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GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told

Counterview Desk 

In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives, backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard.
Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations.
The representation comes even as a penal of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than a week’s time the pollen from GM mustard will “start contaminating” non-GM mustard fields with transgenes, including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits.
Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “We can list at least five areas where Government of India is actively providing incorrect information to the Supreme Court of India.
Another expert, Dr Dhiraj Singh, former director of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research's (ICAR’s) Directorate of Rapeseed Mustard Research (DRMR) revealed, “India’s production of rapeseed-mustard has increased by around 38% in the past decade. We are self-sufficient when it comes to mustard oil demand and supply, even as only 15% of India’s edible oil consumption is from mustard.”
“In such a context”, he asked, “Where is the need for GM mustard? Why is the Supreme Court being told that we need this option, which is risky and irreversible? Seed production of a hazardous GMO which has not even been shown to yield better is objectionable”.

Text:

We wish to convey our strong objection and deep disappointment over the decision of the GEAC to approve the environmental release of GM HT Mustard, hybrid DHM-11 and its parental lines. Permission letter as well as media reports indicate that these parental lines will be distributed to private and public sector researchers to develop other hybrids.
We vehemently oppose this move (as we did in the past). This genetically modified / herbicide tolerant Mustard will not bring any economic benefits to the farmers and will further contaminate our rich heritage of diversity of mustard and will pollute soil and environment. It will take away the livelihood opportunities of mustard farmers, organic farmers and beekeepers. The farmers are already in distress! This HT Mustard will further coerce them towards the usage of a deadly herbicide (Glufosinate) which will only benefit large Agro-chemical corporations like Bayer, the producer of this herbicide. Your Ministry’s regulators have made various ‘claims’ in favour of the release of DHM-11, all of which lack logic or science.

Claim around yield increases

It has been exposed several years ago by independent scientists that the claims around yield increases through GM HT mustard are hollow and unfounded. Data has been rigged and manipulated, and ICAR protocols have been severely compromised. It is unscientific that the Government of India and its regulators are parroting the false claims of the crop developers, and it is outright irresponsible. In fact, yields are going to decline if this GM mustard is approved - that is because this GM mustard is a low-yielder compared to other non-GM varieties and hybrids in the market; it is because the sterility trait is likely to spread given that farmers use farm-saved seed even from hybrids in crops like mustard; it is also because of losses to non-GM mustard farmers from herbicide drift related damages.

Claim of ‘Swadeshi’

To begin with, the claim that GM Mustard is Swadeshi and has been developed in India is completely untrue. We would like to bring to your kind notice that in 2002, Proagro Seed Company (Bayer’s subsidiary), applied for commercial approval for a similar construct that Prof. Pental and his team are now promoting as HT Mustard DMH 11. Bayer’s application at that point of time was turned down because the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) said that their field trials did not give evidence of superior yield. The bar-barstar-barnase gene is a patented technology of Bayer Crop Science. This has been deliberately concealed from the people of India. The story of Bikaneri Bt cotton pushed in the name of indigenous Bt cotton technology in India, and its subsequent withdrawal from the market by none other than the
Government of India’s research bodies is a scandalous story already witnessed by us. The “Swadeshi” bogey of GM mustard will not be believed by farmers of the country and rightly so. Moreover, a poison is a poison, whether Swadeshi or Videshi.

Claims of biosafety tests

Independent experts who have looked into the biosafety data submitted by the crop developer in Delhi University have clearly pointed out that while GM mustard has not even been tested rigorously and adequately, and has never been tested as a herbicide tolerant crop, in the tests that were indeed taken up in a limited fashion, the lack of safety of GM mustard to the environment and human health was clearly captured. There are also numerous other implications including on Indian Systems of Medicine. What is also important to note is that glufosinate is a dangerous herbicide, like glyphosate. It is irresponsible for the regulatory body to recommend environmental release, and then ask for testing to be done post-environmental release, knowing fully well that GM technology is a living technology, irreversible and uncontrollable.

Claims of expected savings in foreign exchange

While it is being claimed that GM mustard approval will bring down the edible oil import bill of India, what is not being stated is that India is nearly self-sufficient when it comes to mustard demand and supply. It needs to be noted that edible oil consumption in India is region-specific and socio-cultural. Just because mustard production is increased does not mean that people in South India will start consuming mustard oil, for instance.
If we allow GMOs in our edible food crops, we would lose out on exports to European nations, where GM is banned
India is exporting nearly 5 lakh crores of food products to the rest of the world. As our country has not allowed GM in food crops, non-GM tag on our exports helps us in fetching orders from European nations, where GM is banned. If we allow GMOs in our edible food crops, we would lose out on exports to these countries. The threat to trade security is in fact manifold - export of mustard oil and oilseed cake once GM crop cultivation starts, export of organic produce where mustard oilcake is used widely for soil amendments and where organic certification itself will be cut off, and export of honey from India will all be jeopardized with this unwise move by the Government of India.

Impact on honeybees, beekeeping and honey exports

Mustard is a very important Rabi crop, not just for our farmers but also to lakhs of Beekeepers in India. These honey producers rely majorly upon Mustard as a livelihood. The yield of this crop also benefits from the pollination by the honey bees. Bee keeping with mustard creates a winwin situation by increasing yields of mustard by about 20-25%, even as it supports honey production and additional income for the beekeeper. This GM mustard has potential adverse impacts on honey bees. Studies (sponsored by the GM seed industry at that!) from elsewhere indicate this. This will impact crop production in general and also honey production. GM mustard could therefore result in adverse impacts on honeybees, lower honey production, contaminated honey and export rejections too. The impacts will be from transgenic pollen contamination as well as herbicide residues in honey.

Impact on existing certified organic farmers

We farmers pride ourselves in bringing diversity to our crops and practice sustainable agriculture to keep the purity of our seeds and cultivars. GM crops like DHM-11 will contaminate neighbouring crops by outcrossing! How will we ensure the purity of our seeds and crops and protect organic certification? GM Mustard is herbicide tolerant, which will push farmers towards the use of greater amounts of deadly chemicals. Pesticide drift is bound to contaminate non-GMO and organic mustard fields. This is in outright contradiction to the Prime Minister’s call for natural and organic farming to be adopted by more and more farmers.

GM technology is unproven, random and heavily dependent on agro-chemicals

GM crops are an unproven technology, which has not stood the test of scientific rigor. They are an unnecessary addition of pressure into a system that is already squeezing the farmer dry, adding to the riskiness in farming, that too in the age of climate change crisis. GM crops clearly are a relinquishment of our sovereignty to corporate interests that will threaten our food supply and our ability to control our own food chain. In short, the case for GM crops is weak, though the vested interests are strong.
On the one hand, India is proudly asking her farmers to adopt natural / sustainable farming, and on the other hand, you are forcing this technology on us which goes totally against all the principles of natural farming!
Mustard to us is not just a ‘variety’, it is a part of our culture. It is celebrated in folk songs and popular culture too. India is a Center for Diversity for mustard and several official committees have time and time again recommended against transgenic technologies in crops for which we are the Centre of Origin or Centre of Diversity.
The contamination of our food supply, soil and the environment by this GMO is something we farmers are not willing to accept. This is a monster which, once released, cannot be put back to sleep.
We strongly oppose this, and urge you to take these points into consideration, to stop and reject the approval of the GM Mustard and all other GM field trials. In doing so you avoid the irreparable damage that GMOs will cause to our diversity, soil, food and the environment. If the Government of India does not put the interests of ordinary citizens like us in policy-making around such hazardous technologies, we will be forced to step up our struggles to protect our interests.
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