India: Genetic Engineering Approval Committee cops SC contempt notice for new GM-crop trials Print E-mail
New Delhi ~~ Saturday October 27 2007

Genetic panel again draws SC ire for not obeying verdict on GM

By Ashok Sharma
Commodities Bureau

Scroll down to read Press Release: Bt Brinjal and other GM crop Field Trials 'Contempt of Court' Application by Petitioners

New Delhi, Oct 26 The Supreme Court on Friday issued a showcause notice to Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to explain as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for approving field trials of new genetically modified (GM) crops.

The apex court gave four weeks time to GEAC to respond. On September 13, petitioners Aruna Rodrigues and PV Satheesh had filed a petition against three members of GEAC-chairman BS Parsheera, co-chairman, CD Mayee and member-secretary Ranjini Warrier for deliberately disobeying the explicit orders of the Supreme Court passed on September 22, 2006, May 8, 2007 and August 1, 2007. The petitioners urged that the fresh approval of field trial of GM crops by GEAC amounted to the contempt of court.

The three-member bench consisting of Chief Justice KG Balakrishanan, justice CV Ravindran and justice Sirpurkar, however, exempted the three GEAC members from making personnel appearances in the court.

“We have agrued that the fresh approval of field trials of GM crops does not amount to the contempt of court. The order passed on September 22, 2006 was subsequently modified and the GEAC’s approvals are not violative of the court’s orders,” said the advocate for the government, Amrinder Sharan Prashant Bhushan.

The advocate for the petitioners, however, seeking a moratorium on GM crops maintained that GEAC’s action was a clear violation of court’s orders.

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Press Release: Bt Brinjal and other GM crop Field Trials 'Contempt of Court' Application by Petitioners

The greatest danger posed by GE is that globally, we are being subjected to the same spin as climate change was for years. This time however, every action that releases untested GMOs, takes us to the brink. Today, in India, we stand ‘on the brink’ with the current approvals of GM field trials, with particular emphasis on large-scale trials (LSTs) of Bt brinjal, which are a universal first. A rollback will not be possible. Contamination from field trials and their impacts on biodiversity will be irreversible. This is the accepted science. Clearly, such a position is perverse, untenable, and without justification.

It is also a matter of great perplexity that public interest can be allowed to be drowned by corporate power.  It is the Petitioners’ case that this Writ Petition cannot be allowed to fall by the way side for these reasons. The GEAC’s reckless rush into GM foods unless checked will have impacts on our farmers, their crop choices, our food and health, our wild places and our countryside in perpetuity.

Petitioners have filed for ‘contempt’ against three persons of the GEAC: MR. B.S. Parsheera, Chairman; Mr. CD Mayee, Co-Chairman and Ms Ranjani Warrier, Member Secretary, for wilfully and deliberately disobeying the explicit orders of the Supreme Court dated 22nd September 2006, 8th May 2007 and 1st August 2007. The Court’s Orders of the 22nd September 2006, by which further approvals of field trials by the GEAC had been injuncted, remain in force today. However, blatantly disregarding this, the GEAC has in its 79th meeting on 8.08.2007, allowed LARGE-SCALE field trials of Bt. Brinjal, and field trials of other GM food crops including Bt. Rice, Bt. Tomato, Bt. Okra, more Bt brinjal, Transgenic Groundnut etc. A legal notice dated 24th August, 2007 to this effect was sent to the Member Secretary of the GEAC i.e. Ms. Ranjini Warrier by Counsel for the Petitioners to stop these trials. There was no satisfactory response to this.
One year ago, India faced exactly the same situation when Petitioners filed an Application for Urgent Interim Orders. The SC, recognising the need for great caution in the matter of GE crops, particularly GM food crops, granted relief with an injunction on ‘approvals’ from 22nd September, 2006, thereby forestalling the imminent, ill-conceived approvals being planned by the Regulator of LSTs of Bt Brinjal. The injunction on: 
i.    Large Scale Trials of Bt brinjal remains unambiguously in place;
ii.    So also the injunction on new events/new products of GM food crops as well as Bt Cotton, and;
iii.    All ‘new approvals’.
The GEAC move to legitimise these trials by requiring them to be conducted in Institutional premises is most curious, as though this will confer on them some kind of inability to spread transgenic contamination. Several ICAR institutions have rich germplasm collections and on this basis alone, right-minded scientists must raise a red flag to these GM food field trials, which should not be conducted. “It is extremely important that the potential harm to wild relatives and crop genetic resources by Bt brinjal be taken very seriously” (Doug Gurian-Sherman).

Furthermore, the toxicity of the Bt gene is proven by science beyond doubt. It cannot therefore be the basis for introducing the Bt transgene into other crops, and particularly GM FOOD crops. Dr. Arpad Pusztai the world’s leading expert of science lectins (proteins) has stated: “The evidence for the survival of the Bt toxins in the digestive tract and internal organs is clear-cut. Thus, it is expected that the situation with Bt brinjal will not be different. Accordingly, all the already described potentially harmful effects on consumers of the Bt toxins can also be expected to occur with Bt brinjal. As their release into the environment is an irreversible act, sanctioning such large scale field trials would be highly irresponsible”.

Prof. Dave Schubert is similarly, unequivocal about the introduction of GM food crops. In his submission to the Court, he has this to say: 

“The GE process as currently practiced is an unsafe technology; it is therefore my position that at present, it is extremely unwise to allow the introduction of GM food crops into the environment in India where there is great biological diversity and need for stable food production.  This is particularly true for an indigenous species and a major food source such as Brinjal.  It is argued by the GM producers that crops (mostly maize) containing the Bt gene have been eaten for 10 years (true) and therefore proven safe (not true),  and that putting the same Bt gene into another crop means that it will also be safe to eat (absolutely not true).  The reason for the concern about the ability of GE plants to produce toxins, carcinogens, and compounds that cause birth defects (teratogens) is the result of the uncontrolled events that occur in the steps required to make a GE plant. Therefore the GM process itself is highly mutagenic and can cause the plants to make chemicals that they normally do not make with completely unpredictable consequences--- estimates are that they can make between 90,000 and 200,000  unique chemicals with up to 5,000 in one species-- Many of these are known to be highly toxic, cause cancer, and cause diseases like Parkinson’s. --- the claims made about the precision, specificity and safety of plant genetic engineering have no scientific basis.--There are no mandatory, safety testing procedures in the US.  Therefore there is no scientific basis for claiming that Bt crops are “proven safe to eat”. --It may take many years before any symptoms of a disease arising from a GM product appear. In the absence of strong epidemiology or clinical trials, any health problem associated with an illness caused by a transgenic food is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to detect unless it is a disease that is unique or normally very rare. –-Of utmost importance is the fact that Brinjal in India is one of the major sources of calories for its population, while the Bt corn in the US and elsewhere is mostly used for animal food and its consumption as food is extremely small, less than a percent of total calorie intake.

“Once a crop is extensively planted the consequences are irreversible because there is no way that the genetic material from these crops can be contained”.  (Without proper testing which has not been done), “GM Brinjal should not be planted.--- Once a crop is extensively planted the consequences are irreversible because there is no way that the genetic material from these crops can be contained”.  
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The Regulator continues to rely exclusively on industry-generated bio-safety studies and resists transparency. Citing CBI, (confidential business information) it has refused to release the compilation, analyses and reports of these studies backed by the raw data. Petitioners have established beyond doubt that there is a serious conflict of interest within the Union of India and also the Regulator. It effectively establishes that for all intents and purposes the Regulator functions as an extension of the GE biotech industry, ‘oriented’ to facilitating industry objectives of the commercialisation of a vast array of GM crops to the detriment of India’s national interest and the non-negotiable sovereign issue of the protection of her BIODIVERSITY.

The gravest threat is to global ecological damage from the twin threats that face our world: First, of ‘climate change’ and with it, the unique risks of genetic engineering and its products GMOs. ‘Climate Change’ after years of cover-up and disinformation is now headlined everyday. There is broad consensus between Governments on what this means: preventing more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. This is the ROLLBACK and with it, some of the more dire consequences may be avoided but not without. On the other hand, the greatest danger posed by GE is that globally, we are being subjected to the same spin as climate change was for years. This time however, every action that releases untested GMOs, takes us to the brink. Today, in India, we stand ‘on the brink’ with the current approvals of GM field trials, with particular emphasis on LSTs of Bt brinjal. A rollback will not be possible. Contamination from field trials and their impacts on biodiversity will be irreversible. This is the accepted science. Clearly, such a position is perverse, untenable, and without justification. It is also a matter of great perplexity that public interest can be allowed to be drowned by corporate power.  It is the Petitioners’ case that this Writ Petition cannot be allowed to fall by the way side for these reasons. The GEAC’s reckless rush into GM foods unless checked will have impacts on our farmers, their crop choices, our food and health, our wild places and our countryside in perpetuity.

Aruna Rodrigues, Mhow, M.P.with co-petitioners:
PV Satheesh, Hyderabad, A.P.
Devinder Sharma, New Delhi and
Rajeev Baruah, Mho, M.P

Dated: 10th April, 2007