New Delhi, July 10 (IANS) Two European scientists visiting the capital Friday warned India against accepting genetically modified (GM) crops and foods technology rejected by European nations.
“I hope India won’t adopt what was discarded by Europe. If it accepts commercialisation of GM foods, it will be the only market apart from North America where it is produced in bulk. The people of this country will just end up as lab rats since this would be the first time GM organisms would be in foods for human consumption,” leading French geneticist Gilles-Eric Seralini told reporters here.
Within the next one year, the Indian market may open its doors to Bt brinjal, a genetically modified version of the common vegetable. While government officials claim the crop won’t be released without adequate safety assurance, campaigners and scientists have asserted that the safety precautions are unreliable.
Nuclear genetics expert, Michael 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 GM organisms in the environment cannot be recalled. Precautionary approach is the only way forward with this technology.”
Seralini is chairman of the department of molecular biology in University of Caen, France, and Antoniou is from the department of medical and molecular genetics at King’s College, London.
The duo were here to present papers at a two-day national workshop on ‘GM crops or food and health implications’ organised by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainet and Greenpeace India.
They jointly criticised Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh’s recent comments that he supported GM crops but not GM foods.
“The impact of the GM foods has a direct impact on our health but introducing GM organisms into soil or air contaminates the core genome and poses hazard on biodiversity and plants,” they said.
“Around 99 percent of GM organisms in farming are actually sponges of pesticides - they are either engineered to produce a pesticide or to tolerate a pesticide,” said Seralini, who is also the president of the scientific council of the CRIIGEN (Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering).
India is one of the six top countries for cultivation of GM crops.
Now the Bt brinjals are in the final stages of approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), a government agency. After Bt brinjal, there are 25 kinds of rice, 23 kinds of tomatoes, many types of groundnut, pigeon peas, potato, mustard, sugarcane, soy and okra awaiting GEAC approval.
Seralini had recently analysed, for the first time, bio-safety data of Bt Brinjal provided by its developer Mahyco and found that this GM organism is unsafe for human or animal consumption. This data was made public only after pressure mounted from public health and environment activists.
While emphasising that “transparency is crucial”, Seralini shared that there was a conscious attempt by the company to hide or pass off results of the blood analysis on tested animals as “normal”.
“The rats, goats, and rabbits on whom the trials were conducted showed difference in blood coagulation, glucose levels, disturbed functioning of liver, kidneys - this was kept confidential,” he said.
The duo held that these tests misrepresented the truth and the data was insufficient. The results, they pointed out, were lacking because tests were conducted over a 90-day period unlike the requisite long-term tests adopted before clearing drugs for commercial usage - two years in case of testing on rats.
“Other tests, like if the reproductive patterns are affected or tests to see how the intestine reacts, are crucial - these are disregarded since the developer has financial interests and is the one that conducts the safety tests,” they said.
The two jointly urged the the government and minister for environment and forests as well as the minister for health and family welfare to intervene and freeze approvals till sufficient data is collected and proper labelling regulations imposed.