GEAC to look into GM crop irregularities
ASHOK B SHARMA Financial Express, December 19 2006

NEW DELHI, DEC 18: With the Supreme Court deliberating on the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has now begun giving importance to studies made by NGOs on GM crops.

GEAC, the regulator for GM crops, in its 72nd meeting held last week discussed the investigative reports on alleged irregularities in GM okra field trials at Gulbarga district in Karnataka and Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh. The Secundrabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) in its reports had pointed many violations of biosafety norms in okra field trials.

In this context, GEAC, after reviewing the reports, asked the agriculture universities in these two states to enquire into the incidents of violations. "We are reviewing all the problems raised by NGOs also," said the GEAC member-secretary, Ranjani Warrier.

GEAC also reviewed the report of the independent expert panel on Bt brinjal set up by CSA and the Thiruvananthapuram-based NGO, Thanal. This independent panel was headed by former professor of the National Science Foundation, KP Prabhakaran. The panel consisted of members like the former toxicologist of the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Ramesh Bhat, former ICRISAT plant physiologist, A Narayanan, former NIN biochemist, Ghafooruissa, former director of Tobacco Research Institute, MS Chari and former professor of economics at the Hyderabad University, D Narsimha Reddy.

The NGOs set up the panel as GEAC set up an in-house panel headed by the developer of GM mustard, Deepak Pental of Delhi University. The Supreme Court had asked GEAC to co-opt independent scientists.

The NGOs’ panel found several cases of violation of guidelines by the seed company, Mahyco. The GEAC referred the report of the NGOs independent panel to the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) and to the Pental panel.

Responding to the concerns of exporters, the department of biotechnology (DBT) has decided to make necessary changes in its 1989 guidelines so that biosafety norms would be able to incorporate concerns for global trade. A panel headed by MS Swaminathan and consisting of all the stakeholders will meet on December 23 to discuss the issue.

NGOs like Thanal, FEDCOT and TOAM are organising a farmers’ rally in Thanjavore on December 23 and have invited leaders of political parties to spell out their views on GM crops in public.