New Delhi, December 4th, 2008: Experts from different streams of healthcare in India like allopathy, ayurveda, siddha and homoeopathy, under the banner of “Doctors for Food & Bio-Safety” have cautioned the Government of India about the known adverse health effects of Genetically Modified (GM) crops/foods. Citing latest government studies from Austria and Italy, they pointed out that in India no independent or official research is guiding the regulatory processes of GM crops/foods.
Doctors who addressed the media here included Dr G P I Singh, Dr Kabra and Dr Mira Shiva with epidemiology, preventive & social medicine expertise; Dr Udaya Kumar, President of Ayurveda Medical Association of India (AMAI); Dr Sivaraman, Member of Siddha Pharmacopeia Committee (GoI) and Dr R N Dutta, President of Orissa Homeopathic Druggists Association.
Citing the latest Austrian government study which goes on to show reproductive health problems with GM foods, Dr Kabra said, “GM crops should not be permitted without any long-term and inter generational tests. Today, the regulation prescribes at the most a 90-day feeding test on rats and goats. Even this is sought to be changed through the recently-issued ICMR guidelines which have been drafted based on the principle of substantial equivalence, which has been shown for its shortcomings again and again. This is inadequate to assess the full impact of a GM crop as food, especially since long term tests have in the past proven adverse health impacts”.
Dr G P I Singh and Dr Mira Shiva pointed out to the instability induced in an organism’s genome due to genetic engineering which in turn leads to several health problems. “The shortcomings of the GE technology are well documented and therefore, regulation should make the precautionary principle as the central framework”, they said. “Further, crops like ABSP-II’s Bt Brinjal have antibiotic resistance genes (neomycin & streptomycin resistance) which could cause widespread antibiotic resistance. The usage of antibiotic resistant marker genes has been strictly restricted elsewhere; this is a case of dumping old and dangerous technology into India”, they added.
Dr Sivaraman and Dr Udaya Kumar expressed their serious concerns with regard to the inadequacy of Bt Brinjal’s impact assessment. “The implications for ayurveda/siddha/unani/homeopathy (which uses plants of the Solanum species) of the deliberate release of a crop like Bt Brinjal have not been assessed. This once again reflects the serious shortcomings of the current impact assessment regime with regard to GM crops/foods in India”, they explained. They also demanded that no genetic engineering should be allowed on medicinal herbs and that medicinal plants identified under the National Medicinal Plants Board must be declared as cultural and medicinal heritage of India. Further, the wholesome nutritional value of GM foods (synergy between phyto-molecules) is not being assessed and is highly questionable.
“The Supreme Court’s appointee to the GEAC Dr Pushpa Bhargava has expressed serious reservations about the safety of the GMOs allowed for deliberate release so far and has questioned the adequacy and scientificity of the regulatory regime in India. We need to follow his strong recommendation of an immediate moratorium in this matter”, added Dr R N Dutta. He felt t hat the government is showing internal contradiction by promoting alternative medicinal systems on the one hand (AYUSH etc.) and completely jeopardizing them by the current pro-GM stand.
The medical experts also demanded that emerging animal and human health issues in the Bt Cotton cultivation belts should be systematically and scientifically undertaken rather than rubbished by the regulators.
These experts from “Doctors for Food & Bio-Safety” network expressed hope that the Union Health Minister would take a pro-active stand on the issue of GM foods as he had in the case of other issues like smoking, alcohol etc. They also felt that given that Dr Ramadoss’s party PMK has taken a stand against GM crops, that the Minister will look into the food safety issues with GM crops urgently and stop them from coming into the country.