GM mustard: SC panel member says data made public is incomplete

P.C. Kesavan, member of SC’s Technical Expert Committee, said that giving less time to analyse the data will amount to ‘fooling the people’


If GM mustard gets the green light from the environment ministry’s GEAC, it will become the first transgenic food crop to be commercially cultivated in India. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
If GM mustard gets the green light from the environment ministry’s GEAC, it will become the first transgenic food crop to be commercially cultivated in India. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

New Delhi: Controversy doesn’t seem to be ending for genetically modified (GM) mustard. Even as environmentalists continue to oppose it, a member of the Supreme Court’s expert committee that submitted a report on transgenic crops has now written to India’s nodal regulator for transgenic crops against making public only incomplete safety data related to field trials of GM mustard.

P.C. Kesavan, a geneticist and radiobiologist who is a member of the apex court’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC) that submitted a report to the apex court on GM crops, also said that giving less time to analyse the data will amount to “fooling the people”.

In his email to Amita Prasad, chairperson of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) and additional secretary in the environment ministry, Kesavan warned against rushing with the controversial GM mustard and stated that GM mustard should not be pushed down the throat of poor small farmers and consumers.

GEAC is India’s nodal regulator for all genetically modified organisms.

Mint has reviewed the email.

GM crops have always been a contentious issue in India. It flared a few years ago during the tenure of Jairam Ramesh as environment minister, when he had to put a moratorium on commercialization of Bt brinjal, under pressure from non-governmental organizations and activists.

If GM mustard gets the green light from the environment ministry’s GEAC, it will become the first transgenic food crop to be commercially cultivated in India. Right now, only GM cotton is cultivated in the country.

GM mustard has been developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants.

Last week, GEAC made public a safety assessment report prepared by one of its sub-committees which stated that GM mustard technology has been found to be “safe for food/feed and environment”. The committee has invited comments till 5 October and will take a final decision on allowing commercialization after it receives comments from the general public and all other stakeholders on the safety assessment report.

However, activists allege that the data released in the report is incomplete and difficult to access, and that the one-month review period is too short.

But since then politics around the issue has started heating up with the Aam Aadmi Party, Janata Dal (United) and Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), protesting against it and vowing to fight against it tooth and nail.

Environmentalists and activists from across India have sought the immediate release of full data and more time for people to respond.

Expressing concern over the fact that the biosafety dossier on GM mustard is extremely difficult to access for people, Kesavan said in his email that the biosafety dossier for GM mustard is not in the public domain and one has to go all the way to Delhi to glance at the data and make mental analysis.

“The Government of India should appreciate that people going to Delhi from different parts of India and staying there for days together to have a glimpse at the biosafety dossier is not practical. In view of the known incompetence and inadequacies in India’s biosafety evaluation of GM foods… I would strongly request that it should be put on the website,” he said.

“Further, giving just one month time is making a mockery of the scientific rigour involved in the evaluation of the data. Unless, the biosafety dossier is put on the website or published in standard newspapers elaborately it would amount to fooling the people regarding its biosafety,” he said in his email.

Kesavan further stated that it is a fundamental right of Indians to ask for the biosafety dossier to be made available to them.

He also stressed that GEAC should not go ahead with clearance until all aspects related to biosafety have been thoroughly scrutinised by competent genetic toxicologists.

“There should be no great hurry to push controversial GM mustard down the throat of the resource-poor small farmers and then the consumers,” he added.

Interestingly, the safety data was put out by GEAC only after the Central Information Commission (CIC) on 12 August rebuked the environment ministry for not releasing the same, saying “any attempt to postpone or delay the disclosure will block the public discussion” on GM mustard.

In April, too, the CIC had pulled up the environment ministry over lack of transparency on trials of GM crops and directed it to make public all information, including biosafety data, related to the field trials of GM mustard.

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