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Explain move to introduce GM mustard: SC asks government

The Supreme Court has sought an explanation from the central government on its proposed move to introduce herbicide resistant mustard, cotton and corn in the face of a court-imposed ban on their introduction.
A three-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice of India TS Thakur and justices AK Sikri and R Banumathi asked Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi to explain his stand on a contempt petition filed against the members of the committee which cleared the proposal.
The petition, filed by Aruna Rodrigues against the environment and forests ministry’s move, sought action against chairperson Hem Pande and the co-chairperson and member secretary of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee for flouting court orders. The petition was mentioned by her counsel Prashant Bhushan at the close of proceedings in the CJI’s court on Monday. It will now be heard after two weeks.
The top court had in a series of orders passed in February 2007, April 2008 and August 2008 sought to restrain both small-scale and largescale field trials in any food crops as well as their commercial introduction in the country.
Rodrigues said the government wilfully and deliberately not only conducted small-scale field trials but also large-scale field trials for commercial introduction of herbicide tolerant crops of mustard, cotton and corn in India for the first time.
These field trials have ignored fundamental bio-safety precautions as ordered by the court. Contamination during open field trials is specifically barred in the order of May 8, 2007,” the petition said. “In the light of this specific order… regulatory adventurism… is particularly unconscionable as they expose India to undue and high risk of GMO contamination of our food crops,” it said.
The petition claimed that smallscale field trials of mustard were undertaken in July 2014, as also of corn. “Large-scale field trials are the final stage of field trials before commercialisation and are especially risky for contamination as their focus is seed-setting for commercial planting, not for conducting bio-safety studies which must be completed and the crop signalled as utterly safe… precisely because seed-setting entails contamination risks of an exceedingly high order of magnitude.
Bio-safety studies and risk assessment protocols must be addressed and essentially completed during the first stage, she said. Gene sequencing at that stage provides the bio-safety assurance for approvals to proceed to the next stage, Rodrigues said.
This is the sequencing required by a five-member court appointed technical expert committee.
The risk of contamination from GM mustard and corn is of an unprecedentedly high order and proven in other cases involving Canada, Japan and Mexico (corn) and US (rice), the petition said.
The case of mustard DMH 11 is especially critical since the application for commercialisation has reportedly been sent by crop developer Dr Deepak Pental of the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGCMP) to the GEAC in Sept 2015,” the petition said.
It is considered for surreptitious approval for commercialisation, Rodrigues said, even as the issue of setting up an independent and efficacious protocol for their approval is pending before the court for adjudication.
This shows the collective irresponsibility displayed by the regulators, ministries concerned (agriculture, science and technology, and environment) and institutions of GMO governance (ICAR, DBT), in approving it, demonstrating a clear agenda to push GMOs into India’s agriculture, the petition said.
This is now undeniable because approval of LSTs (large-scale trials) is undisguised malfeasance and regulatory delinquency. The risk of contamination in such trials and especially from GM mustard will be hard to avoid,” it said. The government will have to respond to all these charges in two weeks.

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