At a time when the issue of GM Mustard has become a topic of discussion in the wake of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which functions under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, giving a nod to seed production before the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) mustard, the Organiser on November 12 organised a brainstorming session, which saw the participation of scientists, farmer leaders, journalists and different stakeholders. The churning brought to the fore several important issues which are of serious nature.
“Bayer is not a Swadeshi company. How can a product patented in their name be termed as Swadeshi. The fact that Bayer owns the patent of the genes used in Prof Deepak Pental’s mustard has been deliberately concealed from the people of India”
— Dr Ashwani Mahajan Co-Coordinator, SJM
Soon after the approval, farmers across the country opposed the move on various grounds, including the health impact. According to GM Mustard critics, it will have an adverse impact on the agricultural system of the country. Here, it is worth mentioning that mustard is cultivated by around six million farmers in around seven million hectares across Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Besides, India faces a severe shortage of edible oils. In a letter to the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), accused the GEAC of functioning in an ‘irresponsible fashion’ and termed its claim made in support of GM Mustard as ‘completely untrue, unsubstantiated and wrongly projected.’
The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences welcome this as a highly progressive step towards an Atmanirbhar Bharat. The GM technology for hybrid seed production developed by the University of Delhi will play an important role in reducing the edible oil import burden
Expressing his concern over the new GM Mustard, Dr Ashwani Mahajan, Co-Coordinator of SJM, dismissed the claim that GM Mustard is a Swadeshi product. According to Dr Mahajan, hybridisation of GM mustard is achieved by means of two genes barnase and barstar, derived from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. He said the bar-barstar-barnase gene is a patented technology of Bayer Crop Science. “Bayer is not a Swadeshi company. How can a product patented in their name be termed as Swadeshi. The fact that Bayer owns the patent of the genes used in Prof Deepak Pental’s mustard has been deliberately concealed from the people of India,” he added.
“We are part of the food web. Good farming regenerates the Earth. The problem is industrial food systems & factory farming. The solution is ecological agriculture & food systems. Lab food is hyper industrialisation of food, it deepens the crisis”
— Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist
Describing GM Mustard as dangerous,Dr Mahajan said it should never be allowed to be sown. “The GEAC is working irresponsibly. And the claims made in support of GM Mustard are completely untrue, unverifiable and incorrect.” SJM has always been opposing the introduction of dangerous and unwanted GM mustard through the back route. GEAC has not properly researched this topic. These regulators have joined hands with the developers of GM crops and they are repeatedly flouting the rules which is a serious issue. Foreign pressure has been coming for the adoption of GM crops for the past several years. Dr Mahajan further added that by sowing GM seeds, the fertility of the land decreases and the land becomes infertile and does not yield enough production. SJM and Bharatiya Kisan Sangathan are opposing GM seeds. He further said that India exports food worth $50 billion, which are mostly non-GM food crops. Most of the countries in the world are in favour of non-GM food crops.
Timeline of GM Debate
2002: GM Mustard DMH – 11 was developed using genetic material isolated from non-pathogenic soil bacteria.
2004: The chairman of the Task Force in Agricultural Biotechnology advised against commercialisation of herbicide-resistant crops as they destroy the need for manual weeding, a job undertaken by many rural
women in India.
2010: Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) approved BT Brinjal but the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) did not allow its commercialisation.
2015: University of Delhi South Campus submitted an application to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee requesting permission for environmental release of DMH – 11.
2017: A Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Environment and Forests chaired by Congress member Renuka Choudhury studied “cultivation of genetically modified food crops-prospects and effects and studied that unless the impact of GM food crops was thoroughly examined for bio-safety and socio-economic desirability with retrieval and accountability regime in place, no GM crop should be introduced in the country.”
2017: The green signal for GM mustard was given by the Union Government in May 2017 after trials in Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi. However, it remained pending for approval from the environment ministry.
Oct. 18, 2022: GEAC recommended the environmental release of the DMH-11 seed for trials, demonstrations and seed productions under the supervision of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in a meeting .
Nov. 3, 2022: The Supreme Court ordered status quo on the Government move to allow cultivation of GM mustard in the country, barring its planting until the top court completes hearing a plea opposing the decision.
Nov. 17, 2022: The Centre has told the Supreme Court that GM mustard will contribute to India’s self-sustenance with respect to production of edible oil and it will go a long way in realising the vision of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’.
Nov 17, 2022: The court had told the Centre on November 3 not to allow the planting of GM mustard until the next hearing. The Centre had told the court it needed time to put the latest facts on record.
Dr Mahajan also alleged that people like Prof Deepak Pental, are supporting GM mustard for their own interest.
Supporting the argument of Dr Mahajan, renowned environmental activist Vandana Shiva said that she has been working on the issue of GM since 1987. “This is a very wrong policy of the Government. Fake Food is an extension of the dominant food system & will extend the destructive patterns of high entropy, monocultures for feedstock, violation of our gut microbiome, accelerating destruction of the planet’s health & ours,” she added. She further said that we have learned from indigenous food systems with 80 per cent biodiversity. Food is not a computer system that can be rebooted. The food web is the web of life. The ecomodernists continue the Baconian anthropocentric arrogance of trying to engineer, manipulate, control living systems, first as GMO seeds, now as GMO synthetic lab food.
“Bees get most of their food from the mustard plant. In such a situation, bees will not be able to get their food from GM Mustard. Due to this the bees will die or many types of serious diseases can also spread in the country” — Prof OP Chaudhary, Principal Scientist, CCS Haryana Agri University
This is the model that is intentionally attempting to extinct small farmers, who produce 80 per cent of the food that we eat. The ‘capacity to skill’ for WEF, Gates, and Rockefeller is the ‘capacity to kill’. All innovations in industrial agriculture have been technologies that kill. Intensified systems have a huge ecological footprint.
Sharing his thoughts, senior journalist Harvir Singh said, “There are many positive and negative aspects to this issue. Highbreed increases production. There has been a debate on this issue for the last many years. We have been increasing the production of mustard oil for the last many days. Demand is increasing a lot in our country but production is not happening in that proportion. Earlier we did not have soya oil, now people are using it too.” Endorsing SJM views, Yudhvir Singh, General Secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said, “It all started after Bt Cotton. First GM testing was done on Bt cotton and then it was implemented. Traditional seeds were preserved here for hundreds of years. Now these Chemicals are being promoted in the seeds. Earlier, there used to be 1300 varieties of cotton seeds in the country, now only Bt Cotton seeds are available in the country. Our old tradition of cotton is over.” He further said that on one hand, the Government talks about chemical-free farming and on the other hand, it also permits to mix poison in the crops. In 1988, the price of mustard was Rs 2200 and 97 per cent mustard was produced in the country at that time. Palm oil which has neither good quality nor taste.
“There are many positive and negative aspects in this issue. Highbreed increases production. There has been a debate on this for the last many years”
— Harvir Singh, Senior Journalist
Suresh Nagpal, Chairman, the Central Organisation for Oil Industry & Trade, said, “GM Mustard is an herbicide-tolerant and toxic hybrid that will dramatically increase the presence of toxic chemicals in our day-to-day food and soil and hence impact on our health.” He further said that due to GM Mustard, honey export business from India will be stopped and cottage industry of honey will die. Dr Manoj Murarka, MD, Manishankar Oils, said, “Diseases are increasing continuously in our country. The main reason for this is that food items are being tampered and their nature is being played with through toxic chemicals. GMOs were invented in many countries of the world, but those countries also stopped the use of GMOs.” He further added that the farmer of the country can produce according to the needs of the country. For this, there is only a need to strengthen the farmers of the country financially. A large number of youths are getting heart attacks in the country. People consider refined oil to be good, but a large number of people, who use it, are getting heart attacks.
Dr Dheeraj Singh, scientist, opposed GM Mustard saying that it won’t increase production. He further said that he has been working in this field for the last 40 years. “ India is currently ahead of the rest of the world. It is producing more mustard oil than other countries. If the Government motivates the farmers to increase the production of mustard, then its positive results will come out. Very bad results have been seen in the use of GM crops in Canada. A large number of people have got cancer in Canada,” he said.
“India is currently ahead of the rest of the world. It is producing more mustard oil than other countries. If the Government motivates the farmers to increase the production of mustard, then its positive results will come out” — Dr Dheeraj Singh, Senior Environmentalist
Prof OP Chaudhary, principal scientist, Regional Research Station of CCS Haryana Agricultural University, kept his point with many important facts. He said “Kota, Budaun, Bhind, Morena, Mahendragarh, Mathura are the main six cities of the country that produce honey in very large quantities. These six cities have 1.5 million colonies and there are about 1.5 million bees in each colony. There are five species of bees in our country – Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis cerana indica, Apis mellifica (Western honey bee) etc. He further said, “Bees get most of their food from the mustard plant. In such a situation, bees will not be able to provide their food from GM Mustard”. He further said that due to this the bees will die or many types of serious diseases can also spread in the country. Many such diseases have spread in the country in the past years. The biggest loss will be to the beekeepers; they will become unemployed.
“The farmer of the country can produce according to the needs of the country. For this, there is only a need to strengthen the farmers of the country financially”
— Dr Manoj Murarka, MD,Manishankar Oils
Supporting Prof OP Chaudhary, Krishan Bir Chaudhary, President Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, said, “Government of India talks about increasing the exports of the country, but such policies will reduce our exports. We should not take steps that prove to be a threat to human life”. Some big scientists and officials have been funded by some big companies regarding this GM mustard policy. Some time ago, efforts were being made to introduce Bt brinjal. This would have destroyed our original seeds of brinjal. In Corona, the country’s Government gave free ration to 80 crore people. The country’s self-reliance is in true sense only when the country is self-sufficient in food resources. Our Soya Milk Cake is in great demand all over the world.
Concluding the session, Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser remarked that there were several issues which need to be addressed. While a section wanted the Government to introduce GM Mustard, a large section of farmers, activists, traders and agri-entrepreneurs have serious and valid concerns. “If GM Mustard is not good, then what is the other option? The world is facing a food crisis. We need to increase food production. Even as the Government is defending its decision to go ahead with field trials in the name of food security, a large section of people and stakeholders have serious and valid concerns. The authorities should come forward to address these issues in the larger interests of the nation.”