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REGULATION / APPROVAL: Greenpeace India challenges Review Committeeon Genetic Manipulation refusal to provide information

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Greenpeace takes RCGM to info panel
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India
AUTHOR: Joseph Vackayil
DATE:   26.03.2007

Greenpeace takes RCGM to info panel

CHENNAI, MAR 25: The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and its Review
Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), the agency which permits field
trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, will have to change its
approach to making public the biosafety assessment process and results
of field trials if the Central Information Commission accepts the
argument of Greenpeace.

A case of Greenpeace against the refusal of the Department of
Biotechnology to provide data on biosafety tests of the GM rice and
other crops is coming up before the Central Information Commission, the
apex body for dealing with Right to Information cases, on April 5, 2007.

Under the RTI Act, Divya Raghunandan, representative of Greenpeace, had
asked for three important informations: a list of filed trial locations
of GM brinjal, okara, mustard and rice approved by RCGM for multi-
location trials; Toxicology and allergenicity and other relevant data on
these GM crops and the minutes of the RCGM meeting between February 2005
and February 2006.

DBT provided a list of field trial locations of these crops. However, it
refused to offer information about the other two queries under Section 8
(1) (d) of the RTI Act citing that " information, including commercial
confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of
which would harm the competitive position of a third party" cannot be

Greenpeace appealed against this order to the Central Information
Commission under Section 19 of the RTI Act, 2005. The Commission has
asked the Principal Information Officer of DBT to appear before it for a
hearing on April 5, 2007.

RCGM is a body of scientists, doing biotechnology and genetic
engineering research under the Department of Biotechnology of the
ministry of science and technology. It is RCGM that apporves open air
field trials of the GM crops in the country.

There has been accusations by non-governmental organisations and
farmers' groups that the field trials of GM crops have been poorly
monitored and were not according to the letter and spirit of the law.
Several cases of mixing up of the untested GM crops with non-GM have
been reported.

Greenpeace activists say that the need for transparency by giving
details about the field trials of GM crops, especially edible crops,
were very important for the livelihood security of the farmers and
safety of the consumers and protection of biodiversity and ecology.

"The toxicology and allergenicity tests are the only tests done to
assess the safety of GM crops for human health and environment. They are
usually done by the company's own laboratories or outsourced to the
private labs. These tests are done after the field trials. Thus any
mishap in the field trial stage will have the risk of releasing untested
and potentially harmful GM crop into the open fields and contaminating
the non-GM crops. These untested crops might replicate themselves and
there would be no control over their spreading and there would be no
idea about the biosafety of the mixed crop. This ultimately means that
through poorly-monitored or clandestine field trials untested GM crops
get released without any precautions and approval. The release is
irreversible. There is no known means of remediation of genetic pollution".

Greenpeace activists told FE that it was in this background that "we
asked for the information from RCGM. If the Central Information
Commission rules in our favour it will be the first case where the
detailed data of tests would be made available for public scrutiny.

The quality of the reports, method of assessment and the real harmful
nature of GM crops can be be brought to the public light".

Greenpeace activists say GM crops were more dangerous to the developing
countries like India where subsistance agriculture is still practised.
Through GM agriculture would be alinenated from the poor farmers by the
multinational companies that determine the price and supply of seeds.

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