SC to hear plea on GM crops moratorium

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 27 2009, 01:52am hrs
The Supreme Court is slated to hear next month a petition seeking moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops as the petitioners have now come up with fresh evidence from some leading scientists with a view to strengthen their argument on the issue.

In a supplementary rejoinder affidavit filed before the apex court last week, the petitioners namely Aruna Rodrigues, PV Satheesh and Rajiv Baruah submitted six letters from eminent scientists like Dave Schubert, Dr Michael Antoniou, Stuart Newman, Andrew Kimbrell, Bill Freese, Jack Heinemann and Lawrence Busch endorsing Pushpa M Bhargava's regulatory guidelines as essential criteria for safety testing and risk assessment of GMOs.

Bhargava is the founder-director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and former vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission. He is a special invitee to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) by an order of the Supreme Court in the ongoing writ petition 260 of 2005.

Bhargava has been critical about GEAC's haste in releasing GM crops without adequate bio-safety protocol. He has alleged a nexus between seed companies, bureaucrats and politicians.

The scientists in their letters have expressed anguish and surprise at the "unprofessional and unscientific attitude" of GEAC. Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury criticised GEAC's "distasteful personal attack of a truly significant figure of Indian science, Pushpa M Bhargava" which according to him is neither relevant to his expertise nor to the dispute.

The petitioners also filed reviews made by Gilles-Eric Seralini, University of Caen, France and president of the Scientific Council of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, (CRIIGEN) and Judy Carman, director, Institute of Health and Environmental Research Inc. (IHER), Australia exposing the hollowness of the claims of Mahyco's bio-safety data on Bt brinjal.

In their rejoinder, the petitioners pointed out the genetic contamination of maize by GM crops in Mexico, the centre of origin.

They have also submitted five more independent and "peer reviewed" studies that raise serious concerns about the bio-safety hazards of GM crops. These include a new report by the Italian government's National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry and has found significant changes in the immune response of young and old mice that have been fed the GM maize MON 810.

A long-term study on female mice fed on genetically modified soybean: effects on liver ageing' published by Histochem Cell Biology, 2008 and a three generation study on rats fed with Bt corn - Biochemical and Histopathological Investigation - by Aysun Kilic published by Elsevier in late 2007 have also been submitted before the apex court.

The petitioners also submitted a peer reviewed study on Bt cotton was carried out at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute which suggest that Bt cotton may constrain the availability of N, but enhances P-availability in these soils. The study is entitled Mineral Deficiency Stress: Transgenic Bt-Cotton Affects Enzyme Activity and Nutrient Availability in a Sub-Tropical Inceptisol. The study - Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic and Placental Cells made by Nora Benachour and Seralini in 2009 has also been submitted before the apex court.