By Vivian Fernandes
New Delhi, Oct 30 (IANS) The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has uploaded a revised version of the minutes of its meeting on genetically-modified (GM) mustard, which puts the onus for acceptance or rejection of its recommendation on Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan.
The new version reflects what GEAC Chairperson Amita Prasad had said had actually transpired at its meeting on 11 May this year. It states that “GEAC recommended the proposal with certain terms and conditions for further approval by the Competent Authority.”
The GEAC’s recommendation to the government was for approval to be given for mass cultivation of the GM mustard hybrid DMH-11 because its sub-committee, having studied the bio-safety data, had reported that it was safe for humans, animals and the environment.
The earlier version, put out on October 24, had omitted the recommendation. Instead it had said: “Subsequent to receipt of various representations from different stakeholders, matters related to environmental release of transgenic Mustard are kept pending for further review”.
GEAC now says that was an “inadvertent typographical error.”
The environment ministry’s website says the government has decided to keep the proposal for environmental release of transgenic mustard “pending for further review,” after it received various representations from different stakeholders. The ball is now in minister Harsh Vardhan’s court.
For all intents and purposes, it seems, DMH-11 may not be approved by this government. If it had got the minister’s nod, seed production could have begun this season. And considering strong opposition from within the ruling party, approval is unlikely to be given next year, ahead of the general elections.
The representations, which the ministry says it has got, are not likely to be different from those which the GEAC considered over its eight meetings, starting in September 2015 when it received the application. GEAC also received 700 comments on the summary of the bio-safety data it had posted for public viewing, of which 400 were found to be of substance.
The only change since 11 May is the report of a parliamentary committee on GM crops headed by Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury. It ignores the testimony of six institutes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) who said their trials have shown that the only GM crop approved for cultivation in India, Bt cotton and its derivatives, that is, seed, oil and de-oiled cake, have not been found to cause any harm to goats, lambs, cows, chicken and fish.
On this basis, and the literature on the subject, ICAR told the committee it had drawn the following conclusions: (a) More than two decades of proven history indicates safe use of GM crops as feed to animals; (b) Scientific methods used for the assessment of the safety of GM crops as food and feed have been harmonized globally over the years; (c) Bt cotton, Bt brinjal and GM mustard assessed by Indian regulators have proved to be safe as feed to animals; (d) No deleterious effect of GM plants approved for animal feed has been described; (e) Gene constructs used for creating insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant plants tested by appropriate bio-molecular methods are safe for animal feeds; (f) Methods used for safety assessment and recommendations of new plants for use as animal feed are appropriate for detection of any ill-effect on animal health and performance; and (g) The absence of recombinant DNA, either as whole gene or gene fragment in animal products, milk, meat and eggs was confirmed in the results of 12 publications, based on several hundred samples.
Despite the weight of scientific evidence, the committee recommended “thorough consultation with the concerned Government agencies, experts, environmentalists, civil society, and other stakeholders so that the nation is very clear about all its probable impacts before taking a call in the matter.”
Soon after he was given charge of the environment ministry in June, Vardhan lost no time in notifying rules for trading of cattle that forbade sale for slaughter in animal markets, despite their enormous social and economic consequences.
Vardhan’s hesitation to accept the GEAC’s advice indicates the depth of opposition within the ruling party.
(Vivian Fernandes is editor of www.smartindianagriculture.in. He may be reached at [email protected])
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