Anti-GM activists today accused GEAC, the country’s biotech regulator, of undertaking a “meaningless” process, after a risk assessment report of genetically modified mustard was put into public domain which claimed that it did not pose any risk to biodiversity or agro-ecosystem.
Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had constituted a sub-committee of scientific experts to examine the biosafety data on GM mustard. After the committee examined it, the report was placed on the Environment Ministry’s website yesterday inviting comments from stakeholders within a period of 30 days before the biotech regulator took a decision.
“The sub-committee is of the opinion that both the genetically engineered parents, varuna bn3.6 and EH2 modbs 2.99 and the hybrid DMH-11 are substantially equivalent to non-GE parents and conventional mustard and its consumption is safe for human and animal health.
“With regard to the environment, the sub-committee concluded that the environmental release for parental lines for hybrid DMH11 may not pose any risk to biodiversity and the agro-ecosystem as the GE material under review have been demonstrated to have no or negligible effect on non-target organisms,” the report stated.
The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) of Delhi University had applied for GEAC’s approval for environmental release of hybrid DMH-11 for the development of new generation hybrids.
“From the toxicity and allergenicity studies, it was concluded that GE Mustard, the parental lines and hybrid DMH-11 does not raise any public health or safety concerns for human beings and animals with respect to overall nutritional characteristics,” the report said.
Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) shot off a letter to the Environment Ministry Additional Secretary Amita Prasad, demanding that the full biosafety data be put into the public domain if the ministry wants to make the process scientific.
“We write to you now to demand that the full biosafety data be put out into the public domain immediately if this feedback process has to be a meaningful and scientific process.
“Further, at least 90 days time should be given for feedback from public. We also demand that you look into all feedback that is provided and not try and curtail it to formats that are conveniently created to keep out important questions and queries,” Kavitha Kuruganti from ASHA said.
In the letter, Kavitha said the note inviting comments on “the proposal on authorisation of environmental release of GE mustard” tells her that there is already a proposal to authorise and that superficial and “meaningless” processes are being run by GEAC on the pretext of seeking public feedback.
“This is a mockery of the processes that GEAC has run, which also involved great efforts from our side to assist you with the safety assessment, and also reveals once again how the regulators have functioned unscientifically and high- handedly right from the beginning in the discharge of their duties,” she said in the letter.
The letter said only the assessment of food and environmental safety document was put out, which is not the same as the biosafety dossier and does not have details of the study protocols or data generated, on which feedback is being sought. “The data should have been put out for independent scientific scrutiny. However, this was not done,” letter said.
She said while feedback is being sought only in a prescribed format, only one document with its own conclusions is being put out in the form of Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety (AFES) document while the most important details are kept out of public access.
“After forcing citizens to come all the way to Delhi in case they want to participate in these feedback processes, only 30 days’ time is being given for feedback. What is the rationale for this?” the letter asked.
The Environment Ministry, however, said the sub-committee has examined the dossier on food safety, environmental safety, compliance and has prepared AFES document for environmental release of GE Mustard.
“The document prepared by the sub-committee is hereby placed on the website for comments by stakeholders and general public for a period of 30 days. The comments received will be reviewed by the sub-committee and GEAC prior to taking appropriate decision,” the ministry said.