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Ban GMOs, top Indian scientist urges government

THE government should ban genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country, Indian scientist Dr. Tushar Chakraborty said on Wednesday.

In a press conference organized by Greenpeace, Chakraborty, the principal scientist of the Gene Regulation Laboratory—Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, said banning of GMOs in the Philippines is the most prudent, science-based approach to the “uncertainties” surrounding GMO crop technologies.

He also said GMO crops, like the insect-resistant Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) eggplant and the so-called golden rice, pose significant risks to human health and the environment.

Greenpeace had invited Chakraborty as an expert witness in the ongoing Writ of Kalikasan hearings at the Supreme Court to help substantiate its claims that GMOs are unstable and unsafe to be planted, processed and eaten.

“GMOs are not safe, have not been independently tested and have not undergone long-term studies,” Chakraborty said. He also said the country needed to put in place a more stringent regulatory system and equip its regulatory body with experts and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and gadgets to ensure the safety of GMOs being tested here.

The scientist cited the decision in a landmark case in India last month that called for a 10-year moratorium on GMOs due to safety concerns.

He was one of hundreds of Indian scientists who came out to support the call for a ban on GMO food crops in the subcontinent.

“GMO technology is highly uncertain. As such, they are inherently unpredictable and irreversible. No short- or long-term study on these man-made living food crops has conclusively shown that they are safe for humans, livestock or biodiversity. All scientific studies about the benefits of GM crops are conducted by the same companies that sell these. For this reason, scientists recommended that the Indian government immediately stop the field testing of all GMO crops,” Chakraborty said.

Since 2001 scientists have opposed the field trials of GMO crops in Indian soil but it was only recently that the Indian Supreme Court finally decided in favor of their petition to ban GMOs, according to Chakraborty.

Potential harm

A scientific report commissioned by the Indian High Court last month found that the moratorium was necessary because of the potential harm that GM crops can cause to humans and the environment.

The scientists warned that field trials might contaminate regular crops, as well as India’s food supply. They believe that India’s current regulatory system to assess the safety of GM crops is inadequate and raises questions about the ability to safely conduct field trials.

“In India the commercial release of Bt eggplant was banned in February 2010 after [it was scrutinized] by the scientific community. Ironically, here in the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture has been relentless in approving GMOs without the benefit of a comprehensive and objective study and analysis of safety data,” said Daniel Ocampo, sustainable agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

According to him, the country’s GMO regulatory system is “flawed” making the entry of GMO events particularly through crop biotechnology “unsafe” and “dangerous.”

“GMOs are living organisms,” Ocampo said. “Unlike GMOs in medicine, its impact in agriculture is irreversible.”

“We are not anti-GMO. We are not anti-development or anti-technology,” the Greenpeace campaigner also said. He added that “GMO testing should be confined in the laboratory, not in the fields.”

Importation

Since 2002, the agriculture department’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) has approved 67 GMOs for importation as food, feed and processing.

Aside from Bt eggplant, there are ongoing field trials of other GMO food crops such as Bt corn and GM papaya, but the most worrisome GMO approvals are for rice.

Greenpeace has warned that the cultivation and commercialization of GM rice will spell disaster for Philippine agriculture.

Aside from the inherent dangers to health and the environment, the group said GMOs would lead to the increased use of—and resistance to—pesticide and herbicides, since most GMOs were designed to be used exclusively in tandem with same-brand chemical inputs.

Greenpeace also said GMOs also endangered the livelihoods of farmers, locking them into an industrial agriculture system that enables the monopoly of a few giant agro-chemical companies who have control of the seeds.

“GMOs are a major threat to our country’s food security. They are a distraction to available, safe and proven solutions,” Ocampo said.

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