|Expert panel on Bt brinjal criticized (13/9/2006)|
India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has set up an expert panel, under the chairmanship of the vice-chancellor of Delhi University, Dr Deepak Pental, to review the health and environmental concerns surrounding the Bt brinjal (aubergine/eggplant) developed by Mahyco, Monsanto's partner in India.
A list of those on the committee and the committee's terms of reference can be seen here: http://www.envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/geac/expert_penthal.htm
Bizarrely, although the expert committee is supposed to provide the GEAC with independent expert advice, about half its members also serve on the GEAC! And that's quite apart from any conflicts of interest, not least those of the committee's chairman.
September 12, 2006
Dear Shri Parsheera
Sub: Constitution of Expert Committee on Bt Brinjal, under Dr Deepak Penthal
Through the Office Memorandum dated 24/8/2006 put up on the GEAC website, we have come to know about the constitution of the 13-member Expert Committee on Bt Brinjal, under the Chairmanship of Dr Deepak Penthal, Vice Chancellor, Delhi University.
We have noted the following from this Memorandum:
1.Dr Deepak Penthal, who has been appointed the Chairperson of this Committee, is also a known biotech promoter and his University is undertaking the same system of biosafety testing as is currently present for Bt Brinjal and other crops in this country, for their testing on GM Mustard and other GM crops. Therefore, there is a serious conflict of interest in appointing him as a Chairperson, knowing that his own project would be at stake based on this Committee's recommendations.
2.There are six to seven members of existing GEAC on this assumed-to-be-independent Expert Committee. This constitutes half of the Expert Committee! The GEAC has already been discredited in the eyes of the public for the decision-making processes that it adopts and inducting the same members into this Expert Committee does not instill any confidence in the process to be adopted. In any case, they can express their views as GEAC's members at any point of time, based on the biosafety data that the company has presented, the feedback that the GEAC has received and in their right as GEAC members.
3.This brings us to important questions about the way the GEAC functions too. What is the quorum required for meetings to be conducted and what is the system for decision-making? Do all materials related to important decisions reach all members and how is feedback from members taken on board? These are important questions to be answered by GEAC since it is very unclear as of now how meetings are being organized, who attends, how decisions are taken, on what basis and so on. From all accounts present, the GEAC is just acting as a rubber stamp for the RCGM of the DBT, despite clear instructions from the Supreme Court.
4.Similarly, induction of Dr Mathura Rai also has a conflict of interest element given that IIVR is involved in the entire ABSP II project related to Bt brinjal of which Mahyco's Bt Brinjal is a part.
5.It seems that "expertise" for this Expert Committee is being looked at only in a narrow scientific realm of specialization in a few subjects rather than other kind of expertise. That is the reason why the "expert committee" does not have any representatives of farmers' and consumers' organizations, which it rightfully should have. This once again makes us question the entire process being adopted.
6.The Terms of Reference for the Expert Committee has been limited mainly to evaluating the feedback received on the biosafety data generated by the company. It has to be pointed out that for most of the studies, the data itself has not been put up for public scrutiny but has been left to be looked at, if someone has the resources to visit Delhi and your office. This Expert Committee should have been asked to look at the complete set of data too.
7.Further, one of the important tasks for this committee and its terms of reference ought to have been the assessment of the need for Bt Brinjal in this country.
8.We hope that adequate scientific research assistance (financial and human resources) is being provided to the Committee for a review of existing literature on the subject.
Meanwhile, we also demand that all the feedback received by the GEAC be put up on its website, especially given that such feedback has been received in an electronic form by the GEAC's member-secretary (which is in a ready-to-use form for the website).
We demand that the GEAC address all the issues raised above and make this Expert Committee for Bt Brinjal into a credible, independent, broad-based committee that would work in the best interests of the farmers and consumers of the country.