Dec 16, 2009

Indian Parliament misled by Ministry for Environment on Bt brinjal issue

If you have followed the answers that the Ministry for Environment & Forests (MoEF) have time and again provided for questions asked in both Houses of Indian Parliament, you would have noticed that the responses look to be as if they have been copied straight from the ISAAA documents. That makes me wonder whether the MoEF has taken on a new responsibility of becoming a voice of the GM companies since ISAAA is an industry outfit (even though they call themselves an NGO).

I am not the least surprised.

The Department of Biotechnology has been doing it for several years now. In fact, every time I hear an advisor or a senior DBT official speaking it looks as if an ISAAA person is making a presentation. In fact, I admire ISAAA for making DBT stoop so low, bringing the department completely in its grips.

But what startled me the other day was the reply tended by the MoEF to a question asked by Brinda Karat of the CPM in Rajya Sabha on Dec 14. I don't know whether Brinda Karat realised it (and whether she asked some supplementaries) but to my understanding the MoEF had misled the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House).

The question that Brinda Karat asked pertained to a conflict of interest arising from some members of the EC-II (Expert Committee-II) being involved with development of Bt brinjal. The report of EC-II is what the GEAC used to accord environment clearance to India's first poisonous food crop, Bt brinjal.

The reply tendered by MoEF is:

None of the expert committee (EC2) members set up by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) have been involved in the development of Bt brinjal expressing event EE-I developed by M/s Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco), Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore and University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad. As authorized by the GEAC, large scale field trials with Bt brinjal expressing event EE-I was conducted under the supervision of Director, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR) Varanasi. IIVR is a national level vegetable research institute under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR). The studies have been conducted by IIVR with the support and full knowledge of Director General, ICAR and Deputy Director General (Horticulture), ICAR. All members of the Expert Committee are experts from public sector institutions. Therefore, no conflict of interest is envisaged.

This information was given by the Shri Namo Narain Meena, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and currently looking after Ministry of Environment and Forests in a return reply to question by Smt Brinda Karat in the Rajya Sabha today.

http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=55814

Now if you read carefully, the MoEF says there was no conflict of interest. This is not true. The Coalition for GM Free India has already detailed the way the decision of the EC-II was rigged. This document has already been featured on this blog.

Nevertheless, let us now look at what the Down to Earth fortnightly says. In an article entitled:

How Bt brinjal was cleared
Anti-GM groups say expert panel acted under pressure

Savvy Soumya Misra has clearly outlined the mischief. You can read the full article at
http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20091231&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=3

In this article, she has highlighted the 'conflict of interest'. Under the head All Mahyco's men, Savvy has very painstickingly put together the list of experts (on EC-II) who were party to the research process. Isn't that a conflict of interest? If that is true, does it not mean that the MoEF had misled the Rajya Sabha? Shouldn't the MoEF be taken to task for misleading the Upper House? Misleading the House is serious issue, and can be referred to the privilege committee? Is Brinda Karat listening?

Here is what Down to Earth says:

All Mahyco’s men
Members of the Expert Committee 2 that cleared Bt brinjal

K K Tripathi, also member of Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation, has a complaint pending against him with the Central Vigilance Commission for abuse of power. Complainant Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd alleged Tripathi was promoting interests of certain companies—specifically Mahyco—and harming others.

Mathura Rai, director of the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research in Varanasi, was the lead investigator of the large-scale field trials of Mahyco’s Bt Brinjal in the past two years. The institute is part of the USAID-funded Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP II). The Project has on its agenda “supporting Mahyco in gaining regulatory approval for the technology”.

Vasantha Muthuswamy, former chief of ICMR, and B Sesikeran, director of the National Institute of Nutrition, were instrumental in preparing guidelines for safety assessment of GM food in India for the South Asia Biosafety Programme funded by USAID. The biosafety programme and ABSP II work in collaboration.

P Ananda Kumar, project director, National Research Centre of Plant Biotechnology, is a Bt brinjal developer.

Dilip Kumar, director of the Central Institute of Fisheries Education in Mumbai, had taken up a Mahyco-sponsored study on Bt brinjal as fish feed two years ago.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the freedom of info act more is known about such links in US - but it's happening the world over. I foolishly did not record the link to this but I think it came from: http://www.opensecrets.org/revolving/top.php?display=M I tried to find it today on site but could not.

Here our parliamentary advisory groups are always packed in this way - ostensibly because of the members' relevant experience. I have read that the few independents are bound to keep proceedings secret or risk a large fine & even imprisonment

Instead of the usual debates about GM the focus here is on the power of vested interest and lack of independent political scrutiny which enabled the technology to get firm hold in USA. When the drive for GM in the US was at its height it had powerful support:

Clarence Thomas, one of the Supreme Court Judges who voted for the legality of George Bush’s election, was Monsanto's lawyer.

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Anne Veneman, was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto's Calgene Corporation.

The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto's Searle pharmaceuticals.

The U.S. Secretary of Health, Tommy Thompson, received $50,000 in donations from Monsanto during his winning campaign for Wisconsin's governor.

The two congressmen receiving the most donations from Monsanto during the last election were Larry Combest (Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee) and Attorney General John Ashcroft. (Source: Dairy Education Board)

The man in charge of overseeing the GMO evaluations at the FDA, Michael Taylor, was not a scientist but a lawyer who had previously represented US biotechnology giant Monsanto. After leaving the FDA he went back to his private practice, eventually becoming Monsanto's vice president.

The US Center for Responsive Politics points out that this is a classic case of the revolving door syndrome, the conflict of interest caused by the constant movement of professionals back and forth between the private and public sectors.

Barbara Panvel
UK