NEWS FROM INDIA
1.No moratorium on GM crop trials till stakeholders heard: Supreme Court
2.Good summary of Indian Supreme Court's expert panel's recommendations
2.Expert report scientific and sensible say NGOs and farmers
4.Science not clear yet on GM crops: new science minister
1.No moratorium on GM crop trials till stakeholders heard: SC [Supreme Court]
The Times of India, October 30 2012
NEW DELHI: Before considering an interim recommendation for a 10-year moratorium on field trials of genetically modified food crops, the Supreme Court on Monday decided to seek the views of all stakeholders, including the agriculture ministry and the GM crop industry, on the contentious issue.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for PIL petitioner Aruna Rodrigues, requested a bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and S J Mukhopadhaya to order suspension of all field trials of GM food crops in the rabi season based on the recommendation of the court-constituted Technical Expert Committee (TEC).
"Once the trial takes place, it will result in irreversible contamination of non-GM and organic crops through air and water," Bhushan argued.
The bench appreciated the urgency attached to the issue but said, "We don't think it is possible for the court to defer the rabi crop plantation. But we are aware that once it is contaminated, loss caused would be huge. We will consider it early."
It posted the matter, including another PIL by NGO 'Gene Campaign', for further hearing on November 9 and asked the biotech industry, farmers' associations, and the Centre to respond to TEC's interim report recommending a 10-year moratorium on open field trials of GM food crops.
Despite the petitioner's strong opposition, the court allowed the Association of Biotech-led Enterprises (ABLE), of which leading GM seed producer Monsanto is a member, to place its views on the TEC's recommendations.
Bhushan said the petitions focused on the lacunae in the regulatory mechanism, which needed to be made foolproof by the Union government, particularly the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). Bhushan wondered why the industry needed to intervene in an issue involving correction of existing regulatory mechanism. However, the court permitted ABLE to file its response by November 7.
The five-member TEC was unanimous in recommending suspension of field trials for 10 years, a period which it said should be used to put in place additional safeguards. It recommended identification of specific sites for field trials, setting up of an independent scientific panel to evaluate bio-safety data, recognition of conflict of interest in regulatory body and requirement of preliminary bio-safety tests prior to such trials.
The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on open field trials of crops used for human consumption in accordance with the precautionary principle so as to rule out genetically modified crops polluting indigenous varieties.
The TEC said, "Given the small plot sizes of farm land and relative lack of control in harvesting, storage and transport, it is likely that such contamination (of non-GM food) would be high." It added, "The present regulatory system and protocol for conducting field trials is unsatisfactory and inadequate."
2.Indian Supreme Court Scientific Panel Recommends Moratorium on GM crops
TWN Biosafety Information Service, 30 October 2012
The Scientific Panel set up by the Indian Supreme Court has unanimously recommended a moratorium on field trials of GM crops in the country, as a result of a public interest petition filed by civil society seeking a ban on GM crops.
Among the key recommendations of the Panel:
All field trials should be stopped until the following conditions have been met:
i) Specific sites for conducting field trials have been designated and certified and sufficient mechanisms for monitoring the trials put in place.
ii) A panel of scientists, qualified in evaluation of the biosafety data of GM crops, has been engaged for scrutiny and analysis of the safety data.
iii) Conflict of interest in the regulatory body has been removed.
iv) The requirement for preliminary biosafety tests prior to field trials including sub-chronic toxicity in small animals has been included.
Specifically, the Panel recommended:
*A ten-year moratorium on field trials of Bt food crops on the basis of the current overall status of food safety evaluation of Bt transgenics
*A moratorium on field trials of herbicide tolerant crops until an independent committee of experts and stakeholders “has examined and assessed the potential impact of herbicide tolerant technology and its suitability in the Indian context”
*A ban on field trials of transgenics of those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity
The Panel also recommended the re-examination of all biosafety data for applications in process as well as those that have been approved for release by scientists who are qualified in biosafety science and experienced in evaluation of biosafety dossiers for transgenic plants, “given the findings of the technical expert committee that there have been several cases of ignoring problematic aspects of the data in the safety dossiers.
It also recommended long term and inter-generational studies in rodents to be added to the tests and performed for all products whether already approved or yet to be approved, among other studies and tests recommended.
Finally, the Panel also stressed that needs and socioeconomic assessment is critical and should be conducted well before the product has been developed. It also highlighted the importance of post-release monitoring.
The Technical Expert Committee's Interim Report is available at: http://indiagminfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/SC-TEC-interim-report-oct17th-2012-GMO-PIL.pdf
The Supreme Court Order setting up the TEC, its constitution and terms of reference is available at: http://indiagminfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/2012_STPLWeb_294_SC.pdf
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Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
Website: www.biosafety-info.net and www.twn.my
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3.TECHNICAL EXPERT COMMITTEE REPORT SCIENTIFIC AND SENSIBLE: FARMER UNIONS AND COALITION HOPE THAT SUPREME COURT WILL ACCEPT THE INTERIM REPORT IN TOTO
Coalition for a GM Free India, October 29 2012
On the eve of the Supreme Court Hearing in the PIL related to GMOs (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2005, by Aruna Rodrigues and ors) which is to look into the interim report of the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Court, the Coalition for a GM-Free India condemned the attempts by the industry, media and a couple of MNC-supported farmers' outfits to lobby heavily against the TEC report. The Coalition urged the learned Bench to accept the TEC report and urgently pass appropriate orders to ensure that this risky technology is not deployed unscientifically in our country.
The Coalition said that the Court has rightly appointed a committee consisting of experts nominated by both the petitioners and the respondents and that the TEC did an in-depth inquiry into one of the terms of reference that it picked up before giving its interim report. "We welcome the recommendations and more importantly, they reflect the findings and reiterate the recommendations made by other committees/task force reports as well. The TEC has aptly justified each of its recommendations after studying the challenges posed by this living technology as well as the pathetic state of regulatory affairs in the country, which reeks of apathy, incompetence in biosafety assessment, inability to monitor GM crops trials, conflict of interest, lack of rationale while processing applications, and, most importantly, allowing unnecessary experimentation when other solutions exist," said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor of the Coalition for a GM-Free India.
Rakesh Tikait, leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union, stated, "We welcome the report of the Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court recommending moratorium on field trials of GM crops. We believe that the recommendations are in the interests of the Indian farmer, who is suffering from the onslaught of anti-farmer policies and technologies. We have full confidence that the Supreme Court will take the correct decision accepting the committee's report."
"The claim made by some vested groups that this technology has been successful in the USA is ridiculous and unfounded. The reality is that in the USA, despite and probably because of such technologies, the government is forced to subsidizing its farmers heavily and prop up agriculture to make it viable. If GM technology was so effective why do American farmers require unprecedented levels of governmental support to make agriculture viable? . Further, there is no scientific evidence to claim that there are no GM-related health problems in the US – in fact, there have been increased food-related health problems in the US during the same period when GM foods have become part of their diet. It should also be kept in mind that a vast majority of GM produce in the US goes into livestock feed, industrial use and bio-fuel production. The environmental (and related health) problems with increased use of chemicals like herbicides, linked to GM crop cultivation, in the USA and South American nations is well-documented – superweeds and superpests have become serious threats and there is much scientific literature on the same. We do not need such hazardous technologies in our farming here," said Kannaiyan Subramanian, Convenor of South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements. He added that there has been strong opposition from farmer organizations to the introduction of GM food crops, as extensively expressed during the public hearings on Bt Brinjal, and as stated publicly by many key farmer unions – both non-party and party-affiliated. He condemned the attempts by certain MNC-backed farmer outfits to claim that Indian farmers require GM crops.
The Coalition condemned the attempts by some groups to paint the TEC as unscientific and for claiming that this is the end of scientific research in India. It pointed out that this is misleading since the TEC was not talking about all of biotechnology but only transgenics, that too in crops, which is a minor part of "biotechnology." However, this tool has gained undue interest essentially because it allows for easier IPR controls for the industry/MNCs and thereby, market monopolies.
The Coalition pointed out that pest control without the use of pesticides (the ostensible reason for which Bt crops are promoted, incidentally by the same companies which have given us pesticides, claiming them to be safe) is indeed possible without resorting to Bt technology and the TEC is right in stressing that field trials should be need-based. It is also true that Bt crops have showed up their true colors where they have been deployed –negative animal and human health problems have gone uninvestigated despite ground level reports, the resistance in target pests, the lack of reduction in the volumes or cost of chemical pesticides consumed in the country even after 10 years of Bt cotton, adverse changes in pest and disease ecology etc., are all well-documented.
The Coalition pointed out to the Court that what the TEC is recommending is not something new; the recommendation by a Task Force headed by Dr Swaminathan in 2003 ( accepted by the government of India) had clearly stated that the transgenic option is to be used only when alternatives are unavailable or not feasible. The Task Force also recommended the same for to the introduction of Herbicide Tolerant Crops and crops for which we are the Centre of Origin/Diversity. These have been cautioned against by others inquiring into the matter of GMOs in India too.
Further, what the Committee pointed out as serious biosafety issues with Bt cotton and Bt brinjal are issues that have been raised by respected independent scientists from the world over who studied the biosafety dossiers of these GMOs. The TEC has rightly pointed out to the same problems as the other experts have.
The fact that India has indiscriminately allowed field trials without any rationale for locations, without any ability for proper 'containment' to prevent contamination (on which the SC has already passed on order expressly asking for no contamination from field trials), without any biosafety review, without a system for monitoring field trials, without a scientific, rigorous, independent and sequential process for risk assessment etc., were all appropriately pointed out by the TEC. The TEC was also correct in pointing us all to India's international commitments including the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.
The Coalition hoped that the Supreme Court will now accept the interim report and ensure that no risk emerges from field trials of untested, new organisms especially in all those cases where such research is unneeded in the first instance.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan – 09995358205
Kavitha Kuruganthi – 09393001550
Kannaiyyan Subramanian – 09444989543
4.Science not clear yet on GM crops: Jaipal Reddy
Press Trust of India, October 29 2012
New Delhi - Newly-appointed Science and Technology Minister S Jaipal Reddy today said science was not clear yet on the issue of GM crops and it should not be treated as an ideological issue.
"I think the problem of GM crops is under discussion at the global level. Scientific consensus has not finally emerged. Debate is on at a global level. Science is not clear yet," he told reporters here.
He said a panel of experts appointed by the Supreme Court had submitted an interim report on GM crops to the apex court recently.
"I don't think it should be treated as an ideological issue but as a scientific issue... The ministry requires more time to study the interim report," Reddy said, adding that he was not in a position to give a final view on an interim report.
His remarks come in the wake of a statement earlier this month by Scientific Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister, headed by eminent scientist C N R Rao, favouring introduction of GM crops.
The science panel had argued that technology had potential to transform Indian agriculture.
The SAC-PM had underscored the need to improve the regulatory structure on genetically modified farm produce.
Reddy said Indian science was at an advanced stage to engage and participate in the global debate on the issue.
A raging debate is on within and outside the Supreme Court on the safety and efficacy of GM crops with scientists pitted in favour and against transgenic food.
Anti-GM crops activists have launched a shrill campaign to push for a ban on genetically modified crops and the issue is before the Supreme Court.