition for a GM-Free India.
Declaring the moratorium on Bt Brinjal in February last year, Jairam Ramesh had said that the moratorium will last "till such time independent studies establish, to the satisfaction of both public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth of Brinjal in our country". The Minister had also referred to the existence of ecologically friendly and successful alternatives like Non Pesticide Management (NPM) for solving pest problems in crops like Brinjal.
Post the moratorium two comprehensive reports from independent scientists have been submitted to the Supreme Court, in connection with the PIl on GM crops, which point to inadequate environmental assessment of Bt brinjal and problems with biosafety tests done. Both these reports have strongly recommended that Bt brinjal should not be released.
The members of the GM free India Coalition in their letter to the 'Expert Group' members demanded that the deliberations also focus on the very need of a risky product like Bt Brinjal when successful alternatives like NPM exist. They also pointed out to certain realms of expertise missing in the committee for assessing the need and safety of Bt brinjal in addition to addressing issues around farmers' and consumers' rights.
It is learnt that the meeting today consisted of presentations and discussions with some strong arguments being made that there was no need for further testing of Bt brinjal. Strong views were also apparently expressed in favour of "limited, partial, highly-regulated release of Bt brinjal" with testing if any taken up in parallel. Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture) argued that there is nothing like a "limited release" possible with GMOs as also recommended by the discredited inter-academy report of six science academies last year.
"When we have seen that companies and public sector institutions are repeatedly defying the legal norms with relation to even field trials of GMOs in this country - as the latest case with herbicide tolerant cotton has shown - how can any environmental release of a GMO be considered a 'limited release'? Bt cotton in the past and now herbicide tolerant cotton have made their illegal entry and proliferated due to the inefficient, apathetic and incapable regulatory system in the country. Given this state of affairs and the uncontrollable nature of this living technology, how can limited release be ensured?". She pointed out that the Minister in his moratorium decision has already acknowledged that it is 'extremely difficult to ensure such a quarantine' and it is not clear why experts are still suggesting this as a way forward.
The Coalition reminded the regulators that the moratorium decision note had stipulated that the GEAC should consult experts 'to draw up a fresh protocol for the specific tests that will have to be conducted in order to generate public confidence' and that the GEAC should act 'on the matter of further studies and tests with appropriate protocols and in appropriate laboratories.' "If the issues raised in the public consultations are not addressed squarely, citizens will step up their resistance to this GM food", warned the Coalition.
The Coalition reminded all state governments about their authority and responsibility in relation to Agriculture and asked the state governments to stick to their prudent stand of rejecting Bt brinjal.
"Governments should respect the sentiments of people who are rejecting this technology. It is clear that this is an unneeded technology which would only benefit profit-hungry corporations while appearing to proffer solutions to farmers; there is no shortage of brinjal in this country that its productivity needs to be improved through hazardous technologies; for pest management in this crop, many alternative practices exist and it is the responsibility of both the Union Government and state governments to promote these safe, affordable and easy technologies on a large scale with all brinjal-cultivating farmers", said Yudhvir Singh of the Coordination Committee of Indian Farmers' Movements.
Consumers' rights towards safe food and informed choices cannot be violated and Bt brinjal and such GM foods cannot be allowed in the country, stated the Coalition. "The Minister had mentioned negative public sentiment after the nation-wide consultations last year - this has not changed and opinion polls have indicated that majority of consumers reject Bt brinjal and such novel foods. The Minister also asked for the moratorium to continue 'till such time that independent scientific studies establish to the satisfaction of both the publicand professionals the safety of the product”¦”¦'. Nothing has changed since then - if at all, more evidence has emerged worldover about the adverse impacts of GM crops".
The Coalition for a GM-Free India urged those Expert Group members who are not associated with GM crop development to keep all of this in mind in their deliberations and also run the process in a rigorous, unbiased, transparent and democratic manner even as it asked the others to recuse themselves from this process.
For more information, contact:
1. Kavitha Kuruganti, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA): 09393001550
2. Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Coalition for a GM-Free India: 09995358205
3. Yudhvir Singh, Coordination Committee of Indian Farmers' Movements: 09868146405/011-26783292
4. Kapil Mishra, Greenpeace India, 09818066041 GEAC'S EXPERT GROUP TO REVIEW BT BRINJAL
GM crop developers are sitting in this process. They should not be there.
In spite of the widespread concerns raised about the composition of Expert Committee-II and the GEAC itself, which had given the go-ahead to Bt brinjal in October 2009, GEAC is repeating the same pattern in their current consultations . In the new Expert Group put together by GEAC to look into all the concerns raised against Bt Brinjal, at least five are directly involved in GM crop development with one more 'expert' associated with an institution involved in GM crop development (ICGEB) until fairly recently.
The most astonishing fact is that there is one member who is from an organisation supported by Mahyco, the biosafety of whose Bt Brinjal is being discussed by the committee.
1. J.L Karihaloo, Coordinator, Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology- Molecular biologist, GM crop lobbyist - APCoAB funded by Mahyco
2. Keshav Kranti, Director, Central Institute of Cotton research- GM crop developer- GM cotton
3. Raj Bhatnagar, Group leader, Insect Resistance, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology - Developer of GM Insect resistant crops
4. Akhilesh Kumar Tyagi, Director, National Institute of Plant Genome Research - GM crops to produce pharmaceuticals
5. Deepak Pental, Professor of Genetics and Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi - GM crop developer - GM Mustard
In addition to this, the group is also heavily tilted towards known GM crop proponents and people like Dr Sesikeran, who has been repeatedly involved in the clearance for Bt brinjal at various stages earlier. Coupled with the absence of a broader range of experts representing the concerns raised, this gives a strong pro-GM bias to this expert group, making its value questionable in being able to give the kind of guidance stipulated in the MoEF decision of February 9, 2010. The following are the main objections and concerns: PROCEDURAL:
* GM crop developers whose own products would go through the same regulatory process are in the position of strongly influencing the Bt brinjal decision. They should not be there. They have a prima facie vested interest in easing the regulatory process and the testing protocol required for approval of GM crops. It is a travesty that GEAC is relying on them 'to draw up a fresh protocol for the specific tests that will have to be conducted in order to generate public confidence' which was their mandate as per the Bt brinjal moratorium decision of MoEF in February 2010.
* Not all expertise needed to assess Bt brinjal's impacts is present in this group. Therefore, they should not clear Bt brinjal as is; for instance, no social scientists; no civil society representatives; no consumer groups' representatives; no genetic toxicologists; no one with known expertise in "contradictory science"; too many biotechnologists who are into GM crop development and too few scientists looking into environmental and health implications...
* Some independent experts reportedly did not have information on this meeting today. PENDING ISSUES:
* No independent testing of Bt brinjal has taken place so far;
* Many problems with the test protocols of the tests conducted have been pointed out
* Problems with the results, their reporting and interpretations have been pointed out - including the fact that statistically significant differences b/w study and control groups were actually found in different studies for important parameters.
* NO long term testing has taken place so far for chronic impacts.
* No testing of Bt brinjal against alternative technologies has taken place.
OTHER FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES:
* Why is Bt brinjal needed when there is no shortage of brinjal production in the country and when there are alternatives to control pests in brinjal and such crops?
* Why is India dabbling with a GM crop in a crop's centre of origin and diversity?
* What about IPR issues especially with farmers' varieties in public sector bodies being converted to GM?
* What about the rights of organic farmers?
* what about consumers' right to know, right to informed choices etc.?
Hon'ble Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh has assured the nation while announcing the moratorium on Bt Brinjal that all concerns raised on environment, health etc. will be addressed and in light of his statement, we do not find this group equipped and capable enough to address all those concerns.
It is well known that countries like the USA have cleared several GM crops by allowing GM crop developers to be part of regulatory decision-making bodies through 'revolving doors' system etc.
EXTRACT: In the new Expert Group put together by [the] GEAC [India's apex regulatory body on GM] to look into all the concerns raised against Bt Brinjal, at least five [members] are directly involved in GM crop development with one more 'expert' associated with an institution involved in GM crop development (ICGEB) until fairly recently.