New Delhi, India
October 31, 2006
The Supreme Court
of India last month banned any new field trials of
genetically modified (GM) crops in the country to allow it to
examine potential conflicts of interest in the approval
The court's decision followed a public interest petition filed
in May 2005 by four activists that requested the ban, saying
that India's biosafety protocols are a serious threat to public
health and the environment.
According to the petitioners' lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, the
petition mainly argues that field trials should only be allowed
once comprehensive, scientific, reliable and transparent
biosafety tests have been carried out.
He said that the current practice in India is to allow field
trials to precede such rigorous biosafety testing, leading to
irreversible contamination. This is compounded by absent or lax
monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
The case follows campaigns by civil society organisations over
the safety of field trials of the country's first transgenic
food crop, Bt brinjal — a vegetable also known as aubergine or
eggplant genetically modified to resist insect pests.
These protests forced the
Approval Committee (GEAC) — whose prior permission is needed
for GM trials — to form a panel of experts to give a final
decision on the trials.
But the panel, as well as the GEAC itself, was criticised by
civil society groups for not being sufficiently independent.
The petitioners in the hearing last month recommended five
independent experts to be added to the GEAC, but the government
The court has asked the government to respond within two weeks,
putting its objections on record, and suggesting any other names
from the government's side whose credentials must be verified.
In a subsequent hearing on 12 October the court sustained the
ban, but gave permission for a limited field trial of GM
"The unfolding of the case so far clearly indicates that the
court has taken on board the main arguments of the petition,''
says Kavitha Karuganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
in Secunderabad, one of the groups which has raised questions
about the safety of GM crops.
The GEAC has already approved a number of field trials for a new
variety of GM cotton that has escaped the scope of the court
The activists who filed the petition are Aruna Rodrigues,
economist consultant at Sunray Harvesters; Rajeev Baruah,
managing director at Maikaal bioRe; PV Satheesh, director of the
Deccan Development Society; and Devinder Sharma, agricultural
scientist and writer.
India's Supreme Court orders
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to stop all approvals of
GM organisms until further notice