Panel of scientists set up on orders of Indian Supreme Court recommends 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM or Bt-food crops, following food-safety evaluation of such crops

NEW DELHI , October 21, 2012 () – A panel of scientists set up on the orders of the Supreme Court has recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all genetically modified or Bt food crops.

The six-member panel of technical experts came to this conclusion on the basis of the overall status of food safety evaluation of such crops, including a review of the data on Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, sources said.

The Supreme Court had asked the environment ministry to constitute the panel following hearings on a public interest petition filed by Aruna Rodrigues and others seeking a ban on field trials of GM crops.

The panel unanimously recommended a moratorium until specific sites for conducting field trials have been designated and certified, and sufficient mechanisms for monitoring the trials put in place. The experts have said that a panel of scientists, qualified in evaluation of the biosafety data of GM crops must be appointed to scrutinise and analyse safety data. They suggest mandatory inclusion of preliminary bio-safety tests prior to field trials, including sub-chronic toxicity in small animals.

Addressing concerns over the impact on health, environment and other social-economic consideration, the panel's interim report called for a moratorium on field trials of herbicide-tolerant crops. The moratorium should be in place until an independent committee of experts and stakeholders "has examined and assessed the potential impact of herbicide tolerant technology and its suitability in the Indian context", the report said.

India is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol that recognises the importance of biodiversity as a long-term resource. In this context, the panel has recommends a ban on field trials of transgenics of those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity, "as transgenics can contaminate and adversely affect the biodiversity".

The panel says qualified scientists should reexamine all bio-safety data for applications in process as well as those that have been approved for release. The panel explains that this move is necessary "given the findings of the technical expert committee that there have been several cases of ignoring problematic aspects of the data in the safety dossiers", the Committee recommended that the re-examination, "if necessary, be done by international experts who have the necessary experience".

It also recommended long term and inter-generational studies in rodents to be added to the tests and performed for all products whether already approved or yet to be approved.

The panel comprised eminent scientists: Imran Siddiqui, plant development biology scientist and group leader at the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology; PS Ramakrishnan, emeritus professor of environmental sciences and biodiversity from Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University; PC Chauhan, an expert in genetics toxicology and food safety; PC Kesavan, a former BARC scientist noted for his work on genetics toxicology and radiation biology who is currently distinguished fellow, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, and B Sivakumar, former director, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad. The sixth member recused himself after the panel was announced in May.

(c) 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited

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