Busting the claims of the Indian government and scientists that the country has a robust regulatory mechanism to test genetically modified (GM) crops, toxic loopholes are emerging. From 2008 to 2014, only 39 of the 133 GM crop field trials were properly monitored, leaving the rest for unknown risks and possible health hazards to common people.
Documents accessed by dna reveals that the GMO regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under the ministry of environment and forests, has failed to comply with the monitoring norms and practices on the confined field trials. Even in the 39 cases where the GM monitoring was done, it was not uniform.
GM crops or genetically engineered (GE) crops are those in which genes are tweaked to get the desired characteristics by either inserting another gene or altering existing ones. Once prepared in laboratories, they are tested in fields, which is called confined field trials. The field trial always has a risk of pollen-driven contamination, which is uncontrollable.
Documents with dna reveals that, in 2008, only four out of 12 trials, that is 1/3 rd of trials, were monitored. The Central Compliance Committee (CCC) and monitoring-cum-evaluation committee, during their tenures, visited the sites only once while they were supposed to go at least four times during the trials. Similarly in 2009, only five out of 29 trials were monitored and only one visit of CCC was recorded.
In 2008, only four out of 12 trials were monitored by just one visit of CCC and the monitoring cum- evaluation committee. In 2009, only five out of 29 trials were monitored and one visit of CCC was recorded. The very next year, 14 out of 54 trials were monitored and only one trial has the monitoring details. The monitoring data for 2011 shows that five out of 16 trials were monitored and that too have minimal external monitoring from the regulators’ side. Even when the CCC found illegalities, no action was taken.
Incidentally, 2011 was the same year when biotech giant Monsanto’s maize trials were tested at Anand Agricultural University (AAU), Gujarat. The documents show that the CCC report was presented and a record of harvest also exists with signatures of the trial in-charge. However, there was no post-trial visit to the site by the monitoring team.
The same year, in another plot of AAU, housed at Derol, Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant Bt Maize was planted but the sowing date is unrecorded. Only two of the four-member team visited the trial site.
In 2013, Monsanto and another transnational company, Syngenta Biosciences, were allowed to hold five field trials but only two of these were monitored, with one visit each. Interestingly, this happened despite one trial witnessing a huge protest/destruction by the public.
In 2014, three GM mustard trials of Delhi University were taken up – at two sites in Punjab and one in Delhi – during the rabi season. There are enough evidences that there were no post-harvesting fool-proof monitoring in these cases. Similarly, in Maharashtra’s Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri, field trials of Monsanto’s GM maize were undertaken, but there was no post-trial monitoring.
Despite these deficiencies and failures in the regulatory mechanism, the Centre has claimed in public debates as well as in the Supreme Court that everything about the regulatory system is healthy, rigorous and perfect.
Ironically, documentary evidence proves the opposite. Officials of MoEF and GEAC did not reply to dna queries.
Monitoring of GE plants is very important because they have posed high risks and cause uncontrollable contamination. This is undertaken at various stages like pre-sowing, sowing, and various stages of crop development, like harvest and post-harvest land use restriction. The monitoring agencies also have the authority to investigate contained facilities that may be used for storing regulated GE plant material.
From time to time, the GEAC has delegated the authority to monitor confined field trials to various bodies like RCGM’s Monitoring cum Evaluation Committee (MEC), SBCCs, DLCs, monitoring teams of state agricultural universities (SAUs) and Central Compliance Committee (CCC) constituted by GEAC/RCGM.
SC-appointed Technical Expert Committee says
Ban three kinds of GM crops
Herbicide-tolerant crops: These are crops genetically modified for a chemical substance, so that when it is sprayed, it kills the entire flora around the crop, except itself. India does not need this technology.
Bt food crops: Food crops inserted with Bt genes should not be allowed as a lot of evidences show the harmful impact of Bt genes.
India is the centre of origin of various crops and has a wide diversity in those crops. So the country should not genetically modify such crops. This approach is taken by several countries, including China, as it has not permitted GM soybean since it’s the centre of origin of the crop.