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Criticism of previous field trials

India: Expert panel recommends 10-year moratorium on GMOs

A panel appointed by India’s Supreme Court has criticised the way Indian field trials with GM crops are regulated, conducted and evaluated. According to the scientific panel, there needs to be a ten-year moratorium on GMO field trials.

Aubergine

Controversies about GM crops such as insect-resistant aubergines are frequent in India. Now an expert panel set up by India’s highest court is recommending a ten-year moratorium on all field trials.

A number of NGOs and private individuals went to the Supreme Court in spring 2012 to complain about the release of GM plants in India. The court appointed a panel of five scientists, which presented an interim report in October 2012.

The panel criticises what is evidently a common practice of subcontracting field trials with GM crops, which are then carried out on farmers’ fields. This has led to protests by neighbouring farmers on several occasions. The panel is calling for separate, sealed-off trial fields for field trials with GM plants to be set up on land owned by agricultural research institutes and firms.

In addition, the panel criticises the fact that members of the two relevant committees – the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) – do not carry out this activity full-time and are therefore not able to deal with field trials with the necessary level of thoroughness. It recommends setting up a regulatory body with full-time scientists who are experts in the area of biological safety. Any conflicts of interests would have to be ruled out. This is not possible in the case of the RCGM, the panel claims, because it comes under the Department of Biotechnology, which is tasked with promoting biotechnology.

If the panel has its way, the data and documentation relating to all the field trials carried out in India to date will be re-examined. In addition, it recommends making feeding studies obligatory in future, with some of them to be conducted before field trials.

The report concludes that there ought to be a ten-year moratorium on field trials with any GM plants that could potentially be consumed by humans, and that this time should be used to implement the aforementioned changes. In addition, there should be a moratorium on field trials involving herbicide-tolerant GM plants until an expert commission, which has yet to be set up, can advise on the potential impacts of these plants on health and the environment. In August 2012 another commission set up by the Indian parliament called for a moratorium on genetic engineering.

A representative of Advanta India Ltd., one of India’s largest seed companies, said this kind of regulation would have severe consequences for the industry. The Supreme Court could reach a decision by the end of October.

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