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Hazardous Technology Rejected In Europe Being Dumped In India

New Delhi, July 10, 2009:

Two leading European geneticists have warned India against accepting Genetically Modified crops/foods and termed it as a technology that has been rejected in Europe and now being dumped into India. Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini, Chair of Department of Molecular Biology in University of Caen, France and Prof Michael Antoniou, Reader in Department of Medical & Molecular Genetics in King’s College, London were here to present papers in a 2-day national workshop on "GM crops/food and Health Implications" organized by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainet and Greenpeace India. Prof Seralini had earlier analysed, for the first time, M/s Mahyco's biosafety data on Bt Brinjal and found that this novel organism is unsafe for human or animal consumption.

"99% of all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in farming are actually sponges of pesticides – they are either engineered to produce a pesticide or to tolerate a pesticide. This is the case with Insect Resistant crops like Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal and Herbicide Tolerant crops like GM corn. Given such a technology, the adverse effect on human and animal health is often neglected by firms and authorities and this is unacceptable since we are talking about an irreversible technology", said Prof Seralini, speaking to media persons here today.

Prof Antoniou said, "The only responsible use of Genetic Engineering is in a contained, clinical, laboratory set up. GM in agriculture is like playing God and when man tries to play God, it does not work. The extreme complexity with which genomic regulation works has not been understood by the best of geneticists and it should be remembered that GMOs in the environment cannot be recalled. Precautionary approach is the only way forward with this technology".

Earlier, a 2-day workshop at India International Centre on July 8th and 9th 2009 discussed the issue of GM foods & health impacts threadbare with experts making presentations on scientific evidence of adverse health impacts, on the Indian regulatory regime and its serious shortcomings, on crops like Golden Rice, on Bt Brinjal's biosafety, on impacts of GM crops on Indian Systems of Medicine and on emerging evidence from the ground on the adverse impacts of Bt Cotton on human and animal health.

Pointing the risks that Genetic Engineering poses from the genomic level to the eco-system level, Prof Antoniou presented data on the mutagenic effects of GM transformation in crops – he emphasized that the principle of substantial equivalence is very faulty since it only looks at gross bio-chemical composition and completely misses out on the qualitative parameters. He systematically debunked the myth of Genetic Engineering being a precise science and even an extension of conventional breeding as argued by biotech proponents.

Dr Reyes Tirado of Greenpeace Laboratories in Exeter University, UK presented scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops by citing from various studies across the world and highlighted the recommendations of the IAASTD report (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology for Development) which pointed out that small holder ecological farming is the only sustainable way of feeding the world.

Dr B Sesikeran, Director, National Institute of Nutrition made a presentation on risk assessment procedures within the Indian regulatory regime at present, related to health assessment in particular. He opined that Genetic Engineering has a great potential and should be brought in after proper risk assessment.

Dr Pushpa Bhargava, eminent molecular biologist who has also been appointed as an observer in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) by the Supreme Court of India shared data on how the current regulatory regime in India is woefully inadequate and how it does not proceed by asking fundamental questions about whether there is a need for the technology. He pointed out that only after assessing that no other alternatives exist, should a GM option be considered. He illustrated his presentation with many examples of gross violations of regulatory guidelines and the law pertaining to GM crops.

Coming to the issue of promised GM crops like vitamin A enriched rice, Dr Vandana Prasad of Public Health Resource Network clearly presented an argument that malnourishment cannot be addressed by solutions like Golden Rice and that solutions have to be situated in a socio-cultural context and an appreciation of the political economy of technological interventions.

Dr Mira Shiva of Initiative for Health Equity & Society and Founder Member of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan pointed out that poor Indian women and children are going to be the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of GM foods and such foods should be banned.

Prof Seralini shared the findings from his latest pathbreaking research on the adverse impacts of herbicides like glyphosate – results from his research show that this popularly used herbicide, which is also part of the package around Herbicide Tolerant GM crops (HT GM crops like Roundup Ready Soy, which is the largest cultivated GM crop around the world),

Coming to the adverse impacts of Bt Cotton unfolding in the cotton belts of India, findings from a clinical investigation through the use of skin prick tests in Punjab were shared, which show that allergies experienced by farmers and farm workers in Bt Cotton field were indeed connected with Bt Cotton. The case histories of such patients also rule out adverse reactions to normal cotton.

Dr Sagari Ramdas, a veterinary scientist heading an organization called ANTHRA, presented field level data related to morbidity and mortality being experienced by sheep and goats after grazing on bt Cotton fields. She highlighted the apathy and lack of concern on part of the regulators in taking up any systematic scientific investigations into the matter.

Speakers highlighted the many lacunae that continue to exist with regard to biosafety assessment of Bt cotton and how no review processes have formally relooked at the problems being pointed out.

The workshop also highlighted the issue of adverse impacts of GMOs on Indian Systems of Medicine. Systems like Ayurveda and Siddha, which have a plant-based system of medicines will now face two possibilities – either the lack of efficacy of the medicines or worse, toxic impacts arising from the medicine due to the lack of unpredictability with the GE technology. Dr Sivaraman, Member of the Central Siddha Pharmacopeia Committee and Dr V G Udaya Kumar, President of Ayurvedic Medical Association of India, demanded that all GE experiments with regard to ayurvedic herbs be stopped immediately and also demanded the rejection of crops like Bt Brinjal.

The workshop concluded by urging the Prime Minister of India, the Minister for Environment & Forests and the Minister for Health and Family Welfare to intervene and stop all open air trials of various GM crops immediately, freeze all approvals for trials and deliberate release of GMOs into the environment and stop the import of GM foods into India.

For more information, contact: Kavitha Kuruganti at 09393001550 or Rajesh Krishnan at 09845650032.