Monday, November 29, 2010


Suman Sahai
Six academies of science in India ,The Indian Academy of Sciences, The Indian National Academy of Engineering , The Indian National Science Academy, The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, The National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences India, have just finished covering themselves in glory. This distinction came after their September 2010 report released to promote Bt brinjal and ask for its immediate release , was exposed to be a cut and paste job, shamelessly plagiarizing material from diverse sources, including some GM promotional material. The Inter Academy report shocked one of its authors ( Prof Vijayan of the Indian National Science Academy) sufficiently for him to declare “This is unfortunate — we are devastated. This should not have happened”.

Considering that this report was prepared in response to a request made by Dr Kasturirangan, Member Planning Commission and Sri Jairam Ramesh, Minister , Environment and Forests, it does little to address the points that the Minister raised in his detailed decision on why he held back commercialization of Bt brinjal. For instance the Minister had this to say on toxins in the brinjal family: “The plant family Solanaceae to which brinjal belongs appears to be more problematic than others because it contains several natural toxins that can resurface when metabolism is disturbed. The kind of testing done, it is being said, is not specific or stringent enough to detect toxins. This is an important issue since brinjal is an item of almost daily consumption for most of us.” But this concern, like many others, is not addressed in the report.

It was surprising indeed that the National Academy of Medical Sciences is a signatory to this report since both, the Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research as well as the Drug Controller to the Government of India had expressed misgivings about the release of Bt brinjal to Jairam Ramesh, recommending that chronic toxicity and other related tests should be carried out independently before taking a decision. As this goes to press, the National Academy of Medical Sciences has distanced itself from the Inter Academy report and has pushed for a fresh report with scientific rigor.

A scientific critique of the Bt brinjal testing has been done by David Andow, professor of insect ecology at the University of Minnesota and an authority on environmental risk assessment (ERA). His report says that the ERA of Bt brinjal conducted by GEAC and Mahyco was misdirected and failed to assess the actual adverse environmental consequences that Bt brinjal could have. In the August 2010 report, Andow has outlined the manner in which an ERA should be, but was not done, to address the specific biosafety questions relevant to Bt brinjal in India.

The main thesis of David Andow’s report is that the GEAC set too narrow a scope for the environmental risk assessment of Bt brinjal. Because of this, the testing was limited and many of the right questions were not asked; therefore most of the possible environmental risks of Bt brinjal were not adequately evaluated. For this reason, Andow concludes that the report of the Expert committee II ( EC-II) does not constitute an adequate ERA. Andow’s report has been endorsed by two highly respected scientists in this field, Professor Norman Ellstrand, University of California and Professor Allison Snow of the Ohio State University.

The report submitted by the science academies is embarrassing and worrisome on at least two counts. First, it reveals how the scientists have abdicated the responsibility of maintaining decent standards in science and second, that they have become lobbyists instead of remaining independent pursuers of the truth. A proper enquiry of this sorry episode must be conducted and strictures passed against the offenders. We must send the message that such shoddy work and ethical compromises are not acceptable.

1 comment:

  1. impressed by ur work to indigenous technology..
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