GEAC pre-empts Supreme Court ruling and contradicts the Court's technical expert committee
India's biotechnology regulator, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), met and approved several applications for field trials of GM crops (e.g rice, mustard, chickpea). The Coalition for a GM-Free India says the decision pre-empts the Supreme Court ruling on GM crops and contradicts the recommendations of the Court's technical expert committee, that no GM field trials should be conducted until a competent regulatory regime is put in place.
Coalition for a GM-Free India asks Minister for Environment, Forests, & Climate Change to annul the hasty approvals for open-air trials of GMOs by GEAC
Coalition for a GM-Free India, July 19, 2014
The apex biotechnology regulator, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) met and approved several applications for field trials of different genetically modified (GM) crops (rice, mustard, chickpea etc.) yesterday. So far, it is reported that 60 of the pending 70 applications have been cleared. This spate of approvals is happening at a juncture when the Supreme Court is about to pronounce its orders on the issue of GM crops, based on the recommendations of the Court's Technical Expert Committee (TEC). Realizing the potential of field trials to contaminate the seed, food supply chains and environment of India and inability of regularity system the TEC majority report has strongly recommended a stopping of all open-air field trials.
It is ironical that the BJP Manifesto promise of not allowing GM foods in the country without full scientific evaluation of their long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers is incidentally the main subject for this SC PIL [Supreme Court Public Interest Lawsuit] also, which centres around long term scientific evaluation before the deliberate environmental release of GMOs.
It was this Supreme Court case that was the reason why the former Environment Minister Ms Jayanti Natarajan had put approvals on hold, and pending 70 applications. Nothing substantive in terms of either the (lack of) safety of GMOs, nor the Supreme Court giving its verdict on the subject, has changed since then. The last time GEAC approved some GMOs for open air field testing, prominent BJP leaders had condemned the move.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee in its report on GM crops, first in 2012 and then in 2014, which had seven members from the BJP also, has strongly urged to stop all open air field trials "under any garb". It is relevant to note that this is the first meeting of the GEAC since the new central government has come to power, and in this context it is imperative that Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change intervene in this matter and recall the decision to allow open air field trials.
"The government of a party that promised that GM crops will be allowed only after stringent scrutiny can't justify this egregious and irresponsible decision of the GEAC.
"When most countries around the world are not adopting this risky technology which has a large number of attendant risks to health, environment, and livelihoods, and when several credible official bodies in India have asked for a stopping of field trials, it is extremely irresponsible that our apex biotechnology regulator has thrown such caution to the winds to approve open air field trials.
"In addition, breaking away from transparent practices, GEAC has since the last couple of meetings stopped placing its agenda and meeting minutes in the public domain, thereby making it impossible for the public to even know what decisions have been taken. It is noteworthy that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Sopory Committee set up under the Agriculture Ministry, which investigated a contamination issue, had raised serious concerns about the functioning of the GEAC. The Coalition urges Mr Prakash Javadekar to intervene urgently in this matter and withdraw the approval of field trials," said a statement released by the Coalition.