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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

SC hears arguments against commercial production of Genetically Modified mustard seeds


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New Delhi: When a foreign gene is introduced into the human body, it starts creating protein which may have all kinds of unintended consequences like toxicity and allergies other than the trait for which it was used, Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

A bench of Justice BV Nagarathna and Justice Sanjay Karol was hearing the matter on the issue of regulation and biosafety of genetically Modified organisms which has become a major issue around the world.

Prashant Bhushan was arguing on behalf of petitioner activist Aruna Rodrigues who has challenged the decision of the Ministry of Environment and Forests to approve commercial cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) Mustard Seeds.

The senior advocate referred to a SC expert Committee’s findings on November 3, 2023. He argued that the committee called the Herbicide Tolerant (HT) GM crops unsuitable for India. Herbicides are chemicals used to destroy weeds.

Bhushan informed the court that according to the committee, the herbicide sprayed on HT crops can cause cancer and had recommended the use of alternatives. He also cited the committee’s recommendation for a total ban on all HT crops as a precautionary measure.

Bhushan had earlier argued in the Apex Court that the Centre had in 2016 and 2017 assured the court that no decision had been taken to release GM Mustard in the environment and if any such decisions were taken, it will seek the court’s approval.

A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sudandhu Dhulia had asked the centre to reply to the application by November 10 and asked the Centre not to introduce GM mustard crops until further hearings.

On November 10, 2023, the Attorney General of India R. Venkatramani asked the court to adjourn the case to November 17 as the Centre’s reply had not yet reached the file of the Bench. AG also informed the court that assurance given on the last hearing that the centre will not take any precipitative action to introduce GM mustard will continue.

Bhushan cited the technical expert committee findings which held that the whole regulatory system concerning the GM organisms in India is in complete disarray and needs to be set right, including to develop expertise to conduct many tests that are not being conducted, such as chronic and long-term toxicity studies. He also said there aren’t enough labs to conduct these studies and tests.

Bhushan said they assured us that they would engineer an herbicide-tolerant gene into it. The government says that the reason is not to produce herbicide-tolerant crops but to produce new hybrids. That argument is completely illogical, Bhushan said.

The matter of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has been pending in the Supreme Court since 2004.

An NGO called Gene Campaign filed the first PIL challenging GMO, followed by petitions by Rodrigues and others who approached the court in 2005.

The PILs asked the court to direct the government to be transparent with the results of field trials conducted on GM crops. The PIL also asked the GEAC to come up with a rigorous biosafety protocol before granting clearance to GMOs. What potential dangers do GMOs pose?

Justice Karol said: “Now we’ll have to go into the legality of the statute. This matter has been pending since 2004, It is important to hear the main matter”. The hearing will continue on Wednesday.

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