This is with regard to the notification dated 10-6-2013 seeking feedback by your committee on the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill. We would like to object to the content of the bill as well as the limited period of time available for public feedback. The Bill regulating GM crops has wide spread implications on citizens and consumers as it seeks to regulate one of the most important aspects of a person’s life – the food that he or she consumes. Therefore the first step is to ensure a rigorous and sincere consultation process involving all interest groups for which a one month period is highly insufficient.
In light of the growing opposition to GM crops from both citizens and farmers it is important to ensure that adequate safeguards are put into place so as to manage and control the risks that may arise from the use of modern biotechnology. The Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety to which India Is a signatory aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. The bill as drafted to meet India’s obligation as a signatory to the Cartagena protocol fails on a number of accounts.
Conflict of Interest – A preliminary analysis of the bill reveals a high degree of centralisation with a Regulatory Committee of just 5 persons located in the S&T Ministry. The very fact that this authority will be housed in the S&T Ministry which is mandated to promote GM crops is a serious conflict of interest which is best avoided. As recommended by The Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee the authority should be located ‘entirely outside of the DBT… either in the Ministry of Environment and Forest or the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare or both’
No long term bio-safety protocols – Given that there is a strong body of evidence on the impacts of GM crops on human health and environment, it is essential for any regulatory mechanism for GM crops to ensure long term, independent bio-safety assessments before it is released commercially. BRAI fails on these accounts and has no mention of any long term independent assessments.
Diluted legal liability – While clauses 62-66 specify offenses and penalties there is a need to integrate the principle of ‘Absolute Liability’ and the ‘Polluters Pay Principle’ as penalties laid down appear to be punitive measures. There is no discretion granted to the competent authority (the courts) to grant compensation from the harm caused and the direct payment of costs for restoration of the environment.
As the release of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) cannot be withdrawn or controlled once released, it could adversely affect the rights of consumers who wish to remain GM free. Across the world there have been growing instances of contamination. In a recent incident in the USA herbicide tolerant (HT) wheat survived long after it was supposed to have been destroyed. Contamination due to the unintended presence of GM crops resulted in the cancellation of import tenders by Japan causing millions of dollars in losses to wheat growers. In 2006 an unapproved experimental GM rice, grown only for one year in experimental plots, was found to have contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks. Contaminated rice was found as far away as Africa, Europe, and Central America.
The bill does not address who is to be made liable in the case of contamination nor does it mandate the labelling of GM foods. Any impingement on the right of a consumer to remain GM free is unacceptable and the bill should contain adequate safeguards to protect this right of choice.
Penal clauses as per the bill are limited only to false information or unapproved field trials, whereas potential damage to human beings can be through other ways of introducing unapproved GMOs, or contaminating other crops. There is thus a need to address the concept of (i) damage and sufficient likely hood of damage from LMOs and (ii) response measures including financial security to take preventive measures as laid down by the Nagoya Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety to which India is a signatory.
In view of this we urge you to reject the bill in its present form and work towards ensuring an all encompassing Bio-safety legislature as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture. The guiding principle should be the economic well being of farm families, health security of the consumer, right of choice of citizens, protection of the environment and the security of international trade in farm commodities.