Access denied to data on safety tests of GM crops (4/4/2007)

Dr Brian John comment: It's an outrage that information on GM toxicity and biosafety should be treated in India and in many other parts of the world as "information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party."

Monsanto and the other GM corporations hide behind laws such as this, and use them quite cynically, to further their commercial aspirations and to hide away evidence of harm.

The final appeal on the Greenpeace case is on 5th April. The ruling in this case could be vitally important for the manner in which GM regulations operate worldwide, and will no doubt be seen as a precedent. Even if the judge finds in Greenpeace's favour, there is of course no guarantee that the information WILL be made available for public scrutiny, within a reasonable time frame, in a form which is useful. Shades of the MON863 case in Germany...


Greenpeace activist denied access to data on safety tests of GM crops
Meena Menon The Hindu, April 4 2007

Reason: disclosure can harm crop developing company
*Appellate authority's decision "questionable"
*Procedure was "not transparent"

MUMBAI: The Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 has not helped Greenpeace activist Divya Raghunandan. Her demand for information about safety tests of genetically modified (GM) crops was rejected on the ground that disclosure could harm the competitive position of the third party the company which developed the crops.

In February 2006, Ms. Raghunandan applied to the Department of Biotechnology for information on a list of field trial locations (villages and districts) for brinjal, okra, mustard and rice. These trials drew widespread protests from farmers and consumers last year. In several places, rice trials were destroyed and exporters were particularly alarmed at transgenic rice being tested in basmati growing areas.

Ms. Raghunandan also sought toxicity, allergenicity and other relevant data on transgenic brinjal, rice, mustard and okra and minutes of the meetings of the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), which is under the Department of Biotechnology, held between February 2005 and 2006.

On March 29, 2006, she received a reply with information on field trial locations but she was denied information on the second demand.

On her appeal on April 19, 2006, the appellate authority of the department said the information officer was being requested to provide the toxicity and allergenicity data for brinjal not later than June 15, 2006 as the third party had to be informed. As for rice, okra and mustard, she was told that the data was yet to be evaluated and therefore could not be made public.

The RCGM minutes might contain information related to trade secrets and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues and if put in the public domain, it would be prejudicial to the interest of the applicants, the appellate authority said. However, information not pertaining to this could be culled out if specific requests were made to the information officer.

Ms. Raghunandan, whose final appeal will be heard on April 5, told The Hindu that though information about the toxicity, allergenicity and other relevant biosafety data on brinjal was to be provided before June 15, 2006, this had not happened. She said the RCGM did not require the submission of any information by the applicant under confidential clauses. Therefore, the appellate authority's decision to withhold information till June 15 for disclosing to the third party the intention to make this information public was questionable.

Information to her was refused under Section 8.1.d RTI Act, which relates to "information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party." In her second appeal, she submitted that none of this information, sought under RTI Act, could be used for harming the third party's competitive position.

Citing the latest studies that refer to the toxicity of GM foods, Ms. Raghunandan said the whole procedure was not transparent.

There was no reason to withhold data on toxicity and biosafety tests of transgenic crops as they were all critical and of public interest, specially as genetic engineering was a technology which had not yet been proved safe for human consumption.

While GEAC maintains that field trials were conducted with all regulatory norms in place and that biosafety tests were under way, Greenpeace and farmers' organisations are pointing out serious violations.

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