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Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, April 24, 2011
Seven of the 16 members expert panel to examine new safety standards for BT Brinial, on which moratorium was imposed in February 2010, had a role to play in giving approval to India's first genetically modified food crop BT Brinjal. The panel has national advisory council member Madhav Gadgil, PM Bhargava, an independent GM expert,G Padmanabhan, Emeritus professor at Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, and Bala Prasad, chief executive officer of National Medicinal Plants Board as members.

MS Swaminathan of Swaminathan Foundation and Raghavendra Gadagkar of Indian Institute of Sciences have declined to be members of the expert panel. Swaminathan Foundation has developed a GM rice variety.  

However, seven other members of the panel have either been part of the Genetically Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India's GM regulator, or had been with institutes involved in developing BT Brinjal.

One such member Keshav R Kranthi, director of Central Institute for Cotton Research of Nagpur was pulled up at the last GEAC meeting for allowing unauthorised trail of a cotton variety with a new BT Cotton variety. There have been reports that institutes, headed by another member, had got funds from GM companies.  

"It is a case of direct conflict of interest," said Kavita Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture. "They have earlier termed BT Brinjal safe and now they will be analysing new safety procedures for the GM food crop".

The clear terms of reference of the expert panel is to examine new safety standards for BT Brinjal, on which environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium. The first meeting of the expert panel is slated for April 27. Some national and international literature has been generated on the safety of GM foods and recently Indian Science Academy's committee has deliberated on future of GM food crops in India.

The committee had recommended lifting of moratorium on BT Brinjal which was debunked after civil society members pointed out that some parts of the reports were lifted from the literature generated by GM food production companies.