Gene Campaign’s Legal Actions On GMOs

Gene Campaign had organized a national conference on the ‘Relevance of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture and Food Security in 2003. Participants at this conference included the full range of stakeholders from industry, research and academia, civil society, farmers, political leaders, students and concerned citizens. Twenty consensus recommendations were made by this group and sent to the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). DBT rebutted each one of them and refused to even discuss them.

After this, Gene Campaign decided to file a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court , asking for improvements in the regulatory system for GMOs.

Below is a chronology of events in the ongoing 2004 PIL along with Interim Applications, as well as a fresh PIL filed in 2007 to block the deregulation of GM food imports.

Some key recommendations made by experts and stakeholders for better GM regulation and DBT’s rebuttals are also given.

Gene Campaign had organized a national conference on the ‘Relevance of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture and Food Security in 2003. Participants at this conference included the full range of stakeholders from industry, research and academia, civil society, farmers, political leaders, students and concerned citizens. Twenty consensus recommendations were made by this group and sent to the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). DBT rebutted each one of them and refused to even discuss them.

 

Some key recommendations and DBT’s response:

Recommendations  from National Conference on GMOs Response from Government of India (DBT)
A comprehensive biotechnology policy should be developed in consultation with all stakeholders. It is not felt necessary that a separate National biotech policy should be developed
A statutory National Bioethics Commission must be set up. Setting up of a Statutory National Bioethics Commission is not felt necessary.
There should be a consultative and participatory process to prioritise crops and traits for genetic improvement through biotechnology with the goal of addressing the needs of small farmers and Indian agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture has already set up a task Force to look into the issues.
India must develop a policy for transgenic varieties of crops for which it is a Centre of Origin and Diversity. The issue of “Policy for transgenic varieties of crops” especially the rice has already been taken care in the agri-biotech research.
A cost and risk benefit analysis must be conducted before deciding on a GM product. The cost and risk benefit analysis is the basic fundamental of seed business and there should not be any apprehension with such GM crops.
Develop a stringent protocol to assess environmental and ecological impact. The Protocol to assess environmental and ecological impact for risk assessment and risk management are already inbuilt in the EPA and they are not less stringent than anywhere in the world.
Have a policy to deal with bio terrorism urgently. The policy to deal with bio-terrorism is not a grave issue at present in our country.
A new statutory, independent National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority must be established. A New Independent National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority would not be solution to various issues faced by the industry.
Make GEAC more competent, transparent and accountable. GEAC is comprised of all stakeholders pertaining to various administrative ministries and is thus competent.
Post data on research and development of GM crops and products on websites and local newspapers. Posting of data on R&D on GM crops and products on website is not a practical suggestion.
An annual review of all decisions on GM products must be presented to Parliament Submission of GEAC decisions to Parliament is not a practical exercise
There should be a moratorium oncommercial cultivation of GM crops until the regulatory system is demonstrably improved. Research on GM crops, however, should continue.  There is no need for a moratorium on commercial cultivation of GM crops as research in this field aims at benefit to the farmers at large with benefit to the society.The regulatory procedures that exist today are good enough to meet the biosafety requirements.

After DBT’s refusal to engage with the concerns expressed by experts and civil society alike, Gene Campaign decided to file a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court, asking for improvements in the regulatory system that governs GMOs

The Writ Petitions and Interim Applications filed by Gene Campaign against the Government are listed below:

Gene Campaign vs. Union of India

I . Writ Petition (WP) in Supreme Court asking for a Biotech Policy and a better GM Regulatory Regime – Jan-2004

Prayer

  1. Direct the respondents to bring the Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989 in consonance with Art. 14, 19, 21, 38, 48, 48A read with 51-A(g) of the Constitution and in the eventuality of the respondents  failing to do so, declare the Rules of 1989 as unconstitutional;
  2. Direct the Respondents to set-up a High Power Committee to formulate a National Policy on Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEOs) through a multi-stakeholder consultation process;
  3. Direct the Respondents to observe a moratorium on various permissions/approvals/trials concerning GEOs, in particular of commercial nature, particularly of crops for which India is a Centre of Origin/Diversity, till the Rules are amended and a sound Regulatory and Monitoring System is put in place;

Ongoing…

II. WP-2004 - Interim Application for release of Allergenicity and Toxicity data of Bt brinjal – October200

Prayer

  1. Direct the concerned authorities to make public all data that is relevant to determining environment and health safety , including toxicity and allergenicity data of a genetically engineered variety under trial.
  2. Direct a moratorium on commercialization of GE varieties until a competent regulatory structure and rules are put in place since there is ample evidence of mismanagement and mishandling of field trials by the regulatory agencies .

ORDERS PASSEDDirection given to release allergenicity and toxicity data

III. WP 2007 – To stop the deregulation of import of GM Foods – October 2007

Prayer

  1. To strike down the Notification dated 23rd August, 2007 issued by the Ministry of Environment & Forests and published in the Gazette of India Extraordinary, Part II –Sec.3 (ii), S.O. No. 1519(E), New Delhi on the 11th September, 2007 as unconstitutional, being violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution;
  2. Declare that the provisions of Rule 20 of the said Rules of 1989 are unguided, uncanalised, likely to be abused and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution;

Govt Acted After Notice, to Hold Notification in Abeyance till 30.9.09

 GM PIL- Interim Application on Bt rice contamination in Jharkhand- Sept. 2008

Prayer

  1. Direct GEAC to revoke all the approvals granted to Maharasthra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (MAHYCO).
  2. Grant moratorium on all the approvals/public trials till a proper regulatory regime ensuring safety to nature, environment and public health is brought into force by the Government;
  3. Direct a review of all the approvals/permissions granted by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) as they have been granted without any statutory guidelines, scientific assessment of bio-safety etc, and, therefore, are arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution;

ONGOING….