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GM Seeds Leakages are Damaging India's Rice Exports, Must Protect Country's Food Systems: AIPSN

All India People's Science Network (AIPSN), in a letter, has highlighted its concerns regarding GM seeds contamination in rice exports from India.

Representational use only.

The discovery of 500 tonnes of genetically modified (GM) rice in a consignment exported from India in France caused an uproar in the European countries. This happened in June during a check by the European Commission's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.

Coupled with poor regulation, the issue of the confined field trials of various GM rice varieties in India for the last few years has given prominence to concerns related to GM seeds contamination/leakage in the foods exported from India. 

All India People's Science Network (AIPSN), in a letter to the Chairman, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has raised these issues and demanded that the concerned government departments must resolve to "strengthen regulatory effectiveness to protect Indian food and agricultural systems."

The letter also copied to the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, notes that the government must protect India's reputation as a major rice exporting country. India exported Rs 65,000 crore worth of rice in the financial year 2020-21. The exports are critical to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) paid to Indian farmers.

AIPSN has highlighted that India should learn from global experiences that show that seed and food supply chains can get contaminated from field trials of GM crops in general and GM rice in particular. For instance, the 2006 GM rice fiasco in the US, "where a GM rice variety, LLRICE601 under Bayer's field trial, contaminated US rice and seeds." This decreased the US' rice exports in the subsequent years. Given that India doesn't allow for GM rice cultivation, AIPSN says, the poor regulatory framework may lead to a similar situation.

"It is unfortunate and of great concern that both GEAC and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) have failed to take effective regulatory actions against the violators who, without prior approvals from GEAC, continue to market the GM crops and contaminate farmers' fields. So far, no attempts are known to have been taken to stop illegal GM crops and identification of perpetrators," the letter says.

AIPSN has also questioned events at the EU/French end, particularly concerning the testing agency that "doesn't appear to be independent." Highlighting the lack of transparency in the agency's testing data and procedures, AIPSN has raised doubts regarding the reported French findings. These doubts become relevant given the history of such incidents in the EU and US that are aimed at damaging "the reputation of Indian agri-produce in Western markets so as to suppress competition."

Through its letter, AIPSN has demanded "a thorough and independent (not only departmental as at present) investigation into the events behind these exports." Moreover, the letter asks for "full transparency regarding the findings, as well as protocols for monitoring, testing etc., governing cross-contamination, and precautions and monitoring of entry of GM foods into the domestic or export markets."

AIPSN has also called for the development of "an inter-ministerial, independent empowered laboratory," with GEAC taking the lead to set up such a body to avert illegal GM imports and protect against the breach of India’s bio-safety and bio-security. Moreover, the letter demands that "no field trials of GM crops should be permitted without public consultation to avoid possible contamination of our food, environment and seed supply chains."

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