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Freedom from toxins: independent laboratories hold the key

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Date:Feb 21, 2013

Centre for Science and Environment's Pollution Monitoring Lab has been carrying out research in public interest for more than a decade now. Kundan Pandey and Jyotsna Singh spoke participants at the Conference on Food Safety and Environmental Toxins organized by CSE about the relevance of independent labs and the kind of research needed to serve communities. Excerpts of what they said

Sanjay DaveInterviewee: Sanjay Dave,
Chairperson of CODEX Alimentarius Commission

How important is it to have independent laboratories in India?

An independent laboratory is one thing and working independently is another thing. It’s good to have an independent laboratory. Several private laboratories have been recognised in the country. But at the end of the day, the truth depends on how you want to put things. There is always a way to bypass the truth.

What would be the one thing you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

There are several things for which you need private labs. Sometimes for regulatory things, you need a public lab. It is the result of government lab which is admissible in the court. So both public and private labs have a role. Their roles can be different. There cannot be one answer to this.

Kavitha KurugantiInterviewee: Kavitha Kuruganti,
Consultant with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture

How important is it to have independent laboratories in India?

It’s extremely important. The work done by the Centre for Science and Environment over the years in its pollution monitoring lab makes it clear that the truth would have been brushed under the carpet if the matter had been left in the hands of government laboratories. There are many things that are brushed under the carpet by the public sector. But at the same time private sector labs are basically set up to allow industry to get results that suit them. Either way there is a problem. Public labs are not accessible to citizens. So, we need civil society to come forward and we need more and more support systems for such independent labs. But what also is important is there should be professionalism because credibility is a matter of concern.

What would be the one thing you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

I work on GM food and we have very few labs that are affordable and can check such products, especially for enforcing labelling. There is need of labs for detection of transgenic proteins.

GV RamanjaneyuluInterviewee: GV Ramajaneyulu,
Executive director of Center for Sustainable Agriculture

How important is it to have independent laboratories in India?

Most of the private labs are funded by industry and do their work for the industry, so they don’t want to bring out any report that damages their relation with the industry.

Public sector labs don’t want to take any risk; they are not doing anything. If you look at the All India Pesticide Residue Network, they have not put out their report for the past 25 years. There is a role for independent laboratories as independent reports can come out and people can take decisions on the basis of these.

What would be the one thing you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

Milk is one thing in the country which needs independent checking. It is highly contaminated and there is no check. One report brought out by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) last year said that the milk is highly contaminated.

Umendra DuttInterviewee: Umendra Dutt,
Executive director of Kheti Virasat Mission

How important is to have independent laboratories in India?

If independent labs are there, then people like us who do not get support from the governments will have someone to rely on. Such type of labs can be proactive and probe matters of public interest. Such labs are quite important as they deal with ground reality. They tell the truth in the language of the common man. Such laboratories should be pro-people.

What would be the one thing you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

If I talk in the context of Punjab, toxic hot spots have become major matter of concern. So, there should be a laboratory to work for the health and eco-system for these toxic hot spots and build up the issue for further discourse.

Ramen GoelInterviewee: Ramen Goel,
Head, bariatric surgery, Nova Surgical Centre

How important is it to have independent labs in India?

Independent laboratories are very important for quality control and verification of data or claim by embedded labs within the industry. A recent study done in the United States showed that an independent lab found incorrect reporting about their products by leading restaurant chains. Problem with government laboratories is that they might not have access to latest technology in the increasingly liberalised world.

What would be the one thing you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

I think the major thing that needs to be checked is labelling on packaged foods and break-up of contents printed on the pack. We need to find out what are they putting and what is being hidden.

C Jaya KumarInterviewee: C Jayakumar, director,
Thanal Conservation Action and Information Network

How important is it to have independent labs in India?

An independent lab should be able to respond to community needs. It should have the strength to stand by and defend conclusions of its study. To serve the purpose of community, the lab should not take funding from people having conflicting interests.

A lot of chemicals have entered our lives. Nearly 140,000 chemicals are being traded today. Only five per cent have health or environment clearance (the percentage is far lower for products having both health and environment impacts).

What would be the one thing you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

The liquid soap that we use has a chemical which is carcinogenic, but it is being sold widely unchecked.

Tapan ChakrabartyInterviewee: Tapan Chakrabarty,
Emeritus scientist,
CSIR and former director of NEERI

Do you think independent laboratories have relevance in India?

They are important. Farmers are able to get soil tested at cheap rates and get immediate results. But there is wide variation in the quality of results produced. We have to see that the labs are accredited and have NABL certification.

What would be the one thing that you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

There are many region-specific chemicals that need checking. But mercury and arsenic have wider presence and should be checked by independent labs.

Rajashekar Reddy SeelamInterviewee: Rajashekar Reddy Seelam,
Managing director,
Sresta Natural Bioproducts Pvt Ltd

Do you think independent laboratories have relevance in India?

Private laboratories are important, but only those which have NABL accreditation, for credible results.

What would be the one thing that you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

I think pesticide residues in food need to be investigated.

Tanu JindalInterviewee: Tanu Jindal, director,
Amity Institute of Environmental Toxicology,
Safety and Management

Do you think independent laboratories have relevance in India?

They are important for a variety of reasons. There is lack of expertise in government laboratories and instruments are not up-to-date. Government labs have specific mandates and it is time consuming to get a proposal passed. They also do not share the data collected.

What would be the one thing that you would like to get checked in India which requires an independent lab?

Residues of pharma in human body should be checked. There has been an upsurge in consumption of medicines, including antibiotics and the residues are entering the system and the environment. We need to analyse them now.

AddThis

If the knowledge were widely available and open sourced, all this hoopla of cost and special expertise would not be there. When million dollar computers in the 1960s available with a few players have become mass market items in present times, surely chemistry which started in antiquity can be learned to develop fairly cheap and convenient diagnostic devices with very high accuracy. Maybe CSIR and others have hidden patents on technologies waiting to be re-discovered --meanwhile Israel and Switzerland should be able to help us.

22 February 2013
Posted by
Anonymous

The moment a breakthrough occurs by a researcher or research team, it is natural to go to the media to highlight it. The vested interests promptly swoop down on the researcher/research group, offer very high financial rewards and society offers other ego trips and hijack the research/breakthrough, putting it out of reach of the common man. The research team must not go the media and must not patent the process. Greed is the root of all evil. They must let the knowledge percolate to others with the passage of time--only then is salvation of the human race possible. All knowledge comes from source and cannot be hidden--the more it is hidden, the more suffering will result and nobody will benefit in the end. Not even the status quoists can acquire all knowledge or bottle it up--when even they need it, it won't be accessible to them unless they make it universal.

22 February 2013
Posted by
Anonymous

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