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GM mustard nod signifies 'total failure' of India’s limited biosafety regulations

Counterview Desk 

The Coalition for a GM-Free India, a pan-Indian citizens’ platform, releasing a report to showcase 15 instances of serious regulatory lapses in the appraisal and approval GM Herbicide Tolerant (HT) mustard, has said that the Government of India and its regulators are “seriously endangering” public health, environmental safety and socio-economic condition of farmers.
Stating that India, a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, has thus violated international commitments in its appraisal and approval processes related to GM HT mustard, it insisted in a statement that the Government of India, even as setting aside the recommendation from the Supreme Court’s independent Technical Expert Committee to ban HT crops, has allowed itself into “irresponsible misadventure with GM HT mustard approval.”
“The approval demonstrates total failure of India’s limited biosafety regulations and also showcases the serious deficiencies in the regulatory regime”, it said.
The statement comes amidst Supreme Court hearing arguments on three petitions that have challenged GM mustard approval given by he Government of India, for its environmental release. It is the first GM food crop that has been approved in India despite the fact that the Government of India has admitted it is a herbicide tolerant crop, calling herbicide usage "essential" in the seed production phase of GM mustard hybrids.
The court proceedings have reached a critical juncture, with the Attorney General arguing that "the inquiry of the Hon’ble Court may be limited to whether there is an adequate regulatory mechanism in place governing this field and whether there has been material compliance with the same”.

Text:

The Coalition for a GM-Free India, a pan-Indian citizens’ platform has released a report to showcase 15 instances of serious regulatory lapses in the appraisal and approval of Delhi University’s GM HT mustard. This report was released ahead of a crucial hearing by the Supreme Court on the matters related to the approval of GM HT mustard. The Coalition is a platform that works to keep India’s food systems free from gene technologies, and to promote safe, farmer-controlled, sustainable and viable alternatives. The report was released mainly as a public response to the false assertions of the Government of India in the Supreme Court. The way Government of India is seeking to mislead the Hon’ble Court on at least five issues related to GM mustard was highlighted in a past media outreach in the month of November 2022. This particular report focuses not on GM mustard per se, but the regulatory regime that appraised and approved GM mustard.
“In the Supreme Court of India, the Attorney General (AG) on behalf of Union of India has been attempting to move the Hon’ble Bench’s attention away from the Court-Appointed TEC’s ban recommendation with regard to HT crops. The Technical Expert Committee’s ban recommendation on HT crops is based on scientific evidence and after listening to various stakeholders including the Government of India. The Government of India-nominated experts into the TEC were also asking for this ban, unanimously with three other independent experts nominated by the petitioners. This should have clinched matters, and the Government should have banned these dangerous crops. We sincerely urge the Court to pass orders that indeed ban HT crops given the numerous hazards that they bring in. Similarly, a ban on transgenics in all those crops for which we are the Centre of Origin and/or Diversity. Mustard is one such crop. However, we are also cognisant of the arguments being put up by the AG defending India’s regulatory regime. He was heard asking the Bench to look into whether there is an adequate regulatory mechanism or not, and if they are able to find any deficiencies in the regulatory processes. It is against this backdrop that we are putting out this report, to show serious and objectionable deficiencies, and how the appraisal and approval of GM mustard showcase the story of a compromised regulatory regime in India”, said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Co-Convenor of the Coalition added: “Our report presents 15 illustrations of serious regulatory violations and infirmities, to show that what the Union of India is claiming about the robustness of our regulatory regime is a set of falsehoods yet again. These are only illustrations. These are to show how unreliable the regulators are, and the regulatory regime is, to protect ordinary citizens and their environment from risks of modern biotechnology. We show how even without a formal approval letter being issued, ICAR jumped into the picture on behalf of a third party applicant, to ensure that seeds are planted in great haste, and a fait accompli delivered. Delivering the fait accompli itself is a violation of a court undertaking by the Union of India. We show through RTI responses that no (independent) health expert ever participated in GM mustard appraisal. We show the timing of when a GM mustard developer is made into a GEAC member and how he participated, despite what the AG tried to showcase to the Hon’ble Court. We show how testing of GM mustard for environmental safety violates the limited guidelines/protocols laid down in India’s regulatory regime. Similarly for food safety too. We show how studies are recommended/prescribed and permitted by the regulatory body, but then not done, because the crop applicant would have sought exemption on some unscientific ground or the other, and the regulators simply agreed to these requests!”
“There are other instances showcased too, which show that India is callous and negligent about sticking to commitments made in Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Our regulatory regime is seriously compromised. We are putting out this report in the public domain so that the regulators and Government of India cannot perpetrate falsehoods about the regulatory regime being robust. While this is so, on the matter of HT crops, given the large credible body of scientific evidence on the ill-effects of such crops, and given the regulatory failures amply visible with regard to curbing farmer level illegal usage of unapproved HT crops and herbicides, we urge the Supreme Court to pass orders for a ban on HT crops, as recommended by its own independent technical experts”, said Kapil Shah, Co-Convenor.
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Click here for the report

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