The testing of GM crops
in India is atrocious
Our biosafety testing
process is dangerous, says Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign.
Dr Suman Sahai, president, Gene Campaign, New Delhi
Gene Campaign is recognized as a leading research and advocacy
organization working in the field of bioresources, farmers'
and community rights, intellectual property rights and indigenous
knowledge, biopiracy, issues related with GE food and crops.
I am very glad that at least somebody in the government has
acknowledged the danger posed by GM crops given the current state of
biosafety norms. As a scientist who is concerned about the release of
genetically engineered crops, I would like to say that the testing of
GM crops in India is atrocious. The public is not aware of what has
been tested and if it has been tested as well. In the case of Bt
Brinjal, we had asked for information on allerginicity and toxicity
studies for which we were told that the information is confidential. If
a product is tested for food safety, that data has to be made available
to the public. Our biosafety testing process is incompetent and because
it's not transparent it is very dangerous.
Second, I think it is imperative to test food far more efficaciously
than it is being done and also the adoption must be subject to public
acceptance. Was there any report assessment done on the priorities of
Indian agriculture to say that Bt Brinjal is the most pressing need of
the hour both for Indian agriculture and the Indian consumers? There
has to be a proper study to assess the need of the particular crop
before it is tested and trials are conducted. We visited the rice
trials being done by Mahyco in Jharkhand where the trials were being
done in the farmers field, in open air. There is no way of isolating
the seed, no supervision of the crop after harvest, so much so that the
second generation has come up. But the company insisted that they had
burnt the harvest. This is possibly the worst form of violation that
one can think of. We have written to GEAC but with no replies, not even
acknowledging the letter. Companies are only buying influence in India
by spending money and promoting their own vested interests at the
expense of the consumer.
To make sure that GM food is safe, we need to have a transparent
system, wherein the food safety data is made available to the public in
terms of what is the health impact. The biosafety protocol mentions
very clearly that the public has to be involved in the decision making
process and its time we go ahead with it. No further field trials
should be allowed until it is made clear of what all battery of tests
are being conducted and how they are being conducted. Stringent
biosafety testing experts have to be deputed in regulatory authorities
along with the overhaul of the entire legal framework. Unless these
things happen, genetically engineered crops will continue to be unsafe.