India under fire for 'misleading' biosafety statements
2.India under fire for 'misleading' biosafety statements
NOTE: Execellent editorial in India's largest selling daily paper.
1. GM concerns in agriculture
The Hindu, 11 June 2008
After a controversial entry into cotton, international corporations promoting Genetically Modified crops are trying to expand their reach into food. The promised benefits would appear compelling in an era of food shortages and low productivity, but the uncertainty about their wider impact on human health and the environment underscores the need for strong biosafety regulations. Progress in strengthening biosafety has been slow. That has not, however, prevented the unregulated spread of GM crops. Countries such as Brazil have been presented with a fait accompli, forcing them to regularise their cultivation. Considering the absence of data from long-term studies, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was evolved five years ago to help member countries monitor transboundary movement of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). But the protocol has not made much headway in realising its goal of creating a legally binding instrument for liability and redress, in situations where use of GMOs results in potential harm to people or the environment. At the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol held in Bonn from May 12 to 16, progress on the issue was limited to laying out a road map to 2010, when the liability and redress instrument will be discussed. This tardy pace stands in contrast to the aggressive global promotion of GM crops.
The recent finding of the Japan-based UN University Institute of Advanced Studies that the 100 countries participating in the Cartagena Protocol do not have the training necessary for implementing biosafety regulations underscores the scale of the problem. Genetic modification of crops relies on introducing genes from unrelated organisms into a crop species to produce traits such as pest resistance, which cannot conceivably be produced through traditional breeding methods. Cotton spliced with a toxin-producing bacterial gene to resist the bollworm pest is an example. But the hidden environmental effects of such manipulation - as for instance the contamination of wild species - are cause for deep concern; a significant body of research records the unintended flow of engineered genes to wild species, raising serious biodiversity concerns. In the area of health, the effects of genetically modified food remain to be fully assessed. Consumer confidence in such food is understandably low, and in several countries, notably in Europe, these foods are voluntarily kept off store-shelves. The resistance of GM companies to food-labelling has only added to the deep distrust. Given the contentious aspects, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has before it little evidence on the basis of which it could approve GM food crops. Checks are also called for against the sale of unlabelled imported food.
2. India under fire for 'misleading' biosafety statements
T. V. Padma
SciDev, 6 June 2008
[image caption: Sahai says there has been no analysis of the socioeconomic impact of GM crops]
[NEW DELHI] The Indian government has denied accusations that it has misled the international community over its biosafety commitments.
Suman Sahai, a geneticist and the convener of the Delhi-based nongovernmental organisation Gene Campaign, has attacked statements made by the government that it has established an efficient domestic regulatory framework for genetically modified organisms.
Sahai's claims followed remarks made by Indian representatives at an international meeting on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, held in Bonn, Germany, from May 12 16.
Signatories to the protocol agree to abide by global minimum standards on biosafety, intended to protect biological diversity from potential risks from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The protocol sets out broad guidelines, while leaving countries to produce their own laws putting these guidelines into effect. Such laws can take into account the stage of the country's biotechnology industry and their policies on allowing GM foodstuffs into their country, for example.
Government officials said in Bonn that full risk assessments and environmental reviews had been carried out for all GM crops being tested in India.
But Sahai charges that there is no data in the public domain on allergy and toxicity tests carried out on genetically engineered crops, no environmental review of GM cotton, or an analysis of the socioeconomic impact of GM crops.
She also points out that the country does not have a law for compensating people for any damage caused by GM crops, a policy on the approval of GM crops for which India is one of the 'centres of origin', or a law on labelling genetically engineered foods.
An official from India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which operates under the ministry of environment and forests, denies the accusations, saying they are "unsubstantiated" and that some relate to issues still under international discussion.
The government is working towards meeting all its obligations under the protocol, adds the GEAC official, who told SciDev.Net that Sahai's charges do not apply to the current status of GM crops in India.
For example, the official points out that India only permits commercial cultivation of GM cotton, and has not yet approved commercial growing or importing of GM crops for food, animal feed, or processing.
The official says the government has submitted risk assessment data to GEAC on all food and non-food GM crops under trials - including risk assessments on crops whose centre of origin is in India - and customs officials at airports have detailed guidelines on restrictions on import of living modified organisms.
The official also says India is waiting for the final outcome of international discussions on fixing liability for damage by GM products, before enacting a national law.
But Sahai is unrepentant. She says that state and district level monitoring committees for genetically engineered products do not exist, and customs staff at airports are largely unaware of genetically engineered organisms.
Despite the government's reassurances, Sahai says, "The [Indian] government's regulatory framework is widely considered grossly inadequate and has been challenged by scientists, intellectuals and civil society organisations through public interest litigations in Indian courts."