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TITLE:  Scientists Raise Eyebrows Over GM Crop Safety
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India, by Ashok B Sharma
        http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=22459
DATE:   Nov 25, 2002

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Scientists Raise Eyebrows Over GM Crop Safety

The Indian government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is 
slated to meet by December 10 to discuss the issue of approval of three 
genetically modified (GM) hybrid mustard seeds developed by ProAgro in 
collaboration with Aventis & PGS of Belgium for commercial cultivation.

In its last meeting on November 7, the GEAC deferred its decision for 
reasons of seeking more time "to have a hard look” in matters relating to 
health and environment safety. GEAC chairman AM Gokhale even went to the 
extent of saying that he would convene a open house debate by inviting all 
stakeholders to sort out the issue.

Mr Gokhale is right there may be some genuine problems. There are 
scientists who have started questioning the safety aspect of GM crops.

Dr PK Ghosh, former advisor in the department of biotechnology (DBT) and 
his colleagues in the same department, Dr TV Ramanaiah and Dr KK Tripathi 
in a joint paper, ‘Capacity Building And Its Relevance To Implementation of 
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety’ said, "Scientific evaluation cannot 
guarantee cent per cent safety, although this statement does not in any way 
belittle the great assurance the scientific experiments provide for. The 
gray areas often constitute a percentage of suspected risks and the present 
scientific development does not allow to find precise answers to such risks 
because of inadequate precision assessment and management tools.”

According to the paper, "For example, the effects of cross-pollination by 
transgenic pollen to its near relatives cannot be accurately predicted. The 
question of transfer of marker genes including antibiotic resistant genes 
from living modified organism (LMO) plants to micro-organisms and further 
to higher life forms alongwith the effects of such transfers cannot be 
quantitatively resolved.”

The expert trio further said, "Most developing countries yet do not have 
adequate expertise in assessing the environmental risks from GM plants both 
on a short-term basis as well as on a long-term basis.” In particular 
reference to India, the expert trio said that about 25 institutes in the 
country are engaged in genetic engineering research but "in spite of such 
an impressive infrastructure, most of these institutes are unable to 
discover genes and transform plants into transgenic cultivars of agronomic 
value. Most of these institutes that have the capabilities are working on 
imported polynucleotide constructs including promoters, genes, terminator 
sequences, plasmids etc. The Indian institutes have not yet been able to 
develop local materials of considerable economic value.” The expert trio 
gave also similar opinion about private sector companies engaged in 
transgenic technology in the country.

Dr PK Ghosh, in another research paper, ‘GMOs : Indian Legal Framework And 
Scientific Progress’ have also raised some more doubts about the safety of 
transgenic technology. He said, "A genetically modified organism can be 
safe but this can be unsafe too. This will depend upon the transgenes, the 
host organism and the environment where the GMO is being tested. In case of 
GM plants, in laboratory experiment, viral disease resistant transgenic 
plants have given rise to newer viruses by recombination.

Transgenic rapeseed plants containing Bar genes transferred the transgenic 
trait to near relatives of Brassica spp. Insect resistant Bt plants coding 
for specific Bt proteins developed Bt protein resistant insects in 
laboratory experiments.”

Dr Ghosh further stated, "Transgenic soyabean genetically modified to 
increase its sulfur containing amino acids by incorporating Brazilian nut 
2S gene was allergenic to serum of the people who were allergenic to 
Brazilian nut 2S protein. Potatoes genetically modified with specific 
lectin genes protected attack from insects but such potatoes were not safe 
to rodents when they were fed with such potatoes.

The transgenic pollens of corn coding for Bt proteins killed the monarch 
butterfly larvae when they were forcibly fed with such pollens. It is 
expected that transgenic pollens coding for Bt proteins would affect the 
silkworm larvae, as these are insects that are susceptible to Bt proteins.”

Dr Ghosh added, "There are examples of micro-organisms, especially 
genetically modified viruses that turned virulent after modification.

The longevity of GM fish was found to be shortened, compared to the non-
transgenic controls. Consequently, a case-by-case analysis of the safety of 
each GMO needs to be conducted to assess environmental safety as well as 
safety to humans and animals.”



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