‘GM mustard neither Swadeshi nor safe’
SUBHASHIS MITTRA - Wide Angle
The permission for environmental release of genetically modified mustard has not gone down well with green experts. In fact, Sangh Parivar too has opposed the move, joining the objections against the approval given by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee under the Union Environment Ministry.
They fear that the commercial cultivation of GM mustard could have an adverse impact on human health and food security.
Surprisingly, the Sangh Parivar too has opposed the move, claiming it is “neither Swadeshi, nor safe”. RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has also urged the government to take cognizance of the committee’s action when it knows there is so much opposition to GM mustard introduction.
The GEAC, the country's regulator for genetically modified organisms, recommended the environmental release of mustard hybrid DMH-11 for its seed production and testing as per existing ICAR guidelines and other extant rules/regulations before commercial release.
The transgenic mustard hybrid DMH-11 has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) at Delhi University. The government has so far approved (in 2002) only one GM crop, Bt cotton, for commercial cultivation.
Those supporting commercial cultivation of GM crops say its benefits include greater food security due to increased yields, reduced costs for food production, reduced need for pesticides and resistance to pests and disease.
Kavitha Kuruganti, the founder of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, said: "The claim that GM mustard will increase yield is not supported by the data submitted by the crop developers to the regulator."
Kuruganti, who is a member of the Coalition for GM-free India, said Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav had earlier voiced his views against GM crops. "It is the regulator which has given a green signal. The minister should not approve it," she said.
In a statement, the Coalition for a GM-Free India said: "This compromises biosafety in serious and objectionable ways, and we ask the government not to move forward in allowing this dangerous herbicide tolerant food crop in India."
The coalition had recently written to Yadav that GM mustard uses the pretext of creating hybrid technology in a plant like mustard but in effect is a herbicide tolerant crop. The entire biosafety assessment of GM mustard so far has not taken this fact into account.
Also ignored in the regulatory tests is the fact that a deadly herbicide like glufosinate will be used along with this GMO (there is adequate evidence of adverse impacts of this herbicide on health and environment for this to have raised warning bells for our regulators; this includes the emergence of 'superweeds').
GM mustard is a herbicide tolerant and toxic hybrid that will dramatically increase the presence of toxic chemicals in our food and soil and hence, impact health, said Rohin Kynar, Senior Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India.
SJM convenor Ashwani Mahajan said, “GM mustard is neither Swadeshi nor safe. It is neither good for health nor for the environment. It is herbicide tolerant mustard and so there will be greater use of herbicides which have been proven to be carcinogenic. How can the GEAC give such an approval when it is proven that glyphosate is carcinogenic?”
The SJM has been steadfast in its opposition to GM mustard. It had similarly issued statements in 2017 and even written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to withdraw the permission given in “undue haste” to cultivate GM mustard crop, insisting that it is “unscientific, toxic and anti-biodiversity”.
“The GEAC has been making such recommendations since 2016. They had first recommended commercial release of GM mustard. Earlier also, during this government, field trial approvals were given by this committee for some other GM crops. They were not approved by the ministry. The government must not approve this also. We have opposed it earlier and we continue to oppose it. But the government must take note of GEAC actions as to why it comes up with such approvals when there is so much opposition to GM mustard for legitimate reasons,” Mahajan added.
RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) too opposed the biotech regulator GEAC's recommendation for the environmental release of genetically modified (GM) mustard and asked how the regulator took a decision without relying on any studies conducted in India. The environment minister should immediately direct GEAC to withdraw its recommendation, it said in a statement.
But, the president of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences Dr T Mohapatra welcomed the government’s decision saying the GM mustard is likely to play an important role in driving the country towards self-sufficiency in edible oil production.
“This indigenously designed GM technology will help develop more diverse heterotic hybrids to enhance edible oil production and reduce import,” he said, adding the decision will also encourage more research an innovation for the use of modern science to minimize environmental footprints of agriculture along with enhanced climate resilience and higher nutrient density in different crops.
The president of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences Dr T Mohapatra, too, has welcomed the government’s decision saying the GM mustard is likely to play an important role in driving the country towards self-sufficiency in edible oil production.
Another BT Cotton in the making?