Arjula R Reddy, a plant geneticist, was appointed co-chairperson of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in 2009. At present, he holds the position of vice-chancellor of two universities in Andhra Pradesh—Sri Krishnadevaraya University in Anantapur and Yogi Vemana University in Kadapa. In an interview with Down To Earth the scientist talks about the regulatory process involved in approval of genetically modified crops and the politics surrounding this technology
GEAC has power only to withdraw permission
How do you propose to deal with conflict of interest in GEAC?
Around three months ago a document called Declaration of Independence was prepared. Scientists who are members of GEAC were asked to sign it. The declaration states that a scientist can take decisions independently. If a GEAC member is involved in developing crops and some valid objections are raised, he/ she should just quit. They should not wait to be asked to prove that they do not have a conflict of interest.
GEAC members have been accused of not showing any interest in biosafety concerns raised by international scientists of repute. There was no debate on the reports of Eric Giles Seralini, David Andow, etc who analysed the data provided by Mahyco on the company’s work on Bt brinjal.
This is not true. When Seralini’s paper was published a meeting of GEAC was dedicated to discuss his observations. In fact, even Andow’s papers have been discussed. However, I admit that some members have objected to such discussions. Once a GEAC member, who is a biotech scientist, asked us why we should be told by foreign scientists about the problems with our industry’s studies. Some members also believe that such reports are commissioned. But this does not deter GEAC discussions.
How does GEAC respond to the very serious health and environmental concerns raised by international scientists after seeing Mahyco data? Why did GEAC not spot them?
Most of these papers are based on reinterpretation of data rather than original research. GEAC did go through a lot of data over and over again. The data were developed as per the prescribed protocols in the last few years. There is no basic data that is convincing on damage to the environment.
How do you react to states refusing field trials of GM crops? What if more states join this resistance to GM crops?
States’ decisions are not based on just data or any scientific argument. They are based on conviction. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar thinks the state does not need GM crops. That is his prerogative. Similarly, another state minister has given the argument that his government wants to ban GM because it is non-vegetarian. Each state’s reason is different.
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