AMID THE debate over GM Mustard, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has told a parliamentary panel that while genetically modified crops are “generally safe”, the “individual GM foods” should be assessed on a “case by case basis”, either by the government or an “independent credible third party”.
“The review of available literature indicates that genetically modified crops available in the market that are intended for human consumption are generally safe and their consumption is not associated with serious health problems. However, as different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways, individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case by case basis,” Soumya Swaminathan, ICMR Director General, told the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests last week.
The ICMR noted that each GM product should be assessed on merit, with appropriate studies to assess their safety. “Individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed as per national regulatory norms. These assessments should be done by the government or an independent credible third party agency,” Swaminathan told the panel headed by Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury.
In its submission, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change told the panel that tests done on animals and studies conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition revealed “nil/ negligible risks”. Addressing concerns regarding the toxicity and allergenicity of GM Mustard, it said the use of leaves, seed and oil derived from transgenic mustard were not likely to pose any risk to humans and animals. The ministry also pointed out that GM food and feed are being consumed in a number of countries since 1996, and there have been no negative reports so far.
In a detailed note on the impact of GM food on animals, the Department of Biotechnology cited studies to show that it has no negative effect and is “as safe as non-GM crops”.
The parliamentary panel has decided to hold further discussions on June 8. Chaudhary, who had earlier asked the government not to take a decision on the issue till the panel formulates its opinion, is set to write to Health Minister J P Nadda, seeking clarifications on the health concerns raised over GM Mustard.
Earlier this month, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which functions under the Environment Ministry, cleared a genetically-modified variety of mustard for commercial cultivation. When the parliamentary panel called senior officials of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Department of Biotechnology on May 25, some members questioned the constitution of the GEAC. The GEAC was last reconstituted on March 11, 2013 for a period of three years, after which its tenure was extended.
Many organisations, including RSS affiliates like the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, have opposed clearance to GM Mustard. The only genetically modified crop that is under cultivation in India is Bt Cotton. During the previous UPA government, the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had refused to grant clearance to Bt Brinjal.