Coalition for GM-Free India
April 9th 2012
Minister for Environment & Forests ( Independent Charge )
Ministry for Environment & Forests.
Re: Illegal planting of GM corn during field trials by Monsanto in UAS, Dharwad, Karnataka
Ref : Letter from the MoEF dtd 12017/10/2012/CS-III dated 19th March, 2012.
We appreciate the response from the Ministry’s Gentic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) on the above subject; however we would like to point out that extracts from the minutes of the GEAC meeting 115 on February 8, 2012 does nothing to establish the legality of planting NK603. The GEAC minutes have not addressed or answered our representation about this serious matter of illegal GMO planting and the consequent threat to biosafety.
In fact the explanations from GEAC raises more questions, obfuscates issues and tries to avoid the issue of illegal planting without addressing it. Given below are the pertinent issues that point to the fact that our original representation about illegal planting stands valid and in addition, there now seems to be an effort to cover up the issue and make it seem legal and in order.
- As per point 1 (of the GEAC facts of the case from minutes of meeting 115) the protocol/experimental design submitted by the applicant (Monsanto for Biosafety Research Level-I of its GM maize) and approved by GEAC on four different occasions did not include the treatment with NK6031 as comparator. This means that at no previous stage of field trials of this transgenic corn, NK603 was used as a comparator.
- There were 4 different applications made to GEAC during the BRL-II trials of the same GM hybrid corns. (BRL-II, seed production and IRM). Three of them were taken up by GEAC during its 104th meeting on 15/11/2010 and the fourth one during its 105th meeting on 8/12/2010 (relevant excerpts from GEAC minutes attached for ready reference).
- The trial under question is the BRL-II which was discussed and approved on 15/11/2010 during the 104thmeeting of GEAC. The application from the applicant did not seek the use of NK603 as comparator. GEAC’s approval statement2 and its subsequent letter to the applicant did not carry any statement permitting the use NK603 as comparator. (Attached GEAC letter to applicant).
- Therefore the point 4 (of the GEAC facts of the case table from minutes of meeting 115) stating that “field design included the inclusion of the treatment with event NK603 as comparator” is completely incorrect.
- On the other hand, the GEAC minutes and the letter to the applicant with instructions about the trials protocols repeatedly and specifically state that the objectives of the trial (BRL-II) is to study the efficacy of transgenic corn hybrids and compare them with their non-transgenic counter parts (Attached GEAC letter to applicant).
- In parallel, while considering the application for IRM testing Monsanto had sought the permission to use NK603 as part of the refuge in a bag strategy. GEAC had explicitly refused permission for the use of NK603 as detailed here: “5.6.4 The Committee noted that the corn hybrids expressing NK603 has not been approved for environmental release and, therefore, rejected the request of the applicant to use transgenic corn hybrids expressing NK603 while conducting IRM trials for ascertaining refuge strategy.”3
- From the above points it is amply clear that GEAC had decided that the use of NK603 cannot be allowed as the GMO is not approved for environmental release.
Further the notes from meeting 115 of GEAC mention that the same BRL-II of Monsanto’s maize trials going on at Anand, Gujarat is being conducted without treatment with NK603.
In view of the above how did the committee (of GEAC) during the discussions on 8th February, 2012 (meeting 115), reviewing these very facts conclude as follows: “the Committee noted the fact that the GEAC in its 104th and 105th meeting held on 15.11.2010 and 08.12.2010 respectively had approved the request of the applicant to conduct BRL-II trials with the inclusion of the treatment with event NK603 as a comparator.”4 ?
Where is the evidence that NK603 “unapproved for environmental release” according to GEAC’s own decision and disallowed for the IRM trial on those grounds, was for some reason allowed to be used as comparator for BRL-II trials of Monsanto maize?
How can we simply believe this assertion about the use of this unapproved GMO (NK603):
which is not backed by evidence
which stands contrary to GEAC’s own pronouncements in the same meeting about NK603
and which is not part of any previous or concurrent field trial protocol of the same crop in any other location other than UAS Dharwad?
Why has the applicant not been asked for any explanation in this whole process and why is the regulator defending the applicant?
While bringing these points we would also like to put it on record that in the sequence of events GEAC has tried more than once (Points 4, 13, 14) to obfuscate the issue with irrelevant and incorrect facts.
- Also the regulator has cast aspersions on the head of the compliance committee in order to defend the applicant. This either means that people designated to do compliance and monitoring do not know the regulations and protocols, which in turn means that our assertion about the threat to biosafety due to unsupervised trials is again validated. If not that, then the officials are being made into scapegoats to defend a biotech-multinational like Monsanto which puts under the scanner the impartiality of GEAC and the stringency of its processes. How can we accept that the Principal Scientist of the Institute which was made into the supervising authority for these trials, which drew up the trial protocols, did not know what he was verifying and would have just made a frivolous remark without any basis during his monitoring visit on May 5th 2011 to the field trial?
In view of the fact that no evidence and no scientific reasoning has been provided to establish the legality of the use of NK603, we believe that the planting of NK603 as comparator was illegal. We further allege that GEAC is involved in covering up this serious violation without being able to provide any reasoning or evidence.
The Coalition reiterates its demand that:
- The Minister for Environment & Forests fix accountability on Monsanto and its Indian associates for violating Indian law.
- MoEF take action against the regulators who repeatedly fail to check the violations of the corporations.
Convener, Coalition for a GM-Free India
H-3, Jawahar Nagar, Kawdiar, Thiruvananthapuram – 695003, Kerala.
Ph : 09995358205
Copy to : Sri M F Farooqui, Chairman, GEAC
Ms Ranjini Warrier, Member Secretary, GEAC
1 NK603 is an unapproved GM HT corn whose planting is therefore illegal in India.
2 Minutes of the 104th meeting of GEAC on 15/11/2010 http://www.moef.nic.in/
3 Minutes of the 104th meeting of GEAC on 15/11/2010 http://www.moef.nic.in/
4 Minutes of the 115th meeting of GEAC on 08/02/2012 http://moef.nic.in/divisions/