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How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk

The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 
Rodrigues believes, hybrid Bt cotton, the only commercialised GM crop in India since 2002, has failed conclusively. Based on this failure and the evidence of clear harm of GMOs to human and animal health, the Union of India nevertheless attempted to repeat the abject failure of Bt cotton in hybrid Bt brinjal, which did not succeed, she argued. 
According to her, the current proposal to commercialise hybrid herbicide-tolerant (HT) Mustard DMH 11 (developer,  Prof D Pental, Delhi University’s South Campus) will destroy not just Indian mustard agriculture, but citizens’ health. 
Claiming to be a passionate advocate of sustainable agriculture, she has prepared a note  on key points on her two decades long struggle challenging the introduction of GMOs in the country.

Text:

Conflict of Interest: There is a serious and proven conflict of interest among our regulators, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture along with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which promote GMOs in Indian agriculture. This evidence reflects the findings of the TEC Report (Technical Expert Committee) appointed by the SC in 2012 and two Parliamentary Standing Committees of 2012 and 2017.
Concerns about GMOs: GMOs create organisms in ways that have never existed in 3.8 billion years of evolution and produce ‘unintended effects’ that are not immediately apparent. They are laboratory techniques not used in traditional breeding and selection, posing potential risks to human health and the environment. GMO contamination of the natural environment is of outstanding concern, as recognized by the Convention on Biodiversity. India is a hotspot of diversity including a secondary centre of origin of rape-seed mustard with over 9000 accessions in our gene bank. With a commercialised GM crop, contamination is certain. The precautionary principle must apply, and is read into the Constitution.
Failure of Hybrid Bt Cotton:
India is the only country in the world to have introduced the Bt gene into hybrid Bt Cotton. The reason? Hybrids are a ‘value-capture mechanism’ for the Developers. The technology disallows seed-saving by millions of small farmers. Indian farmers may have paid an additional Rs 14,000 crores for Bt cotton seeds/traits during 2002-18. Prof. Andrew Gutierrez (Berkeley, California) is among the world’s leading entomologists and cotton scientists. He provided the ecological explanation of why hybrid Bt cotton must be an abject failure. 
Most hybrid cottons are long season (180-200-day duration) that link- in with the life-cycle of the pest, leading to crop failures. Hybrids also require more water through stable irrigated conditions, and more fertiliser. Some 90% of current Bt cotton hybrids appear susceptible to sap-sucking insects, leaf-curl virus and leaf reddening, adding to input costs and loss of yield. Most telling is that India produces only 3.3 million tonnes from its irrigated area of 4.9 million hectares compared to 6.96 million tonnes from an equivalent area in China. 
Hybrid Bt cotton in India has resulted in a yield plateau, high production costs and low productivity leading to farmer distress and suicides. It has stymied the development of economically viable high-density short-season (HD-SS) Non-Bt high-yielding straight-line varieties. The failure of hybrid Bt cotton is an abject lesson for GMO implementation in other crops. 
Disaster in the making: GM Hybrid HT Mustard DMH 11 is a pesticidal crop (to kill weeds). The self-assessed biosafety dossier of the Developer (Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants) has never been made public. Rodrigues presents evidence of a deeply flawed regulatory process, intentional obfuscation of facts including yield data, and real environmental and health risks associated with the use of Bayer's herbicide glufosinate ammonium, which according to Bayer itself is a neurotoxin.  The undeniable evidence against the commercialisation of Hybrid mustard HT DMH 11 forced the Respondents (Union of India), in their formal reply affidavit in the SC,  to admit that HT hybrid Mustard did not out-yield non-GMO hybrids. 
The TEC recommend a double bar on GM Mustard — for being an HT crop and also in a centre of mustard diversification and/or origin. 
Call for Moratorium: It is hoped that our government will recognise the dangers of GMOs, bar HT crops, including GM mustard, and impose a moratorium on all Bt crops. 

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