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Critics gear up to challenge GEAC's approval of GM crops in SC ASHOK B SHARMA Financial Express 
24 November 2008
The critics of the transgenic technology in agriculture are gearing up to challenge the regulator's decision in the Supreme Court for allowing limited field trial of several genetically modified (GM) food crops, including Monsanto India's Hishell and 900M Gold corn hybrids.

The regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), has recently allowed strip trials of RB-transgenic potato developed by the Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla and limited field trials of GM cotton hybrids, Hishell and 900M Gold containing stacked events - MON 89034 and NK603 - at the farms of five state agriculture universities.

On December 3, 2008, the special bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the chief justice KG Balakrishnan, is slated to deliberate on a supplementary affidavit filed by Aruna Rodrigues, PV Satheesh and Rajeev Baruah, presenting extracts from a recent scientific study conducted by the Austrian government, arriving at a conclusion that GM corn caused infertility.

The supplementary affidavit is part of the original writ petition 206 of 2005 filed by the petitioners calling for a moratorium on GM crops.

The Austrian, study sponsored by the country's agriculture and health ministries and conducted by the team headed by Jurgen Zentek of the University of Vienna, found that mice fed with GM corn had less offspring in the third and forth generations and these differences were statistically significant.

Mice fed with non-GM corn reproduced more efficiently. The research team concluded that this effect could be attributed to the difference in the food source.

The Austrian scientists conducted several long-term feeding trials with laboratory mice over a course of 20 weeks.

One of the studies was reproductive assessment by continuous breeding (RACB) trial, in which the same parent generation gave birth to several litters of baby mice.

The parents were fed either with a diet containing 33% of a GM corn variety - NK603 x MON 810 or a closely related non-GM variety. A decrease in litter size and weight was found to be statistically significant in the third and fourth litters in the GM-corn fed mice compared to the control group.

Incidentally, in India, the 900M Gold developed by Monsanto India and allowed for limited field trials by the GEAC contains the same gene NK603 stacked with MON 89034.

According to Monsanto India, the gene NK603 makes the corn hybrid tolerant to the application of glyphosate, the active ingredient in roundup herbicide. Spraying of glyphosate on corn destroys the crop along with the weeds.

Corn that is genetically modified allows glyphosate to kill the weeds, while the crop remains safe from its effects. The Monsanto India's GM corn hybrids also contains genes - cry 1A.105 and cry 2Ab2 - derived from the soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, claimed to be resistant to lepidopteran pests.

The petitioners have also submitted to the Supreme Court their own study on reproductive problems caused to buffalo and sheep on account of grazing over Bt cotton fields in Hissar in Haryana. The study was conducted with the assistance of veterinary scientists.

The petitioners have also produced the recorded comments of scientist Pushpa M Bhargava on the GEAC's dismal performance.

Bhargava is the special invitee to GEAC meetings at the instance of the order of the Supreme Court.