When the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) expert group members met on Wednesday, April 27th, to discuss Bt brinjal, they were shocked to see Greenpeace activists standing right next to their meeting room with a "We Say No to Bt brinjal" message.
We were there in true Greenpeace spirit of witnessing a crime and letting the world know about it. The idea was to let all those 'experts' know that people of India were watching them. We stood there as representatives of a Coalition for GM Free India, made up of hundreds of diverse groups across 20 states in the country.
Before I tell you more about what we did, let me first introduce this GEAC ‘expert’ group and their ‘expertise’ to you. In the new expert group set up by GEAC to look into all the concerns raised against Bt brinjal, at least 9 people are known for their pro-GM views, their work on GM and their earlier clearance of Bt brinjal. Of these, six are directly involved in GM crop development.
One of the members of this expert group Mr. JL Karihaloo is the coordinator of Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCOAB). The APCOAB is funded by Mahyco. This ‘expert’ group also includes Mr. Keshav Kranthi, Mr. Raj Bhatnagar, Mr. Akhilesh Tyagi, Mr. Sudhir Sopory and Mr. Deepak Pental. All these individuals are GM crop developers. Apart from these 6 members, at least 3 others have time and again come out with their unconditional support for GM crops. These include members like G Padmanaban, Dr B Sesikiran and Dr VL Chopra.
Now these people together constitute a majority in the expert committee and the GEAC wants us to believe that they will take an unbiased decision irrespective of the clear conflict of interest.
Coming back to the activity, we reached NASC Complex, PUSA Delhi, the meeting venue, at 11.00 am. The meeting was already underway. Some of our volunteers stood outside the premises with anti-Bt brinjal stickers on their faces.
The expert group was shocked to see activists and volunteers waiting for them, as they stepped out for tea. As expected, they were reluctant to speak to us. The situation made them very uncomfortable. Inspite of their reluctance we managed to interact directly with almost all expert committee members participating in the meeting. We handed over our letter to each one of them highlighting the ‘need to completely reject the Bt brinjal bio-safety dossier and say No to Bt brinjal’s commercial cultivation in India’. We also demanded that those associated with GM crop development should leave the group in the interest of independent, credible decision-making.
The committee members were in for another surprise when they saw the same letters sitting on their desks inside the meeting room after their tea break! Our message to them was loud and clear. “GM crop developers and those who have earlier cleared Bt brinjal should not be sitting in this expert group.”
This so called “expert” group lacks the “expertise” needed to assess Bt brinjal's impacts. The group does not have social scientists, civil society representatives, genetic toxicologists or those who are opposed to GM technology. There were too many biotechnologists working on GM crop development and too few scientists looking into environmental and health implications.
Allowing people with vested interests in GM technology to decide the feasibility of Bt brinjal, is like asking a fox to guard a chicken coop. A moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal after a series of public consultations, which took the public opposition into consideration. A decision on the same cannot be based on the advice of a group trying to safeguard its own interests.