Cotton is the only genetically modified (GM) crop that has been officially approved in India and has been cultivated (illegally then legally) in the country for more than 20 years. Although GM mustard has been approved for commercial cultivation by India’s apex regulatory body for GM crops (the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, GEAC), a public interest litigation led by Aruna Rodrigues is before the Supreme Court challenging that decision and commercialisation of the crop is on hold.
The push to drive GM food crops into India has been happening for many years. Back in February 2010, the government placed an indefinite moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal after numerous independent scientific experts from India and abroad had pointed out safety concerns.
Minister Jairam Ramesh therefore rejected the commercialisation of Bt brinjal. He imposed a moratorium on its release till such time independent scientific studies establish the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and the environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in India.
The moratorium has not been lifted and the conditions Ramesh set out have still not been met. Regulatory processes have been shown to lack competency, possess endemic conflicts of interest and demonstrate a lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts.
Not to be deterred by any of this, the GEAC is now facilitating final-stage trials of a new Bt brinjal (event 142). It also seems dismissive of the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report in 2013 which was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system for GM crops. As a result, the TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.
Immediately after the 2010 moratorium was announced, the GEAC carried on regardless and went straight ahead and sanctioned fresh trials for the new Bt brinjal. It appears that developers-cum-lobbyists were actually sitting on regulatory bodies as event 142 was proceeding, granting biosafety clearance and claiming all tests are complete, despite data being kept out of the public domain.
I recently contacted Aruna Rodrigues to discuss the current situation.
Colin Todhunter: The government has asserted that hybrid insecticidal Bt cotton in India has been an outstanding success and argues that it is a template for the introduction of GM food crops.