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

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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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