Aruna Rodrigues - the Lead Petitioner in the PIL (Public Interest Litigation) before India's Supreme Court, calling for a moratorium on GM crops, has sent GMWatch 3 letters which she has received from 3 leading scientists who have responded to the slandering of Dr Pushpa Bhargava by the Government of India and its apex GM regulator, the GEAC.

Dr Bhargava, it will be remembered, is one of India's leading molecular biologists and was appointed by the Supreme Court as an invitee to the GEAC.

After Dr Bhargava spoke out publicly about the poor quality of the GEAC's regulatory decision making and the misleading nature of a number of its claims and statements, he came under attack from the GEAC who are also trying to have him removed from the committee.

1. The first letter is from Dr Dave Schubert of the prestigious Salk Institute. It's a devastating expose of the US and India's lack of regulation and its consequences. Here are a few highlights:

The GEAC's invalid criticism of Dr Bhargava is offensive to all scientists including myself, who are willing to take their valuable time to help with public policy decisions...

It is regretable, but it must be understood by politicians and government policy makers that this is the modus operandi of GM seed companies and these are attempts to divert interest from a rational discussion of the problems associated with the current GM technology.

...Safety testing requirements are non-existent in the US and a lesson should be learnt from our current banking crisis that the lack of regulation by the US government frequently does not lead to desirable consequences. India has the chance to change the situation with GM crops and should take advantage of this court case to follow Dr Bhargava's lead...

I also support a 5 year or longer moratorium on the field testing of all GM food crops until the proper safety and environmental protection protocols are in place.

2. The second letter is from Dr Michael Antoniou of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, King's College, London, School of Medicine. He writes:

I have more than 25 years experience in the use of genetic engineering technology to explore basic mechanisms of gene control and their safe and responsible application within a biotechnological (clinical) context. I am therefore intimately familiar with the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of genetic engineering technology in all of forms and all sectors. Based on my personal experience and the general understanding of the field of gene structure, genome organization and genetic regulatory mechanisms, the whole area of genetic modification of crops is both technically and conceptually flawed. There is therefore every scientific justification to the position taken by Dr. Pushpa Bhargava.

I'd like to specially draw your attention to the Austrian Government study just published (Nov 08). Its great importance lies in the fact that it confirms long-standing scientific concerns repeatedly expressed, about the safety of GM crops and their unique risks to health and the environment. The study findings of infertility-linked problems with a Monsanto corn stacked event (Bt Mon 810 & NK 603 to confer resistance to the herbicide RR) became apparent through precisely, the kind of tests recommended by Dr Bhargava and other eminent scientists in leading scientific peer reviewed literature, i.e. of long term multi-generational feeding studies, proteomics and metabolomics. Additional new published data from animal feeding studies conducted by eminent scientists and institutions have also shown that (i) life-long (2 year) consumption of GM soya in mice showed augmented signs of ageing (Malatesta et al., 2008); (ii) GM maize caused marked disturbances to both intestinal and peripheral immune system responses and function in mice at vulnerable (young and old) stages of life heightening the possibility that allergenicity would result (Finamore et al., 2008) and (iii) a multi-generational feeding study of rats fed GM maize showed that they suffered damage to their liver and kidney (Kiliç and Akay, 2008). It should be noted that these crops have been commercialized. They were approved by government food safety regulators overriding vociferous scientific warnings about their safety.

3. And the third leter is from Dr Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy. He too provides additional (to the Austrian study) evidence of health and environmental hazards of GM crops. He says:

I am a molecular-developmental biologist who has known Dr. Bhargava for more than 20 years. I am also close to Indian scientific affairs and issues, having visited the country on six occasions since the early 1980s, having been a Visiting Scientist
at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and having co-organized two
international scientific meetings in India over the past decade. I am also a close observer of the applications of developmental biological and genetical research in medicine and agriculture, having served as a consultant on these matters to the U.S. government and having appeared as an invited witness before committees of the U.S. Congress on several occasions.

Dr. Bhargava is highly regarded in international scientific circles as an authority on genetic engineering, biotechnology and molecular biology.

...Attempts to denigrate Dr. Bhargava’s credentials or characterize his views on biosafety assessment protocols for genetically modified (GM) crops as anything but serious are quite unacceptable.

I urge (as I do in my own country), the responsible parties in India to take the
concerns of Dr. Bhargava and his counterparts seriously. A five-year moratorium on release of new GMOs to implement appropriate risk-assessment protocols is not unduly long to ensure that these novel forms are used wisely and safely.