Monsanto's GM corn biosafety data raises serious questions

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Feature story - January 30, 2013
If you thought the threat from genetically modified (GM) food crops was over with the moratorium Bt brinjal, think again. American biotech giant Monsanto has been conducting final biosafety research and field trials for its genetically modified corn which could be considered for commercialisation in India.

What’s even more shocking is the assessment process followed by our regulatory bodies to determine the biosafety of the GM corn which was allowed field trials in the country for the last four years. Greenpeace commissioned Testbiotech, an independent research agency, to assess the data presented by Monsanto to the Indian authorities 'for biosafety tests prior to commercial approval of its GM corn.


The Testbiotech report concluded that based on the data presented by Monsanto, no decisions can be taken on the safety of the GM crops. Apart from missing data and inadequate investigations, there are substantial indications pointing to health and environmental risks.

The biosafety and field trials data was accessed by Greenpeace through RTI procedures from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)- the nodal agency for all environmental releases of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in India. The RTI exercise also saw the Chief Public Information Officer of DBT being reprimanded by the Appellate Authority for providing wrong information to Greenpeace.

Shivani Shah, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace India said, “On one hand the GM regulatory system in our country tries to hide crucial public information like the biosafety data of GM crops and on the other hand allows open field trials of them, which can lead to contamination of our food and seed supply chain. These field trials have been permitted for the last four years without biosafety studies being completed.”

According to DBT the trials were permitted based on biosafety data generated by Monsanto. However, the DBT seems to have failed to consider that Monsanto conducted the study and generated the biosafety data from its own labs in the USA. No independent research or study was conducted by our regulatory bodies before permitting these field trials.

The Testbiotech analysis highlighted that the data and assessments presented by Monsanto are incomplete and lacking in scientific rigour. Interestingly most of the data provided by Monsanto was not for the stacked gene variety of Monsanto's corn, which is the one they have been conducting field trials on, but of the parent lines with single genes.

Even in 2011 Greenpeace exposed grave violations of rules by Monsanto during field trials for the same corn in Bijapur, Karnataka. In light of increasing evidences of failure of the GM regulatory system in India and the dangers from GM crops to our food, farming, health of our people and environment, Greenpeace India demands the Minister for Environment and Forest, Jayanthi  Natarajan, who is in charge of the GEAC, to stop all open releases of GM crops including field trials.

-Ignatius Thekaekara