SC notice on GM trials

on october 26, the supreme court asked the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) of the union government to explain why it allowed fresh trials of gm crops. The direction comes on a petition which says the move violated previous rulings of the court on gm crops trial. The court has given the committee four weeks to reply.

In August, the committee had issued fresh approval for large-scale trials of a bunch of gm crops, including Bt brinjal. The petitioners, social activists Aruna Rodrigues and P V Satheesh allege geac did not respond to their demands for an explanation. The Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (iivr) in Varanasi which oversees the trials in various agricultural universities justifies the trials, "The apex court had permitted trials under some guidelines. The universities are conducting these trials under safe conditions,' says Mathura Rai, director of iivr. The court had asked geac to isolate the trials from other agricultural experiments in the campuses so that other crops are not affected. There are allegations that this has not been properly followed. Some experts say the trial on agricultural university campuses could spoil other crops being tried in the same area. But Rai says necessary care has been taken and that gm trials effects will not reach other plants.

The petition was filed in September against three geac members, including its chairman and co-chairman. The activists said the health and environmental hazards of gm crops trial are scientifically proved. Arpad Pusztai, an international expert on lectins (proteins), says Bt toxins remain in the gm crops and damages internal organs. The already described effects of the Bt toxins occur in Bt brinjal as well, he says.

There are also allegations that the trials are conducted at a wrong time. Since planted late, the pest resistance capabilities of Bt brinjal will not be tested properly. Brinjal is said to be prone to root and shoot borer and Bt brinjal claims to be resistant to the pest. "They should have tested the brinjal in August-September. The seeds should have been sowed in July so that the plant would have matured by then. These months are of peak infestation,' says G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an ngo based in Secunderabad. Rai, however, denies this, saying, "We are observing the plants closely and are keeping the susceptibility under proper monitoring.'