Leading international GM scientists support the TEC’s unanimous Interim Report recommending ban on open field trials
NOTE: Here is a press release about the international experts who've written to defend the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) which was established by India's Supreme Court and which recommended a ten-year moratorium on field trials of all genetically modified food crops. You can find the TEC Interim Report here: http://indiagminfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/SC-TEC-interim-report-oct17th-2012-GMO-PIL.pdf
This committee of technical experts made its unanimous recommendation back in October of last year, not long after India's Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture also issued a unanimous report saying GM crops were not the right way forward for India and calling for an immediate ban on all GM crop trials.
In relation to the TEC report, it's important to note that although it's called an Interim Report, it was not preliminary. It was in fact a FINAL statement on open field trials. The Supreme Court in an Order (10 May 2012) said that if the TEC wasn't going to be able "to submit its final report to the Court within the time stipulated in this order, we direct that the Committee should instead submit its interim report within the same period" on the issue of "whether there should or should not be any ban, partial or otherwise, upon conducting of open field tests of the GMOs".
The Supreme Court had originally asked the environment ministry to constitute the TEC panel following hearings on a public interest petition filed by Aruna Rodrigues and others. But since the publication of the report there has been a clear attempt at political interference by India's rabidly pro-GM agriculture ministry, which has moved to displace in court the environment ministry, which takes the regulatory lead with GM crops. By this means, the agriculture ministry successfully got a new member with a major conflict of interest added to the TEC panel ahead of its final report.
At the same time, the agriculture ministry also submitted an affidavit to the Court not just rejecting the TEC report but giving a clean bill of health to GM regulation in India, despite the fact that a series of official reports have shown major problems with GM regulation.
Aruna Rodrigues has severely criticised the affidavit "from a Ministry that promotes GM crops". She points to "the Parliamentary Standing Committee report, the Sopory Committee report and now the TEC Report... which all concur that there is grave oversight in regulation, conflict of interest, cover-up, lack of competence, and even fraud". Given the clear evidence provided by these reports, says Rodrigues, the ministry's affidavit constitutes nothing short of perjury.
In addition to the support expressed for the TEC by scientists, 3 leading figures from two of India's most important public institutions, the judiciary and the Election Commission, have also expressed their concern at attempts to interfere with the TEC and its findings.
Leading international GM scientists support the TEC’s unanimous Interim Report on open field trials
“As international specialists we write to defend the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) that was established under the Indian Supreme Court. This is because, after a period of discredited institutional practice as reflected in the GEAC’s earlier constitution and conduct, the TEC did provide the competence and Independence to achieve credibility. – The science used by the TEC is sound, their recommendations reasonable. --The TEC has not imposed any new rules or suggested a moratorium on research. It has simply called for adequate standards to be established.”
With 51 signatories to this statement, cumulatively accounting for over 1200 years of experience and 3000 peer-reviewed publications, these scientists include fellows of their respective Royal Societies or National Academies of Science, scientists with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications describing fundamental discoveries, such as the first and definitive report on how DNA replicates. The signatories, from all over the world, represent a range of scientific and research disciplines including plant genetic engineering and the creation of the first GM food crop, a tomato in the United States. They support the scientists of the TEC because they believe in the need for science to operate free of commercial and political goals, and because they think the TEC is right.
The TEC reviewed previous approvals for Bt cotton and Bt brinjal and found existing practice wanting: for example evidence of adverse effects were simply ignored. These exposures of previous GEAC practices were solid scientific findings. This review left the TEC in no doubt that India was not ready to make reliable safety judgments because of failures in procedure, inadequate attention to the development of capable, competent and independent regulatory bodies, and lack of appropriate management of conflicts of interest among scientific consultants.
The TEC made 11 specific recommendations for properly regulating the development and commercialisation of genetically modified crops in India (Annex I). The TEC found that in some cases the existing process was acceptable but not followed, in other cases there were no agreed rules or consensus to constitute a process, and across the board there were conflicts of interest that would continue to undermine trust. Existing rules do not require any laboratory safety testing before a potential food crop may be used in open field trials. Given that field trial crops can escape containment, e.g., as did the Liberty Link rice in the United States, and enter the food supply, the TEC rightly recommended that product testing outside of the laboratory be stopped until a comprehensive and effective process for such testing could be implemented. Except for a ban on testing GM crops for which India is a centre of biodiversity or origin, all testing can restart as soon as the Government provides a robust and proper procedure. The TEC only recommended a limited time moratorium on Bt-based products intended for use as food, and on herbicide tolerant crops, until a full socio-economic and safety review of these products can be completed.
The "Statement" of the scientists in support of the TEC was taken serious note of by 3 exemplary citizens who have contributed to institutional leadership in two of India’s most important public institutions of governance, the Judiciary and the Election Commission of India. They said:
“Prime Minister, we involve ourselves in this matter of open field trials of GM crops advisedly, and motivated and guided by the absolute need for integrity in sound decision-making for good public policy.”
This is the third report that speaks of the regulatory collapse that seems to have permeated our public institutions involved in the regulation of GM crops. The other two are PSC and the Sopory Committee Reports of August 2012. They plainly speak of the same malaise of conflict of interest, significant lack in expertise and competence, lack of integrity and fraud.
“Conflict of interest and corruption are so serious because they threaten the very fabric of our country, and fatally undermine excellence and trust in regulation and public policy. Indeed, the scientists in their letter stress that science must operate free of commercial and political goals. We uphold this.”
“Even within sound regulation for any new and hazardous technology, there is a vital need for caution in the application of risk assessment. In its absence, as we have for GM crops, the need for the Precautionary Principle becomes virtually total. This is a principle and precedent that is upheld by our Constitution and furthermore, it is your government that has upheld this principle in international protocols, which India has signed, specifically including the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety.”
Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, (Retd. Judge, Supreme Court of India), JM Lyngdoh (Former Election Commissioner of India) and Justice AP Shah (Former Chief Justice, High Courts of Delhi & Madras), have urged the Prime Minister to “uphold the Interim Report as the only safe course of action we can and must take given the irreversibility of the consequences of GMO contamination. Anything other will surely lead to further controversy and public scandal.”
Dr PM Bhargava in his letter to the PM supporting the TEC Interim Report says: The five original members of TEC appointed by the Supreme Court with the full approval of MoEF have had no conflict of interest. -- The sixth member of TEC appointed by the Supreme Court at the instance of the Government of India through its Ministry of Agriculture, has a clear conflict of interest. It is noteworthy that this appointment was made after TEC submitted its report. In fact, there was no case for the Government to have a sixth member of TEC appointed, after the report of the original 5-member TEC had been submitted.--- The Government's denying this report implies that it has no compunction in throwing outstanding science out of the window.