Scientists warn PM against GM contamination

Ask government to be cautious of Bangladesh's Bt Brinjal cultivation

By Jyotika Sood
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015


Around 250 scientists and researchers working in various institutions of India have written to the prime minister to accept the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC), calling for a moratorium on all GM testing  till the regulatory gaps are plugged and seeking complete ban on herbicide-tolerant crops. They supported the TEC report stating it to be based on sound science, principles of sustainability and inter-generational justice. 

Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Tushar Chakraborty, head of the gene control laboratory at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology of Kolkata, said that the biggest drawback of the genetic modification technology is that the changes once made cannot be recalled. There is a strong scientific evidence to prove the same and adverse effects of the technology. It is just the right time for India to take a cautious approach and not get carried away by technology which has a short life. Citing the example of Bt cotton, he said that it was effective for three years against pink bollworm insects, but after that stacking, addition of more genes was required. “You cannot sacrifice human health and environment for such a short-lived technology,” added the scientist.

Supporting Chakraborty, another scientist, Dinesh Abrol from Institute of Studies in Industrial Development, said, “All the scientists supporting this technology are from agricultural background. There is a need for scientists from other fields like molecular biology, health, environment, ecology and social sciences to access and review this technology and present a clear picture before the society. He added that the history of GM crops, not just in India but across the world, is laden with conflicts of interest and corporate control on agricultural research.

The scientists warned that “another big threat approaching India is Bt Brinjal being commercially cultivated in the neighbouring country of Bangladesh. With such porous border, contamination of Indian soil is bound to take place. India should use the provisions in Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to its benefit and stop Bangladesh from doing this.” He also requested for a meta-analysis of all the published material so that a better picture of the risks can be presented before the citizens of India.

The speakers urged the prime minister to be responsive to science and consider the impacts of such technologies on common people before making decisions. The letter has come a few weeks before a crucial hearing on the recommendations of TEC in the Supreme Court. The court hearing is scheduled for next week in response to a public interest petition on environmental release of GMOs in India.

‘Interests influence reports’

The GM debate in the Indian scientific circles has seen a polarisation because of contradicting views between a final report submitted to the court by five independent members in the TEC and a separate report submitted by the sixth member of the committee, R S Paroda. He was brought into TEC by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and insisted on presenting a report.

The speakers pointed to studies that show that scientists with relationship with industry are more significantly associated with data withholding than others, in genetics and other life sciences. Research also shows that existence of financial and professional conflict of interest was associated to study outcomes that cast genetically modified products in a favourable light.

“This illustrates lack of independent scientific research to the extent needed, in addition to lack of scientific consensus. Without addressing these issues, there is no urgent need to rush into open air releases of GM crops,” added Abrol.

Meanwhile, Kavitha Kuruganti of Coalition for a GM-Free India released the second edition of compilation of scientific references and abstracts of more than 400 peer-reviewed papers on various adverse impacts of GM crops/foods published across the world. She said there is no dearth of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GMOs in our food, farming and environment. “What is needed are the eyes to see it, the wisdom to understand it and the conscience to accept it,” added Kuruganti.

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  • Hope our Govt will not be

    Hope our Govt will not be swayed by the vested interests. Wayward research on GM foods has produced some unwanted strains, posing threat to other strains.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Environment Minister Veerappa

    Environment Minister Veerappa Moily perversely allowed field trials with Genetically Modified crops in India despite the Supreme Court's informal moratorium on the use of this technology. This was predictable after our perpetually silent Prime Minister suddenly spoke recently in support of GM crops! GM crops generate no seeds and if adopted, Indian farmers will be forced to buy seeds for every crop season from foreign companies like Monsanto. Arguably, most of our farmers are unaware of this! If Bt-cotton was indeed an unmitigated success, why are farmers of the cotton belt committing suicide? Ultimately, this country would irrevocably lose its seed sovereignty. Just imagine, not only do we lose our biodiversity, but we also depend on a greedy MNC for our food ÔÇô India as a country becomes a seed slave!

    The long-term effects of artificially mixing DNA or genes from different sources simply cannot be predicted. Global warming due to Carbon Dioxide and Ozone holes due to ChloroFluoroCarbons are just two phenomena that were not predicted by scientists, who took several decades to recognize that these actually happened. Their findings were then stonewalled for almost the same period by the polluting MNCs. Incredibly, for many GM-technology-enamoured gene scientists, it seems to be something of an exciting, addictive toy which they want to use or play with, whatever the consequences. At the very least, Indian scientists should develop their own GM technology instead of spinelessly depending on foreign sources, which surely at some point will hold our country to ransom.

    Criminally, we in India allow a large part of our annual crop yield to rot or rat. Our food grain storage capacity is already loaded to the maximum. We just don't have the capacity to more store food grains even if we produce more! When we actually need to produce more food, we should do so without resorting to opening a veritable Genetic Pandora's Box by adopting GM crops. To truly understand the enormity of the disaster that may befall us, we must understand that DNA is the only part of living organisms bequeathed to future generations, and can actually be transferred not only within but between species. This is not pollution around us. ItÔÇÖs irreversible pollution within us!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply