The national convention of the Kisan Ekta, representing the interests of 400 million farmers, have taken a strong stand against Genetically Modified (GM) mustard which the government seems determined to introduce. Other farmer organisations are also determined to fight the introduction of GM mustard tooth and nail.
Agricultural expert Devender Sharma, representing their viewpoint, said, “India’s unfortunate tryst with GM crops is today clearly visible amongst our Bt cotton farming brothers and sisters in Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In the last two years, their Bt Cotton farms were destroyed by the same bollworm that Monsanto’s Bt Cotton technology was supposed to destroy, and by other pests like whitefly. This much-hyped technology has failed in such a short time, Monsanto and its subsidiaries and franchises have made crores of profit, while lakhs of our farmers have been forced to commit suicide or else are plunged into debt.’’
Ekta members also pointed out that the GM mustard is less productive than at least five different varieties of hybrid mustard selling in the Indian market, and yet the government is falsely claiming that GM mustard productivity will be high.
Kavitha Kuruganti, convener, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (Asha), has also repeatedly questioned the the entire biosafety assessment of this GM mustard which remains shrouded in secrecy, despite several organisations making repeated efforts to have the information placed in the public domain.
Ekta and Asha members question why the safety data put out by Genetic Engineering A Committee (GEAC) was done only after the Central Information Commission (CIC) on 12 August rebuked the environment ministry for not releasing the same, saying “any attempt to postpone or delay the disclosure will block the public discussion” on GM mustard.
In April, too, the CIC had pulled up the environment ministry over a lack of transparency in trials of GM crops and directed it to make these public. Rajesh Krishnan, convener of the coalition, said: “Delhi University’s GM mustard is essentially a backdoor entry for herbicide-tolerant crops into India, in the guise of a public sector GM crop. A similar attempt had been made way back in 2002 and had been rejected.”
Krishnan is of the view that the purported genetic modification for male sterility is being done in order to ease seed production by the seed sellers.
What is alarming is that the GM mustard is coming up for consideration at a time when there is an increasing body of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops and herbicides. Even the WHO has cautioned against them.
The BJP in its 2014 election manifesto had said GM crops will not be introduced without proper testing. But GM crops have become central in the efforts of the NDA regime to push for investment in the field of biotechnology. That is why the government is willing to go against the stand of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Activists point out that in June this year the GEAC had placed in the public domain a safety assessment report prepared by a subcommittee which had found the GM mustard technology “safe for food/feed and environment”. They have done so without providing full data on just how the trials were conducted.
The GEAC will take a final decision on allowing commercialisation after it receives comments from the general public and stakeholders on the safety assessment report. The comments must reach GEAC by 5 October.
Several politicians have also entered into this slugfest. JD (U) Lok Sabha member Kaushalendra Kumar has written to Minister of Environment Anil Madhav Dave questioning the methodology used to develop GM mustard developed at Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants. Kumar has urged the Minister of Environment not to give his approval for the commercial release of this product.
He said that GM mustard’s developers have been silent about the fact that it has been engineered to be herbicide tolerant and stated that the full bio-safety data has not been put out in the public domain for feedback.
Echoing the AAP standpoint, Minister of Water Resources Kapil Mishra has also criticized the central government for pushing through GM mustard without adequate tests.
“The government should not hurry with GM technology, especially when it is being introduced in a food crop. In case of GM mustard, no proper procedures were followed. Only 30 days have been given for public opinion, but how are our farmers supposed to log on to the net. The public must be given at least 90 days for feedback. We also demand full disclosure of the safety data regarding GM mustard,” Mishra said.