The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) was forced to review its proposal for large-scale field trials of Bt Brinjal on January 14. Pushpa M Bhargava, molecular biologist and Supreme Court appointee to GEAC, spoke to Down To Earth on what transpired at the meeting. Excerpts:
On why trials were deferred:
Two analytical reports, by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering in France and Judy Carmen of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in New Zealand, questioned the safety of Bt Brinjal promoted by Mahyco. This was brought to the notice of GEAC. I have partly analyzed the data sent by Mahyco and completely agree with the two scientists. The MNC was initially dismissive about questions relating to toxicity and mortality. During the meeting, the health ministry also said they had found risks in Bt Brinjal during an internal assessment.
On GEAC's next move:
A committee comprising largely of GEAC members will analyse the findings of the scientists. Seralini, Carmen and Monsanto-Mahyco have also been invited to make presentations. I had proposed an independent committee with no GEAC members. GEAC claims to have received replies from Mahyco on both reports but it was not tabled in the meeting.
Is GEAC an effective watchdog:
Mahyco had submitted the data to GEAC long before these two analytical reports came to light. GEAC could have got the data verified on its own. But there is no facility for independent tests or verification of the samples and proper analysis of data submitted to them. GEAC is there to sign on the dotted lines.
On whether Bt Brinjal can be grown commercially:
Bt Brinjal cannot be grown commercially till these safety issues are sorted out.
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