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6-Regulation: Indian Council of Medical Research call for morestringent GE food risk assessments

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TITLE:  ICMR Wants Overhaul Of GM Foods Regulation
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India, by Ashok B. Sharma
DATE:   26 Jul 2004 

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ICMR Wants Overhaul Of GM Foods Regulation

NEW DELHI, JULY 25: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has
raised some concerns over the safety of genetically modified (GM) food
and has urged for an overhaul of the existing regulatory mechanism.

Citing some particular instances the ICMR study entitled 'Regulatory
Regime for Genetically Modified Foods: The Way Ahead', said "the case of
GM potatoes experiencing Galanthus nivalis lectin gene for insecticidal
properties is an example of the potential of GM foods to cause toxicity.
In a group of rats fed with GM potato damage to immune system and stunted
growth was observed and the experiment had generated considerable

In case of the GM rice, soyabean and rapeseed the study said "currently
developed plants with improved nutritive value include GM rice with
enriched vitamin A and GM soyabean and rapeseed with modified fatty acid.
The impact of such intended modification in nutrient level in a crop
plants can affect nutritional status of the individual. There is also the
potential for unexpected alteration in nutrient as it was observed in the
case of GM rice (accumulation of xanthophylls, increase in prolamines).
Such changes can affect nutrient profiles resulting in nutritional
imbalances in the consumer."

The ICMR study has been circulated among concerned ministries and
departments of the government.

The study noted that 73 per cent of the GM crops in the world are
developed for herbicide tolerance while 18 per cent are developed for
resistance to insects and 8 per cent developed contain both the traits.
Only 0.1 per cent of GM crops are for yield improvement and vitamin
enrichment. The study cautioned that GM crops for herbicide and pest
resistance could have a potential for development of resistance in target
organism. "This has been particularly observed in crops developed for
insect resistance like cotton. This has resulted in the use of a
'refugia' while cultivating Bt crops. Similarly in the case of herbicide
resistance crops like soyabean, a potential for development of superweeds
due to spread of herbicide resistance from GM crops to weeds exists," the
study said.

In context, the study suggested that more than herbicide resistance,
India needs crops resistant to drought, temperature and soil stress and
crops for nutritional enrichment, increased productivity and pest
resistance. It also said that GM varieties which will eliminate the
problem of naturally occuring toxins like the unusual toxic amino acids
in Lathyrus satvus are important.

The study also said "although the cultivation of GM crops have been
claimed to be profitable to farmers, the impact varies by year, location,
crop etc." It cautioned that as modern biotechnology is being
increasingly subjected to intetellectual property protection and is being
generally developed by private sector companies, this could lead to
reduced competition, monopoly of profits and expoiltation of small
farmers. GM crop production may harm small farmers in the developing
countries as imported GM commodities will undercut local production.
Modern agriculture biotechnology could lead to increased inequality of
income and wealth because large farmers may capture most of the benefits.

The study expressed several other concerns relating to genetic pollution
and pollen movement, health safety, allergenicity and potential for gene
transfer but in the same breath it said "it is significant to point out
that there has been no report of any adverse health effect of GM foods
and there are no peer reviewed publications on the health effects of GM
foods in humans."

Citing an example of pollen transfer, the study said "the transgenic
material from a GM maize cultivated by a farmer can be transferred
without the farmer's knowledge to a non-GM maize cultivated in the
neighbouring field. Such kind of pollen transfer varies with different
environmental conditions."

Expressing concerns over health safety, the study said "the use of
recombinant DNA technology in the production of GM foods involves
transfer of genes from different species into food producing organism.
Such a transfer is facilitated along with various regulatory elements
obtained from bacterial or viral sources that are required to empower to
produce the trait in the host organism. The safety of these components of
the genetic construct is not clearly known as they have the potential to
induce toxicity, transfer to gut flora or produce unintended effects
leading to changes that are relevant from toxicological/nutritional
perspective. Specific safety issues associated with GM foods include
direct or indirect consequences of new gene product or altered levels of
existing gene product due to GM, possibility of gene transfer from
ingested GM food and potential adverse effect like allergenicity and
toxic effects."

It said that crops modified for insect resistance have been shown to have
the potential for allergic response like Sartlink corn. "The
allergenicity potential of GM food has often been difficult to establish
with existing methods as the transgenes transferred are frequently from
sources not eaten before, many have unknown allergenicity or there may be
a potential for genetic modification process to result in increase of an
allergen already present in the food," the study said.

The study also expressed concern over the possibility of transfer of GM
DNA from plant to gut microflora of humans and animals. "Of importance
have been the antibiotic resistant genes that are frequently used as
selection markers in the genetic modification process. Such genes have
the potential to adversely affect the therapeutic efficacy of orally
administered antibiotics," it said.


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