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India asks European Commission to back GM-rice claims with proof

Commerce Ministry asserts rice flour was processed in Europe and the EU itself is unsure of ‘exact source of contaminant’

The Centre has identified a Maharashtra-based exporter as the source of the broken rice flagged in Europe as contaminated with genetic modifications (GM) earlier this year, the Commerce Ministry said on Wednesday.

It added that the 500-tonne consignment was given a non-GMO certification by an independent agency before it was shipped to France.

Also read | M.S. Swaminathan calls GM crops a failure; Centre’s adviser faults paper

While reiterating that GM rice is not grown commercially in India, the Ministry has asked genetic and rice experts to investigate, including the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI).

‘Share details’

IARI Director A.K. Singh told The Hindu that the European Commission must share details of specific genetic markers found in the consignment, so that it could be tracked to ascertain whether there were any linkages to any of the approved field trials of GM rice in India.

The European Commission’s contamination alert had prompted the recall of tonnes of confectionery items and baked goods throughout Europe this summer, and provoked concerns that India’s ₹65,000 crore worth of annual rice exports could be hurt by the allegations, as The Hindu reported on Wednesday.

“The GMO contamination is suspected to have been found in the rice flour which was processed in the EU, and they themselves are not sure of the exact source of the contaminant. The broken white rice exported from India, which is allegedly one of the possibilities, has passed through many hands before reaching the actual processors in the EU,” said a Commerce Ministry statement.

Ministry spokesperson D.J. Narain told The Hindu that the exporter had been identified as wholesale trader Omprakash Shivprakash of Akola in Maharashtra, who said the exported rice was non-GM.

The Ministry suggested that any cross contamination could have taken place while the broken rice was being processed into final products in Europe.

“The experts in India, both from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee [GEAC] and agricultural experts from the IARI and other rice experts are, however, investigating the matter,” it added.

“There is hardly any possibility of cross contamination even during inland transit as the final sample was drawn at the port of loading by an independent inspection agency having international recognition which, after due testing and verification, issued a Non-GMO certificate before shipment,” said Mr. Narain, adding that the certificate was issued by Bureau Veritas (India) Private Limited.

“The European Commission should first tell us which GM event has been identified. All these GM events can be identified by what genes they carry, what markers they carry. If that information is available, then one could check whether those events have ever been even experimented by any laboratory in India,” said Dr. Singh. “Some labs are working on GM rice development, including in Delhi University and in the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. But those are all with the approval of the biosafety committee and following the complete containment protocol in accordance with the biosafety guidelines, within the premises of the research institutions. There is no question of any environmental release,” he added.

Dr. Singh pointed out that unless the European authorities communicate what specific transgene has been detected, “it will be premature to make any comment that this is a contamination coming from India.”

He recommended that a complete list of GM trials approved by the GEAC be compared with the information from Europe. If the detected contaminant had never been approved for trial in India, it would be clear the source was not from India, said Dr. Singh.

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