By Ignatius Joseph:Â
In a startling development an independent scientific analysis released by Greenpeace India on January 29, 2013 exposed major flaws in the Genetically Modified (GM) corn biosafety assessment process done by the regulatory bodies in India.
Greenpeace India had commissioned Testbiotech, an independent research agency, to assess data presented by the US biotech giant, Monsanto, to the Indian authorities ‘for biosafety tests prior to commercial approval’ of its GM corn variety.Â The stacked gene GM corn (MON89034xNK603 ) with bacterial genes for pest resistance and herbicide tolerance leads the GM crop approval pipeline in India and has been released into fields for trials several times in the past four years.
The biosafety and field trials data of the GM corn was accessed by Greenpeace through RTI procedures from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)- the nodal agency for all environmental releases of genetically modified organisms in India. The RTI exercise also saw the Chief Public Information Officer of the Department of Biotechnology being reprimanded by the Appellate Authority for providing wrong information to Greenpeace.
Shivani Shah, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace India says, “On one hand the GM regulatory system in our country tries to hide crucial public information like the biosafety data of GM crops and on the other hand allows open field trials of them, which can lead to contamination of our food and seed supply chain. These field trials have been permitted for the last four years without biosafety studies being completed”.
According to the Department of Biotechnology the field trials were permitted in India based on biosafety data generated by Monsanto itself in its labs in USA. The Testbiotech analysis highlights that the data and assessments presented by Monsanto are incomplete and lacking in scientific rigor. Interestingly most of the data provided by Monsanto was not for the stacked gene variety of Monsanto’s corn, which is the one mentioned in their application. Hardly any study was provided for this stacked gene variety and most data was about the parent lines with single genes.
The Testbiotech report concluded that based on the data presented by Monsanto, no decisions can be taken on the safety of the plants. Apart from missing data and inadequate investigations, there are in fact substantial indications for health and environmental risks. Even in 2011 Greenpeace exposed grave violations of rules during field trials for the same corn by Monsanto in Bijapur District in Karnataka.
In light of increasing evidences of failure of the GM regulatory system in India and the potential impacts of GM crops to our health, environment and socioeconomic realities, Greenpeace India demands the Union minister for Environment and Forest, Jayanthi Natarajan, under who sits the GEAC, to stop all open releases of GM crops, including those for field trials.
Photo Credit: Greenpeace India