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Trouble On The Plate For Bt Brinjal
Sonu Jain
May 8, 2008 | The Indian Express

Scientist P. Bhargava, special invitee to the regulatory body on GM crops, says Mahyco's field trial data on bio-safety "shocking". [Mahyco is Monsanto's Indian subsidiary]
The clearance for the first genetically modified food crop, Bt brinjal, may not be smooth going by the recent developments in the apex regulatory body. One of the Supreme Court-appointed special invitees to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has raised strong objections to the quality of data provided by Mahyco in the final trials for Bt brinjal before its commercial release. He has also asked for a review of data on Bt cotton approved in 2002.

"The lack of data on health and bio-safety is shocking," said P. Bhargava, molecular scientist who founded the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), now a special invitee to GEAC. He has asked for independent tests to determine safety rather than just the data that the company provided to seek clearance for the GM crop.

His letter to the GEAC chairman expressing strong reservations coincides with a protest in New Delhi on Tuesday by farmers from 15 states under the banner of 'Coalition for a GM-Free India' against allowing field trials for GM crops.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had sought the appointments of eminent scientists Bhargava and M.S. Swaminathan to the government's regulatory panel, saying it would usher transparency in the regulatory process. Swaminathan is yet to attend a GEAC meeting. The appointments followed an interim order on a petition by Aruna Rodrigues alleging that the government was liberalising norms for allowing multinational companies to go in for open field trials of GM foods and crops in India.

Bhargava has attended one meeting so far. Though he does not have a vote in the 29-member GEAC, his views are to be considered. When contacted, GEAC chairman B.S. Parsheera said: "It will not be possible to review the earlier decisions. He is welcome to make his observations on the cases that come up in subsequent meetings. The committee will take his views into consideration but the law that is laid down will be followed."

After a moratorium of more than a year by the Supreme Court on any field trials of GM crops in the country, the government had given the green signal for large-scale field trials of Bt brinjal in February this year. It was accompanied by a whole battery of additional tests to determine health and biosafety of release of the first GM food crop.

The data has been presented to the GEAC after the first season of trials. In one of the tests to determine the presence of Bt protein in cooked brinjal, Bhargava has pointed to "glaring" discrepancies. According to him, the results conclude that the Bt protein is unstable and does not remain when the brinjal is roasted or cooked and hence is safe for human consumption. According to Bhargava, the data for this test shows "negative" for Bt brinjal when cooked. When seen for non-Bt brinjal, it says "positive". "This is absurd. It can only happen because it is the company that is doing the tests. They are the ones who are providing both the Bt and the non Bt brinjal to the lab. How do we know if they are actually providing the right samples?" he said.

In the last meeting, when he raised these objections and asked for more advanced tests like DNA fingerprinting, GEAC members told him that institutions such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and state agricultural universities are involved in the monitoring and evaluation of field trials of Bt cotton. "I don't hold any brief for any NGO. Any scientists will vouch for the tests that I am asking for," he said.

"We at Mahyco R&D Centre, as well as scientists at other government research institutions around the country, have done extensive studies to assess the impact of these insect-tolerant plants and they have so far shown positive results," said a company statement from Mahyco.
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The latest issue of Plant Physiology (July 2008; Volume 147, Issue 3) has a special section on next generation of biotech crops especially on nutritional improvement.  These papers can
be downloaded free!

Influence of Transgenosis on the Plant-Insect- Relationships, in Particular on Chemically       Mediated Interactions

Effect of Transgenes Conferring Enhanced Pathogen Resistance on the Interaction with Symbiotic        Fungi in Rice

Impact on the Soil Ecosystem through Natural and Genetically Engineered Organisms:
      Effects, Methods and Definition of Damage as Contribution to Risk Assessment

The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other        Macroorganisms in the Soil

Environmental Post-market Monitoring of Bt-maize:
       Approaches to Detect Potential Effects on Butterflies and Natural Enemies

Columns by Dan Gardner

Against the Grains: 'The Terminator Hoax '

Decisions taken in the 84th Meeting of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee

Brazilian Health Biotech: Fostering Crosstalk Between Public and Private Sectors

Biotechnology Related Article Appeared on 'Samyukta Karnataka' ( Regional Language )
June 12, 2008.

Nothing Left to the Imagination

The Politics of GM Food
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Managing Director,
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The legal bans are in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

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