It may be remembered that as a result of the concerns highlighted by the PIL, the eminent Indian molecular biologist, Dr Pushpa Bhargava was made an "invitee" to the meetings of the GEAC, India's apex GM regulatory body, by order of the Supreme Court. As a result of attending the GEAC's meetings and having access to its regulatory processes, Dr Bhargava expressed the strongest concerns over GM regulation in India.
Members of the GEAC have responded by seeking to attack Dr Bhargava and to have him removed from the committee. As the press release below notes:
"They have accused Dr Bhargava, of lacking science and credibility and being anti-establishment. Yet, on the evidence, he remains the most serious and credible molecular biologist in the Country with an international reputation to guard and insists that GMOs must be rigorously and uncompromisingly tested because they are inherently hazardous; that the GEAC has abjectly failed to do this. He has provided comprehensive regulatory and risk assessment guidelines for GMOs in common with the opinion of eminent scientists and leading science Institutions. He calls for an immediate moratorium to avoid the most serious consequences for health and food safety and irreversible impacts on the Country and her environment."
The Indian government (Union of India) has made a formal reply to Dr Bhargava's concerns, and the press release below was issued at the same time that a response to this Reply by Aruna Rodrigues and her co-Petitioners was lodged with the Supreme Court.
COMMENT from Aruna: The Indian Regulator, the GEAC should shed all pretense at science. It has one agenda: to promote GM crops regardless of the cost to India, its people - their health and food safety, and the environment. And whatever and whoever is in the way, including Dr Pushpa Bhargava, they are determined to steamroller them, including it would seem any Orders of the Supreme Court of India, because they are in 'Contempt'.
RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT'S 'REPLY' IN THE MATTER OF THE EVIDENCE OF DR PUSHPA BHARGAVA CONCERNING THE GEAC'S DISMAL PERFORMANCE IN THE REGULATION OF GM CROPS
PRESS RELEASEThe evidence is clear: the Indian Regulators, the GEAC/RCGM are a demonstrated threat to our Nation, whose actions now, unless stopped, will result in irreversible harm and on-going harm in perpetuity. The Indian People are being made the guinea pigs of their unreasoned and unscientific actions.
The GEAC is also desperate. They have been exposed as thoroughly inept Regulators. More than this, they have been exposed as unwilling Regulators to carry out their mandate of 'bio-safety first' under the EPA of the Country. They have also been exposed as ‘serial violators’ of the ‘Rules’ on regulation and of being in serious contempt of the Orders of the Supreme Court of India in order to promote the GE Industry agenda, in line with the official policy to promote GM crops. To defend their unscientific stance, they have slipped their scientific and ethical moorings.
The GEAC have got their facts and logic hopelessly entangled in their zeal to mow down Dr. Bhargava to defend themselves. They have accused Dr Bhargava, of lacking science and credibility and being anti-establishment. (Dr Bhargava is an "invitee" to the GEAC meetings by an ORDER of the SC). Yet, on the evidence, he remains the most serious and credible molecular biologist in the Country with an international reputation to guard and insists that GMOs must be rigorously and uncompromisingly tested because they are inherently hazardous; that the GEAC has abjectly failed to do this. He has provided comprehensive regulatory and risk assessment guidelines for GMOs in common with the opinion of eminent scientists and leading science Institutions. He calls for an immediate moratorium to avoid the most serious consequences for health and food safety and irreversible impacts on the Country and her environment.
The 'Reply' by the Union of India has been made through the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment & Forests. Thus our farmers can expect no official government agency to champion their cause and difficulties. It therefore, also plainly demonstrates that the Regulators the GEAC and RCGM (in the DBT), are unable and indeed, are not functioning as independent and trustworthy Regulators of this hazardous technology. The conflict of interest within the Government and the Regulator is proven. These are the main points:
* Despite almost 20 years since the "Rules" were framed, we have no internationally accredited labs, no capacity building, and no training. Their absence is an absolute indictment of the state of regulation in India and the GEAC in their individual and collective capacity. Thus, India is not equipped to test, analyse, critique and therefore deal authoritatively with the science of GMOs and their impacts. In the current climate, the Indian Government and its Regulator does not have the commitment or capability required for thorough risk assessment of GMOs.
* The onus of proof of the safety of a GMO lies with the Industry, which must be held to account to provide it, by India’s Regulatory authority. Respondents are not able to provide proof of the safety of GM crops because that safety is not established anywhere in the world.
* By any yardstick of measurement for lack of bias, testing by crop developers as the sole basis of release of a GM crop by the Regulator is manifestly unsafe. The conflict of interest is blatant. However, given the criminal track record of Monsanto (the 90% market leader), including the most serious crimes against humanity, the “faith and trust” reposed in the Company by the Regulators is not merely inappropriate. It is perverse and can only be understood in the light of an insidious conflict of interest. The situation is alarmingly akin to proceeding on a holiday and handing the keys of the front door of ones house to a known felon. India’s biodiversity, the health of its people, its genetic wealth and health of its farming systems are in the keeping of Monsanto and the Industry. This is the immensity of the sell-out.
Monsanto hasn't changed. It has been indicted by an Alabama Court for KNOWINGLY poisoning the water supply of the township with PCBs at lethal levels that have caused cancers, in order not to loose a single $ in profits; it hides evidence of the toxic effects of its GM products, fudges and manipulates data and has refused to reveal the results of its own secret animal feeding studies, which revealed serious abnormalities to rats fed Bt corn, citing CBI (Confidential Business Information) until forced to do so by a German Court. The India story with Bt brinjal fully supported by the Regulators is identical. It has taken nearly two years until the SC Order in this PIL finally forced that data to be published on the Ministry’s Website after the last court hearing on the 12th August 08. However, it is not a printable document and does not have a ‘cut and paste’ option, so scientists have great difficulty critiquing the data. This is the degree of resistance-to-transparency that the
Regulator allows Monsanto. Where is public interest and public health?
* The methods of rigorous risk assessment in their time-scale are by definition, long term, to uncover the potential harmful changes in GE proteins in foods as a result of the transformation process. These include testing procedures for chronic toxicity. Yet the Regulators in their Reply are on record dismissing both, scientific methods of risk assessment and long term multi-generational animal feeding studies because they will take too long. The question must be asked: too long for whom? Whose advantage are the Regulators pushing? Tailoring national regulation to assurances provided by the GE biotech industry on safety and early release must be firmly dealt with and stopped.
* Petitioners state that no Government has the moral right to make India a testing ground for GMOs that have not undergone the most scientifically rigorous, long term biosafety and risk assessment, along with the exacting processes and integrity that are the bedrock of such assessment. Without any shadow of doubt, as the evidence demonstrates, there is a great vacuum in these matters.
In contrast, the IAASTD points out that genetic engineering technologies, for which we are appealing to the SC to overrule, have not demonstrated sustainable benefits to farmers, consumers or the environment despite over 12 years of commercialisation and nearly 30 years of development and billions of dollars of public money which should now be invested in alternative modern agricultural technologies.
The IAASTD Reports were compiled by a multidisciplinary team of 400 scientists from all parts of the world. It was based on peer reviewed publications. All but two countries (The US and Australia who are tied by a Free-trade Agreement) accepted the full set of reports. In April of this year, the Reports were approved by 58 countries INCLUDING INDIA. It is clear that the Indian Regulators and the Industry do not like the findings of the Report which sees no clear role for GM crops in Agriculture and confirms that there have been NO INTRINSIC YIELD INCREASES FROM GM CROPS. The IAASTD reports recognise the complexities of the problems facing world agriculture in delivering wholesome safe and affordable food without causing irreparable or long term harm to local communities and the environment in a world facing significant climatic change over the next half century. Some technologies are better suited to our needs in India. THEY ARE PROVEN AND THEY ARE MODERN. This view was also taken by the IAASTD which endorsed DNA techniques such Marker Assisted Selection.
Petitioners require the following comprehensive action to safeguard India:
a. A 5 year moratorium is essential immediately, with a ban on all imports of GM products or with GM content
b. The Bt Brinjal bio-safety data is EITHER peer reviewed and found acceptable for publication by Nature or a journal of equivalent standing, OR the data is subjected to an OPEN Peer Review process on the IAASTD pattern, that includes civil society participation with an equal right of veto with the 'Industry' of the Referees
c. A comprehensive review of Bt cotton and country-wide testing for contamination to a minimum LOD of 0.01% as Ordered by this Hon'ble Court, of all crops, most importantly our food crops to deal as best as possible with contamination as revealed and to contain and clean-up
d. During this time, there will be a full review of Bt cotton and the regulatory framework will be comprehensively reviewed, in a fully transparent and inclusive way with the involvement of civil society. It will include a public funded, internationally accredited, independent and autonomous testing institution.
e. The Bt Brinjal data, which has been put on the GEAC website, must be printable with a ‘cut and paste’ option and the confidential stamps, which litter the document and obscure data under it, must be restricted to an area off the printed page
The situation that India faces is aptly described by the eminent geneticist and environmental commentator David Suzuki who says it plainly:
"Any politician or scientist who tells you these products are safe is either very stupid or lying. The experiments have simply not been done".
The next hearing in this case is on the 3rd December 08.
Aruna Rodrigues with co-petitioners: PV Satheesh, Devinder Sharma, Rajeev Baruah
Dated: 11 November, 2008