1.SC issues notice to Centre on plea for GM crops' moratorium

EXTRACT: "---  At every stage there is a bias if not deceit all the way. I am only looking at the data provided by the GEAC itself". (item 2)
1.SC issues notice to Centre on plea for GM crops' moratorium
Press Trust India, August 12 2008

New Delhi (PTI): The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on an application seeking a moratorium on release of any genetically-modified crop till an independent testing lab is being set up in the country.

A bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan sought response from the Centre on an application of Aruna Rodrigues, who is carrying out a legal battle against GM crops, seeking a moratorium on release of any genetically-modified (GM) crop, complete ban on import of any GM product, including GM content in foods, and setting up of an independent testing facility at par with the international standards.

The SC asked the government to comply with its earlier directions issued on April 8 this year asking it to put all the data related to toxicity and allergenicity of GM crops on the website of Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the only authority empowered to release GMOs into environment under the Rules of 1989 governing the technology under the Environment Protection Act.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Rodrigues, said a vast majority of bio-safety tests, which are required before such crops are allowed for safe release into the environment, were not being conducted. Whatever tests had been done were being carried out by the applicant company, "which has a clear commercial interest".

Rodrigues, while highlighting various loopholes in the present bio-testing system, pointed to the extensive communication between P M Bhargava, an international expert in molecular biology, and GEAC.

The petitioner, on the basis of an opinion of Bhargava, has sought a "review of six years of Bt cotton experience" as it was necessary that review must take place during a full moratorium on all GM crops, including Bt cotton.
[Aruna Rodrigues, with co-petitioners]

Dr Pushpa Bhargava the 'invitee' to the GEAC's Meetings by an ORDER of the SC in this PIL, states unequivocally that it is necessary that a comprehensive review must take place of Bt Cotton AND DURING A FULL MORATORIUM ON ALL GM CROPS INCLUDING BT COTTON "In No case has there been an appropriate and comprehensive risk assessment". In a suggested bio-safety protocol of 29 tests, only 4 are claimed to be done; but these are as "good as not having been done". "---  At every stage there is a bias if not deceit all the way. I am only looking at the data provided by the GEAC itself".

    It must be remembered, that no GM crop has been approved safe for human and animal heath or the environment anywhere in the world. On the contrary, the evidence of bio-safety hazards after more that 10 years of the introduction of GM animal feed crops is too serious to be ignored. The absolute certainty of contamination with irreversible consequences means that India can’t afford to make a mistake. 

On the 13th February 08, the Supreme while vacating an injunction on field trials of GM food crops, nevertheless, recognising the clear evidence of a conflict of interest in the Regulators, the GEAC and DBT, saw fit to Order that Dr PM Bhargava, (Dr PMB) nominated by the Petitioners in this PIL and Dr MS Swaminathan by the GEAC, will be invitees to the GEAC Meetings.  Now, based on the evidence of Dr PMB Petitioners have filed and Application for a comprehensive Moratorium on GM Crops for 5 years. Based on extensive evidence covering the most important aspects of the impacts of GM crops, which he cites, Dr PMB confirms conclusively that there is the most dismal failure in the testing and regulation of GM crops, where rigour, scrutiny and transparency are entirely absent. The main points:

    “It is un-understandable that in all these years of our experience with the GMOs, we have not, as a country, set up an appropriate top-quality institution in the public sector (to be best supervised jointly by the public sector and the civil society) where facilities for all the tests that need to be done would exist so that any test report given by the company asking for the release of the GMO, could be validated.   It cannot escape anyone’s notice, that this situation has benefited the companies marketing the GMO, and one cannot, therefore, rule out a motive for not setting up such an organisation.  In fact, this point alone would make all the tests done so far on the basis of which confined or multi-location research trials, as a prelude for commercial release of GMOs have been approved, as INVALID”.
     “The failure of Bt cotton in many parts of the country has been totally ignored in spite of the fact that it has been well documented”.  This therefore calls for “a total review of the release of Bt cotton crops and continued selling of Bt cotton seeds; and during a full moratorium on all GM crops including Bt cotton. Such a review is always done in the case of drugs, and there are many cases where drugs which were approved for commercial marketing after phase III trials were, after varying periods, withdrawn from the market because of new information that became available.

    Unlike a drug however, it is required that safety testing for GMOs is “far more stringent than for a drug, which unlike a GMO can always be withdrawn”

The Myth of Improved Yield, Drought and other Traits in GM crops Dispelled

The greatest agronomic myth with regard to GM crops, which is without any basis what-so-ever in science and therefore fact, is that they are engineered to increase YIELDS. These claims of the GE industry are backed and broadcast by the US Government, the White House and an acquiescent Indian Regulator. It has been repeated so often that it has begun to sound like the truth. So pervasive has this myth become that our Prime Minister, decision-makers in Government, including the Hon’ble CJ of the Supreme Court believe it. Because it underpins Indian GM policy in agriculture and the continuing trenchant position of the Government to continue with these policies in the face of compelling reasons against it, this untruth of yield traits in GM crops must be firmly and finally dispelled. GM CROPS ARE CURRENTLY ENGINEERED TO BE EITHER PEST RESISTANT OR HERBICIDE RESISTANT ---  NOTHING MORE.   

Thus, Dr PMB responding to Ranjini Warrier, Member Secy., GEAC says:

“it is mentioned that Bt cotton hybrids under trial have potential for higher seed cotton yield in comparison to the conventional (non-Bt Hybrids). This is surely a MISLEADING STATEMENT, for it is NOT THE PRODUCTION that may be affected by the Bt gene but the destruction by pests”. 

Doug Gurian-Sherman is an authoritative voice. Formerly, the US EPA’s biotech specialist and advisor on biotech to the FDA and currently a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, he says:

“After 20 years of GE research and 13 years of commercialization, GE crops --- have shown little progress on the biggest food production issues, such as INTRINSIC YIELD, STRESS TOLERANCE AND IMPROVING SUSTAINABILITY. Let's be clear. As of this year, there are no commercialized GE crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GE crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. NOT ONE”.

The IAASTD: The ‘International Assessment of Agricultural Science & Technology for Development’ is a unique collaboration initiated by the World Bank in partnership with a multi-stakeholder group of organisations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environmental Programme, the World Health Organisation and representatives of governments, civil society, private sector and scientific institutions from around the world. The actual report runs to 2 500 pages, and has taken more than 400 scientists 4 years to complete.  On a scale comparable to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, (IPCC) and the agricultural equivalent to it, it will drive the agricultural agenda for the next fifty years and has been signed-up by 60 countries including India but notably, not the USA. .The biotech industry was so disgruntled by the report's lack of support that it pulled out of the entire process last year. The
IAASTD published its conclusions on the 15th April 2008:

    The way forward must be through “localised solutions, combining scientific research with traditional knowledge in partnership with farmers and consumers”.  Sustainable agriculture that is biodiversity based, including agro-ecology and organic farming, is beneficial to poor farmers, and should be supported by the appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks. Notably, it does not assign GM Crops a role in these solutions.

RECAP: It is evident that GM crops owe more to marketing hyperbole than to objective science and agronomic delivery. Given that ‘yield’ is not a trait that they deliver, the explosion of this myth destroys the raison detre of GM crops and exposes its real objectives, which are patents and the profits from them that accrue to the GE Biotech industry. Dr PMB’s evidence based on his participation as an invitee to the GEAC Meetings through an Order of this Hon'ble Court sheds much-needed light on these matters and the Indian Regulator’s biosafety record. This is not only abjectly dismal, it is unconscionable. The weighty IAASTD Report on the other hand, sets out an agenda for agricultural solutions for the next 50 years, in the manner of the IPCC report for combating Climate Change. In this, it does not see a role for GM crops in sustainable agricultural solutions that are biodiversity-driven.

Therefore, the Prayers before the SC are therefore:

i.    direct the Union of India to declare a moratorium on the release of any GMO;
ii.    direct the Union of India to ban the import of any GM product including any GM content in foods;
iii.    direct the Union of India to set up, in the public sector an autonomous and independent institution with comprehensive testing facilities, to international standards of accreditation, for all aspects of work connected with GMOs, including risk assessment, testing for contamination etc.    The management of this institution should rest jointly with the Government, Civil Society and independent experts;

Aruna Rodrigues, with co-petitioners: PV Satheesh, Devinder Sharma, Rajeev Baruah
Petitioner No1                       H’bad          N Delhi              Mhow
Mhow, M.P.

11th August 2008