An anti-GM group today alleged that sub committee constituted by the country’s biotech regulator GEAC to examine the biosafety data on GM mustard, did not have any health expert and three of its members have conflict of interest.
Coalition for a GM-Free India questioned whether the risk assessment report given by the sub committee, which has claimed that the hybrid does not not pose any risk to biodiversity or agro-ecosystem, was even “reliable and scientific” as it had no health experts in it.
Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had constituted a sub-committee of scientific experts to examine the biosafety data on GM mustard.
The report was placed on the Environment Ministry’s website, inviting comments from stakeholders within a period of 30 days before the biotech regulator took a decision.
“The sub-committee of seven was constituted with at least three members having conflicting interests. Why should the public trust the work of this committee, especially given that the biosafety dossier is being kept away from the public?
“Most importantly, there was no health safety expert in the sub-committee processes and the report still gives a green signal to biosafety – is this reliable and scientific?” Kavitha Kuruganti from the coalition said.
The Coalition alleged that K Veluthambi who is the chair of sub-committee and co-hair of GEAC was a “GM crop developer” till his retirement recently, working on GM rice development for disease-resistant transgenic rice, with DBT and Rockefeller support.
It alleged that another member of the sub-committee S R Rao, Adviser DBT is also on the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, funded by Syngenta.
At the same time, it alleged that B Sesikeran, another member was the former Director of National Institute of Nutrition, a board member of International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) which has Bayer, BASF, Monsanto and others as members.
“It is important to note that he (Sesikeran) was a member of the expert committee headed by Anupam Verma for the CGMCP project, advising on what studies to take up for health safety assessment of GM mustard…
“…also then conducted the studies as former director of NIN, then also gave a green signal as chairperson of RCGM in DBT and now sits in GEAC as a member and was included in the sub-committee! He however did not attend the February 2 meeting. From all information available, did not take part in the sub-committee processes,” the Coalition alleged.
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.
The coalition alleged that hasty processes were adopted for assessment, by initially giving only 15 days to the sub-committee, while the rest of the processes of receiving responses from CGMCP were based on just this work.
It said that the GEAC violated its own decision that the Risk Assessment and Risk Management (RARM) and full biosafety dossier would be reviewed first in the GEAC.
“GEAC did not discuss the document but is inviting public comments on a ‘proposal on authorisation of environmental release’ of GM mustard – is this appropriate?
“The queries raised by citizen representatives based on their access to limited information went unanswered and unaddressed by sub committee – is that because there are no real answers?,” the Coalition alleged.
The sub committee risk assessment report which was put up on the Environment Ministry website said,”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 coalition said the sub-committee made some hard observations after its 15-day “assessment” and even hinted at additional studies required.
However, there is no evidence in the report that all such questions have been answered, observations responded to, and newer analysis presented.
“So what happened in between for the sub-committee to give an unqualified clean chit on the biosafety of GM mustard? Doesn’t the regulatory body have a responsibility to tabulate and share the comments of the sub-committee including DBT Biosafety Support Unit’s comments, the CGMCP response and then conclusion about how the safety inference was made?”, it said.
The coalition had earlier accused GEAC of undertaking a “meaningless” process, after a risk assessment report of genetically modified mustard was put into public domain.