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India's GM regulators urged not to break rules (21/6/2007)

NOTE: 'Panchayats' are like local councils, with each council representing a group of villages in a particular part of rural India. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is India's key regulatory body for GM field trials.

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PANCHAYATS ACROSS THE COUNTRY WRITE IN TO GEAC
GEAC also asked to abide by new orders and conditions related to field trials
PRESS RELEASE

New Delhi, June 21, 2007: More than 80 Panchayats from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal had written to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) seeking clarifications related to the new condition for GM crop field trials in the country which requires crop developers to get prior permission from the concerned panchayat. The panchayats wanted GEAC to provide them information on what are the potential risks associated with GE crops and their open air field trials in addition to asking the regulator what accountability mechanisms exist in case of violations. These letters were sent to the GEAC on the eve of its 78th meeting tomorrow, where the apex regulatory body is considering approvals to scores of field trials, including GM food crops. Earlier, in its December 13th 2006 meeting, GEAC had decided that applicants for GM food crop trials have to obtain prior permission from concerned panchayats.

Meanwhile, many members of the Coalition for GM Free India also wrote in to the GEAC yesterday, reminding them about new orders and conditions related to GM crop field trials. They reminded the GEAC that the Supreme Court in its May 8th 2007 orders had not vacated the September 2006 orders which imposed a stoppage on any further approvals. They also pointed out that in the January 2007 meeting of the GEAC, the regulators have noted that the state level and district level committees meant to oversee trials, as per the Environment Protection Act [EPA], are not in place â€" things had not changed since then.

The Coalition members accused the GEAC of not discussing important issues like impacts of Bt Cotton on livestock, as pointed out by the animal husbandry department of Andhra Pradesh, in its haste to approve more and more GM crops. They questioned the GEAC about the action taken (or lack of it) to fix liability on the concerned companies under the EPA penal clauses for violations pointed out by Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh government, reports of which were shared with the GEAC.

GEAC's inability to monitor open air field trials that it approves (based on DBT's approvals) has been documented again and again and in fact admitted by the GEAC itself in its meeting minutes. In majority of cases, the regulatory body itself is not informed of where the trials are happening in the country. State governments like Chattisgarh, which have inquired into the matter last year, have documented several violations and yet, no action has been taken by the GEAC on the matter. It is well known that across the world GE contamination scandals which led to serious economic losses for farmers have mostly arisen from lax field trials.

For more information, contact:

1. Sri Kultar Singh, Sarpanch, Sandhwan village, Faridkot dist, Punjab: 092-164-00457

2. Sri Krishnan Kutty, Perumatti Panchayat, Palakkad dist, Kerala: 094-470-12369

3. Sri Yudhvir Singh, Bharatiya Kissan Union (BKU): 098-681-46405

4. Sri Devinder Sharma, Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security: 098-113-01857

Annexure:
Letter from Coalition for GM Free India members to GEAC:
June 20, 2007

To The Chairperson
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) Ministry of Environment & Forests Paryavaran Bhawan, CGO Complex Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110 003.
Fax: 011- 24363967

Dear Sri Parsheera

Sub: Consideration of proposals for GM crop field trials-78th GEAC meeting-22/6/2007

We have taken note of the Agenda points put up for the 78th GEAC meeting to be held on 22nd June 2007. There are many open air field trials being considered for various food crops like brinjal, rice, maize, potato, bhindi etc. as well as new events of GM cotton. In this connection, we would like to remind the GEAC:

That the Supreme Court's orders of May 8th 2007 have not vacated the orders of September 2006 and that is something that the petitioners have already communicated to the MoEF through their advocate.

That it is a dangerous practice to take up open air field trials without assessing the biosafety of a GMO, especially given the now-official confirmations related to various violations during field trials and the confirmation of the lack of monitoring capabilities of the regulators. Further, some of the applications are for large scale field trials, without having cleared biosafety assessments.

That the GEAC has still not fixed any liability for the violations pointed out by Chattisgarh government as well as now being pointed out by the Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal governments.

That in the January 2007 meeting of the GEAC, you have noted that state level and district level committees are not in place to oversee field trials [Agenda 1.0 (a) (i)] and that this should be done

That in the January 2007 meeting again, it was also decided that full details of the crops, sites, coordinator of the field trial etc. should be submitted before approval is accorded by the GEAC/RCGM

That in the December 2006 GEAC meeting, it was decided that applicants have to obtain prior permission of the concerned panchayats before approval is accorded

That the Supreme Court orders of May 2007 also lay down the need for a validated, event-specific protocol (at an LoD of at least 0.01%) to be submitted by the approved institution

That the Court also ordered that the name of a Scientist and other details about who will be responsible for all aspects related to the trial should be submitted to the GEAC.

WE would also like to remind GEAC that in its last meeting, as a response to the report received from the Director-Animal Husbandry, Government of Andhra Pradesh, the GEAC asked some experts to look at the report and give their views in the next meeting, which is the one on June 22nd. However, the listed agenda has no mention of this and we request the GEAC to include it immediately into the agenda.

We also demand that the GEAC discuss the report of the Chattisgarh government's inquiry committee on the violations documented in the field trials there and fix liability under EPA penal clauses.

Finally, we demand that the GEAC discuss and share information to its members and the general public on what happened to the Show Cause notices sent to various crop developers who have failed to comply with the conditional approvals given in 2006.

As the apex regulatory body created to protect the interests of Indian farmers and consumers and for protecting the environment, we expect the GEAC to address all the above points in its upcoming meeting.

Sincerely,
(Member Organisation, Coalition for GM Free India)

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