Activists, under the banner of The Coalition for a GM-Free India, have raised objections to the constitution of the panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Foods under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
The FSSAI has recently notified a 11-member panel - Genetically Modified Organisms and Foods headed by Dr SR Rao.
In a statement released on Friday, GM-Free India said that some of the panel members are GM crop/fish developers themselves and it appears to be a promotional body for GMO and Foods; on the contrary such a panel is supposed to have food safety as its main mandate.
The Coalition for a GM-Free India is a loose, informal network of scores of organisations and individuals from across India, campaigning and advocating to keep India GM-free.
"We find that the panel is populated with agricultural sciences experts including plant and fish breeders with biotechnology as their specialisation. Some of the panel members are GM crop/fish developers themselves," the activists alleged.
In their statement, activists alleged that having Dr SR Rao as the chairperson of this panel will turn the body into a promotional body for GMOs and GM foods.
"He is not qualified to fulfill the mandate of this panel and it is not clear why a GM crop promoter, and an agriculture scientist [with specialisation in plant pathology] is heading a food safety panel," the statement said.
Activists pointed out that Dr Rao is a member of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board which comes as a direct conflict of interest with the role assigned in this panel.
The coalition has said that the FSSAI should understand GM crop development science is not the same as safety science.
"We demand that the panel be scrapped and re-constituted, especially now that applications are being sent from GEAC [Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee] to FSSAI for various GM foods," a coalition statement said.
"We demand from the FSSAI an explanation to the citizens of India on what are the terms of reference of this panel on GMOs and Foods, how and why were these particular experts chosen [whose expertise is not the question being asked here, but about the relevance of that expertise in this panel], and how a citizen is supposed to be assured about the safety of food from the risks of GMOs and transgenic foods," the statement added.
"We demand that a re-constitution take place with independent food/health safety experts including genetic toxicologists, nutrition scientists, epidemiologists, other public health experts, experts from Indian Systems of Medicine (ISM) since food constitutes an important part of these systems," the coalition said.