“GEAC has ignored the right of consumers”

shubhendu

Shubhendu Parth | July 30, 2014


Neha Saigal, food & agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace India

How do you react to the decision by the GEAC to approve field trial of GM crops, particularly since the matter is still pending at the supreme court?
The GEAC comes across as a rubber stamp for the industry as it claims to have approved 60 of the 70 pending applications. This comes at a time when the issue around the safety of open air field trials is debated in the supreme court and there is no final verdict. This was the very reason that former environment minister Jayanthi Natrajan had kept GM field trials on hold. Added to this, the scientific panel appointed by the supreme court, the technical expert committee (TEC), in its final report has strongly recommended stopping all open air field trials, realising their potential to contaminate our food supply and environment. One wonders what scientific evidences the GEAC is actually listening to or is it listening at all. The functioning of the GEAC should be questioned as it has approved these field trials in the most non-transparent way and it has not made available in the public domain the minutes of the last couple of meetings. Therefore, there is no way for the public to know the decisions that have been taken. (Also read: Government knows best: GM food is good)

GEAC has also approved import of GM soybean and canola oil. How do you view that? How would the users determine whether it is safe for consumption?
There is a high potential that there will be foreign DNA in GM soybean and canola oil. Again, this decision taken by the GEAC is not assessing the complete scientific evidence that is available. Taking the example of a study published in the Food Research International journal clearly points out that it is possible to detect and quantify genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in fully refined soybean oil. GEAC has once again ignored the right of the consumers to choose what they want to eat as we do not have a functional labelling law in this country. While there was a gazette notification by the consumer affairs ministry in 2013 that made it mandatory for all packaged food producers to disclose GM ingredients if any, this has not been enforced. It is highly irresponsible for the GEAC, considering we don’t have a labelling regime.

How do you react to Prakash Javadekar’s tweet that “Field trials of #GMCrops is not a Government Decision. It is a recommendation of a Committee.” How should the country interpret this?
This definitely cannot be seen as an assurance by the environment and forest minister, though one can see that he has distanced himself from the decision of the GEAC. Citizens of this country would like to hear that the minister has rolled back these GEAC approvals as they are against science as well as public interest.

Has your organisation made any representation regarding the GEAC decision?
The Coalition for a GM Free India, a large and informal nationwide network of organisations and individuals that Greenpeace India is also a part of, has written to the environment minister to roll back these approvals. We have not written to GEAC at this point of time; over the years it has proven to be a discredited organisation. We have not heard back from the minister.

Going ahead, how do you plan to address the GM Crop issue in India?
Greenpeace India will continue to work with many stakeholders to ensure that there is an informed debate on GMOs in the country and to ensure that there are no open environmental releases of GMOs. At the same time, we will keep reminding the new government on its promise to take a precautionary approach to GMOs, given the increasing scientific evidence on the adverse impact of GM crops on our health, environment and farmer livelihood.

It is surprising that the ruling BJP’s allies have been more vocal in their opposition to the GEAC’s decision than the NGOs fighting for the cause for years now. Why?
These voices of opposition to GM crops of BJP allies like the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch or the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh of the RSS have been present even when Bt brinjal was approved or when the UPA government wanted to pass the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in parliament. They have been noticed much more in the current scenario with the new government in place and their relationship with the ruling party.

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