There is no stopping the Bt brinjal trials now. The supreme court on December 10 refused to stay Mahyco's (Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company's) ongoing trials in various parts of the country. Social activists Aruna Rodrigues and P V Satheesh had filed a petition against the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee in September 2007. The committee, under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, had given the clearances for the large-scale field trials in August 2007.
The petitioners said the committee's approval of trials was in violation of supreme court rulings, which, among other things, had mandated an isolation distance of 200 m between Bt and non-Bt crops (see 'sc notice on gm trials', Down To Earth, November 30, 2007). The committee, however, maintained in a counter-affidavit that all the orders were being followed.
The petitioners say the trials will be over till the next hearing is conducted in February. "The apex court's order could have dangerous consequences. Large-scale trials for Bt brinjal raise the risk of contamination by almost ten-fold. The trials are nothing short of criminal negligence," says Rodrigues.
Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (csa), through a right to information application, had found that some states carrying out gm trials had not formed the mandatory state biotechnology coordination committees and district-level committees. The Environment Protection Act, 1986, states that the committees should be formed to periodically review the safety and control measures in institutions handling gm trials. They found that although there are two multi-location research trials of Bt brinjal in Delhi--at Alipur and Hamidpur--neither of the committees was formed there.
The situation is similar in Jharkhand and Bihar where permissions have been granted for multi-location research trials for Bt okra. The Department of Biotechnology's Review Committee on Genetic Modification had given permissions for okra trials in May 2007.
To discuss the "unabated flow of gm products", Ramanjaneyulu and Kavitha Kuruganti, from csa , and Rajesh Krishnan of Greenpeace India, met Jairam Ramesh, the minister for state for commerce, on November 28. The commerce ministry had earlier issued a notification in April 2006 to make labelling mandatory. But it hasn't been implemented.
In March 2006, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had accepted the Indian Council of Medical Research's recommendations to label gm food (see 'Legally modified', Down To Earth, April 30, 2006). The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, was supposed to take the recommendations into account but the act, though passed, has not been completely notified. But there are new protocols being formulated for gm food regulation now (see box: More rules).
Labelling should be mandatory for non- gm products to ensure that consumers are making an informed choice about the product they are buying and should be tested, if necessary, says Kuruganti. Krishnan says, exporters should take the responsibility. "India lacks a proper screening mechanism and has no laboratories to test the material at ports of entry. Exporters should voluntarily declare," he says.
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