But now it's emerged that IVRI had - in its own words: "conducted no experiment on grazing or feeding of Bt plants" and "no information on these aspects has been provided to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee."
And this isn't the only instance of GEAC claims not matching up with the facts.
Sheep death: no test for Bt toxin done
The Hindu, 7 August 2008
"The facility for detection and estimation of Bt toxin is presently not available with us," notes the diagnostic report dated March 3, 2008 of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Izatnagar, U.P.
And by stating its inability to test for Bt toxin, the institute has confirmed the worst fears about how genetically modified crops are tested for biosafety in the country.
IVRI is one of the main institutes for testing samples to know the possible cause of death in sheep. It is also required to test tissue samples of dead sheep sent by NGOs.
The story of the institute coming out in the open about its inability to test Bt toxin started last year. It started when hundreds of sheep started dying in 2007 in two districts of Andhra Pradesh after grazing in Bt cotton fields.
The IAVI had conducted limited studies on goats and rats that were fed on Bt cotton leftovers. Though no untoward clinical effects were seen, the "histopathological studies in laboratory rats are under process," it noted in its letter to the GEAC in June last year. The minutes of the 78th meeting of GEAC (held in June 2007) also make a mention of this.
The minutes of the 82nd GEAC meeting held on January 11 this year noted: "analytical reports received from the IVRI Izatnagar and Department of Animal Husbandry, Hyderabad, have confirmed that sheep death in AP cannot be attributed to Bt cotton."
While the minutes of the Januray, 2008 meeting note that a representative of the State Department of Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh, had confirmed the cause of death in the sub-committee meeting held the same day, it is silent on how the IVRI confirmed the findings.
In February, Dr. Sagari R. Ramdas, Director of Anthra, Secunderabad, under the Right To Information (RTI) Act required IVRI to share any reports and analytical studies on domestic animals grazing/feeding on Bt cotton plants. It also wanted the institute to share the reports sent to the GEAC.
The IVRI's reply of February 25 did not help the GEAC cause. It noted that "Animal Nutrition Division has conducted no experiment on grazing or feeding of Bt plants." It also noted that "no information on these aspects has been provided to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee by the Animal Nutrition Division."
And to make sure that no other Department of IVRI had sent any reports, Dr. Ramdas of Anthra under the RTI Act required the GEAC to provide copies of reports submitted to it by the AP Animal Husbandry Department and the IVRI.
The reports provided by the GEAC make a mockery of biosafety testing. It has provided Dr. Ramdas in March this year nothing but the June 2007 letter from IVRI to the GEAC wherein IVRI had stated that the "histopathological studies in laboratory rats are under process."
No mention is made of any histopathological studies being conducted on goats fed with cotton leftovers! And the letter from the AP Animal Husbandry Department clearly stated that "the results of gossypol and Bt protein analysis are awaited."
And there is no document to prove, as the minutes of 82nd meeting of GEAC in January claim, that the Animal Husbandry Department had indeed confirmed in the sub-committee meeting that the cause of death cannot be attributed to Bt cotton!
It may be recalled that it was based on these same documents, which were provided to Dr. P.M. Bhargava, the Supreme Court nominee to the GEAC, that the minutes of the 83rd meeting of GEAC in April this year noted "”¦ sheep death might be due to high content of nitrares/nitrites”¦ and not that of Bt toxin."
In March this year, three sheep were ill and one died in Medak district, AP. "I sent the plant samples and sheep samples after a post mortem as per the IVRI requirements," said Dr. Ramdas. "And I specifically requested them to test for presence or absence of Bt protein in the samples."
The plant samples were tested for nitrites/nitrates and alkaloids and the sheep samples were tested for heavy metals, nitrite/nitrate, alkaloids etc. The samples have been tested for everything but Bt protein.
The post mortem results obtained by Dr. Ramdas through another RTI finally helped reveal the institute's inability to detect and estimate Bt toxin in the samples.
Is there at least a slim chance that the facility at IVRI to detect and estimate Bt toxin which is "presently" not available, was indeed in place earlier?
"We have the facility to test for Bt toxin. The samples sent [by Anthra] were not proper," Prof. R.S. Chauhan, Joint Director of IVRI told to this Correspondent.
This contradicts the institute's response to Anthra. Dr. Chauhan could not provide a convincing answer. And if the samples were not proper, it is not known how IVRI tested for other parameters.
NOTE: For anyone who's failed to follow this extraordinary saga, the key point is that following concern over the large number of sheep that had died after grazing in Bt cotton fields, India's apex GM regulatory body - the GEAC -gave Bt cotton a clean bill of health, declaring in its minutes: "analytical reports received from the IVRI Izatnagar and Department of Animal Husbandry, Hyderabad, have confirmed that sheep death in AP [Andhra Pradesh] cannot be attributed to Bt cotton."