The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, a Central regulator, is likely to take a final decision on Friday on whether to allow commercial cultivation of genetically-engineered mustard.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, a Central regulator, is likely to take a final decision on Friday on whether to allow commercial cultivation of genetically-engineered mustard. However, the results of the biosafety tests, which investigate the suitability for consumption and on which the committee will base its decision, have still not been made public.
Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist heading a sarson satyagraha against GM mustard, said no proper biosafety tests were conducted. “Most field trials look at agronomic data, not the health impact. Which is why GEAC is being secretive about biosafety data and has not put it on the website in accordance to an order of the Supreme Court,” she claimed.
Ms Shiva pointed out that the health impact of GM mustard will include presence of herbicide residues in food as the GM mustard is herbicide resistant, and will allow spraying of herbicide on the mustard. The health impact of herbicides includes cancer, neurological problems and allergies. Further, the sterility gene, artificially introduced in the GM mustard, can move to humans through horizontal gene transfer. Its use can also lead to antibiotic resistance also the creation of new virulent viruses, Ms Shiva claimed.
She also negated the clai-ms of 20-30 per cent increa-se in yield through GM mustard. “The yield can be achieved through non-GM hybrids. We grow mustard with wheat or chana. The total output of biodiversity is always more than that of a monoculture,” she said. So far, only GM cotton is allowed to be commercially cultivated in India. No GM food crops have been allowed commercial cultivation in India. However Dr Deepak Pental, who has headed the development of the GM mustard at Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, shared that according to the results, GM mustard is safe for consumption. “All tests prescribed by the government, which are according to internationally-set guidelines, have been conducted,” he said, adding, “The biosafety results have already been submitted to the GEAC, it is up to the government whether it wants to release the data.”
He said that canola oil being consumed for almost 30 years is obtained from a hybrid seed variety, and there have been no ill effects of this consumption.
Stressing on the rising demand of a growing population, Dr Pental said that we are heading for a disaster in agricultural productivity. “There are only two ways in which crops can be protected — change genetics or protect using chemicals,” he said.
Meanwhile, an infuriated Mohini Mohan Mishra, national secretary of the non-political organisation of farmers, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, said that they are completely opposed to the introduction of GM mustard. “Who knows what impact this mustard will have on health They are playing with people’s lives. There is no information of the testing that they say has been done,” he said.
“We are warning the government. If it allows GM mustard to be cultivated, it will have to face the wrath of the farmers,” Mr Mishra said.
Mr Mishra added the threat to biodiversity posed by GM mustard, which was also echoed by Ms Shiva. “All indigenous varieties will be lost. This is a game being played by the big multinationals who want to control all the seeds in the world,” he said. Like in the case of Bt Cotton, the reliance on these companies will be never-ending as GM mustard seed must be bought for each planting cycle and cannot be reused after harvest, he said.
The Bhartiya Kisan Sangh is only one of the 50 farmers’ organisations that are opposed to GM mustard. The farmers’ organisations are demanding that the data of these tests be put in the public domain and are questioning the secrecy. The other farmers’ organisations are Asha, Gujarat’s Jatan and Khedut Samaj, Punjab’s Kheti Virasat, All-India Kisan Sabha, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Association, Telangana Rythu Sangham and Shetkari Sangathana, among others.
Further a petition in the Supreme Court, which will be heard after two weeks, has sought action against the chairman of the GEAC for contempt of court for violating its restraining order against both large- and small-scale field trials as a prelude to commercial release.
There has also been political opposition to the use of GM mustard — Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar opposed it in a letter to the Centre, former health minister A. Ramadoss has opposed it as have officials and ministers from states such as Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The BJP, in its manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha elections, had vowed not to allow GM food crops cultivation without full scientific assessment. On the other hand, Maharashtra, the Union Territory of Delhi had okayed field trials of GM mustard while Karnataka had agreed to confined field trials in universities. Punjab, which had initially allowed field trials, decided not to conduct further trials of GM mustard following concerns from the civil society.