November 15, 2015

AIKS Raises Concern over GM Mustard

THE All India Kisan Sabha, in a statement issued on November 6 notes with concern the reports that an application for approval for commercialisation of GM Mustard has been moved with the apex regulatory body GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) in the ministry of environment, forests & climate change. AIKS demands that the government come clear on the facts of the case in a transparent manner. Bio-safety and bio-diversity should not be compromised in any manner. Hence it is necessary that stringent tests are resorted to and an independent body should make an assessment.  All the information regarding the safety tests of the GM Mustard must be put in the public domain without which no approval should be granted.

The government seems to have learnt no lessons from the controversial decision to allow commercialisation of Bt Brinjal which was followed by widespread protests and eventually in an indefinite moratorium being placed on it since 2010. A specific issue which came up then was that it was a food crop and all concerns need to be addressed in a fool-proof manner before its introduction. The very fact that the moratorium could not be vacated is also an indicator that stringent tests could not be conducted nor could a fool-proof mechanism for conducting such tests be created. Now without putting in place any such mechanism for stringent tests GM Mustard, developed by Delhi University, called Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11 (DMH11) is being considered for approval. Mustard has a significant use in Indian cuisine across the length and breadth of the country and unless fears of potentially adverse consequences to the environment, animals and human beings are dispelled, it should not be introduced.

The non-transparent nature of bringing in GM Mustard for approval must be seen in the context of the Bt Cotton experience. It must cover the periodic introduction of different hybrids to counter bollworm resistant to the transgenic crop, the recent infestation of white-fly leading to near total destruction of Bt Cotton across Punjab and Haryana and total failure of the Bt Cotton to tackle such pests. It must also look into the reasons for the high rates of suicide by farmers in the cotton belt. There is a need to revisit and review the entire experience of Bt Cotton before going into introduction of any other crop.

What is the sudden urgency for GM Mustard is a question that needs to be addressed. Has there been any demand from farmers for transfer of such technology to their fields? Have all avenues including cost effective agro-ecological approaches, better agronomic practices including production enhancing techniques been exhausted? The reality is that there are many non-GM hybrids and high yielding varieties of mustard available in the market. Better agronomic practices like the system of mustard intensification combining agro-ecological approaches have shown enhanced yields on farmers’ fields greater than the claimed yields of GM Mustard under controlled conditions. Then why the undue haste to introduce GM Mustard?  The catch lies in the fact that male sterility has been induced in one of the parental lines of GM Mustard and it comes with herbicide tolerant trait. Clearly the objective is to suit the requirements of seed breeders. Given that it is not yield enhancing, any claim that is in the interests of farmers is also untenable. Once introduced it will open the floodgates for seed monopolies to profiteer and agro-chemical industry will also be able to rake in huge profits by selling herbicides. It would then lead to the natural question if public sector GM Mustard and herbicide tolerant traits were okay why not other GM crops including by private sector, including other food crops, why not round-up ready and other herbicide tolerant hybrids and so on.

The GEAC has also repeatedly refused to provide data of bio-safety tests despite RTI applications to that effect and all is being done under a shroud of secrecy. This is despite earlier Supreme Court order in 2008 calling for putting bio-safety data in the public domain for scrutiny and the Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court in 2013 raising strong questions about the GEAC conclusions on safety of GM crops. The fact that most state governments have taken a position against field trials of GM crops also cannot be ignored given the fact that the threat of contamination remains. Non-compliance with existing orders of the Supreme Court as well as Central Information Commission and refusal to undertake public consultations like in the case of Bt Brinjal all point to complicity of the GEAC for introduction of these crops and the ministry of environment, forests and climate change has to come clear on this important matter.

AIKS will remain vigilant and will resist any attempts to impose GM Mustard without addressing concerns about bio-safety and putting such data in the public domain.