2.Info body gives bio-tech dept a RTI power-punch
EXTRACT: Raghunandan also drew attention to an alarming admission made by the government...
Although it has approved their multi-location field trials, the government said that the data on rice, okra and mustard was "under development" and "yet to be evaluated" by it. Such laxity in regulation, she said, could lead to genetic contamination in the areas where field trials were being held even before the toxicity and allergenicity data had been analysed. (item 1)
1.CIC orders govt to divulge toxicity of GM foods
The Times of India, 14 April 2007
NEW DELHI: If a genetically modified (GM) food causes allergies or contains toxins, can the government refuse to disclose such bio-safety information on the grounds that it involves "commercial confidence" or "trade secrets" and that it will compromise the "competitive position" of the bio-tech company concerned?
Central Information Commission (CIC) said no on Thursday and ordered the department of biotechnology to disclose toxicity and allergenicity data on transgenic food crops that are being field-tested across the country.
In a far-reaching interface between RTI and environmental protection, the head of CIC, Wajahat Habibullah, directed the government to make public within 10 working days all the relevant data on genetically engineered brinjal, okra, mustard and rice which have been approved for multi-location trials.
The order came on an appeal filed by a Greenpeace activist, Divya Raghunandan, against government's refusal to disclose the data saying it was covered by Section 8 (1)(d) of RTI Act which exempts from disclosure "information, including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party".
While arguing for the disclosure of the toxicity and allergenicity data, Raghunandan cited a recent rat-feeding study in Europe by three French scientists who, despite the efforts of bio-tech major Monsanto to keep the matter under wraps, established that a genetically modified maize brought out by that company was not a safe food.
Raghunandan also drew attention to an alarming admission made by the government in response to her RTI application.
Although it has approved their multi-location field trials, the government said that the data on rice, okra and mustard was "under development" and "yet to be evaluated" by it. Such laxity in regulation, she said, could lead to genetic contamination in the areas where field trials were being held even before the toxicity and allergenicity data had been analysed.
Given the obvious public interest in the health risk assessment of genetically modified foods, CIC observed that the government should be, under Section 4 of the RTI Act, proactively putting out all the relevant data without waiting for applications for their disclosure.
But CIC declined Raghunandan's plea for making public the minutes of the meetings of the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM), which approved the various proposals of multi-location field trials of genetically modified food crops.
Since RCGM's minutes mention details of the proposals made by each of the bio-tech companies, Habibullah chose to leave it to the government to take a call on whether those confidential documents could be made public.
2.Info body gives bio-tech dept a RTI power-punch
ASHOK B SHARMA
Financial Express, April 14 2007
NEW DELHI, APR 13: In a verdict which may have a far-reaching consequence in the future, the Central Information Commission (CIC) on Friday directed the department of bio-technology (DBT) to make public the data generated from the tests carried out on transgenic crops by agro-biotech companies.
Chief commissioner Wajahat Habibullah delivered this right to information (RTI) power-punch, in response to an petition filed by Greenpeace India, after the review committee on genetic modification (RCGM) under DBT consistently refused to part with this closely guarded secret for over a year.
Striking down the DBT's contention that the data falls under Section 8.1.(d), Habibullah pointed out that the request of the applicant for toxicity and allergenicity tests on genetically modified (GM) rice, mustard, okra and brinjal cannot be refused under the RTI Act. Any further grounds for non-disclosure are invalid even if the data in reference are in the process of development. The information was also directed to be disclosed under section 4. (1). (d) of the RTI Act, which states "provide reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons.
Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan who pleaded before the CIC on behalf of Greenpeace India said, "The Commission's order is significant as past experience shows that RCGM has not used the right kind of protocols for bio-safety testing".
In February, last year, Greenpeace India had requested the RCGM to make public the toxicity and allergenicity data for four GM crops alongwith the minutes of the meeting. "Our victory today is in keeping with the spirit of the RTI, and has only strengthened the RTI as a tool to building a participatory democracy, " Divya Raghunandan of Greenpeace India.