On October 18, 2022, a Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India named Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), once again recommended the introduction of DMH-11, a variety of GM Mustard, in the farmers’ fields. It is worth noting that earlier in May 2017 also GEAC had given its green signal to the same variety. But due to intense opposition from farmers and scientists, the Government rejected the recommendations of GEAC. It is being claimed that this variety has been developed by Prof Deepak Pental and is completely indigenous. It is also being claimed that this GM Mustard will give 26 per cent more yield. It is also being said that the production of edible oils in the country is extremely deficient, due to which the country is losing valuable foreign exchange in imports of edible oil. It is also being claimed that GM Mustard is safe for consumers, farmers and the environment.
But the veracity of these claims of GEAC is becoming clear from the fact that GEAC itself has imposed certain conditions while allowing GM Mustard, which proves that GEAC itself is not convinced about the safety of this seed. There is no proof, whatsoever, about the safety of GM Mustard; and they want to avoid the allegation of side effects by imposing conditions, that in future they can say that we allowed GM Mustard only with certain conditions. Since those conditions were not followed, they were not at fault. It is worth noting that it is not practical for the government to make farmers adhere to the conditions imposed.
This Variety Is Not Swadeshi
There is no truth in GEAC’s claim that DMH-11 is an indigenous discovery. 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. It is well known that the hybridisation of GM Mustard is achieved by means of the two genes barnase and barstar, derived from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. The bar-barstar-barnase gene is a patented technology of Bayer Crop Science. Bayer is not a Swadeshi company. This fact has been hidden and in future the Bayer company can demand payment in lieu of its Intellectual Property Rights and the farmer of India will have to pay through his nose.
It is noteworthy that GEAC’s claim of higher productivity about DMH-11 is not true as India’s Mustard and Rapeseed Research Institute says that there are already varieties developed in the country, with at least 25 per cent higher yield than DMH-11. Need of the hour is that the Government should promote these indigenous hybrid non-GM varieties. Using RH 725 and 45s46 varieties, farmers are already harvesting around 3.5 ton per hectare in all the major mustard growing states with good agronomy. Moreover, the DMH11 ‘is actually not mustard’, it’s canola with no aroma and taste of mustard, which we are habitual of. We must understand that canola cannot fetch a price equivalent to mustard due to its lack of taste and aroma.
It is a matter of regret that not only the foreign origin of this technology was hidden, but also the fact that GM mustard is herbicide tolerant, was also concealed. It is worth noting that while testing the DMH-11, no test was conducted about its herbicide tolerance. When vigilant citizens and experts exposed this misdeed of GEAC, the committee imposed a condition that under no situation, any herbicide will be used by the farmers. Now since this variety is herbicide tolerant, naturally no government agency can stop the farmers from using herbicides, when herbicides are available in the free market. A parallel example in this regard is in front of us that although the herbicide named glyphosate can be used only in tea gardens and non-crop areas, despite that this killer herbicide being sold indiscriminately across the country and its total sales in India is more than Rs. 1200 crores. It’s notable that the Government of India has restricted the use of this killer herbicide for health concerns. The notification issued by Government of India, on October 25, 2022, says, “The use of Glyphosate is hereby restricted and no person shall use Glyphosate except Pest Control Operators.”
Understandably, this act of GEAC is indeed immoral too. Significantly, the world is grappling with ill-effects of many types of herbicides. Due to these herbicides, many non-communicable diseases including cancer are increasing in many countries including USA, Canada and many others, where such varieties are being used, and the litigation against the manufacturers of these herbicides, especially Glyphosate, is also increasing continuously. It is worth noting that only in USA, one lakh 40 thousand cases have been filed by cancer victims against Boyer, the company that makes Glyphosate/Roundup. Thus, even with the understanding that the herbicide tolerant variety has not been properly evaluated, it is also a scientific fraud and a threat to public health. Moreover, experts have also cautioned that introduction of GM mustard may severely impact the existence of honey bees and therefore production and export of honey from India, which is around $200 million. Apart from this the danger is looming over employment of millions of honey bee producers. This has been the experience in many countries which have introduced GMOs. Extinction of honey bees can also affect yield in mustard apart from altering natural balance.
Indian mustard is indispensable in many Ayurvedic medicines. Aroma and taste are its distinguishing characteristics. Experts say that DMH-11 will neither have the aroma nor taste of mustard. That is, there is no question of it having medicinal properties. Not only this, mustard leaves ( Sarson ka Saag) is a unique cuisine of our country, especially Punjab, and is known in the whole world for its unique taste. When DMH-11 is grown as a replacement for India’s mustard using herbicide tolerant traits, not only sarson ka saag will disappear in the country, but other saag grown along with sarson ka saag such as bathua and palak will also disappear. Significantly, these greens are extracted almost free of cost by our women from the fields and they are a major source of iron for the women of India. Due to their elimination, the problem of anemia in the country may deteriorate further.
On the one hand, it is being said that the import of edible oils in the country will be reduced due to the introduction of this variety, which is not likely at all, but due to the introduction of this variety, the import of herbicides can definitely increase in the country. But the worst part of the story is that after the introduction of GM in food items in the country, there can be a huge adverse effect on the food exports of the country. It is worth noting that till now GM is not allowed in food items in our country. All the food items produced in the country are non-GM. This non-GM tag in the country’s food exports enhances the acceptability of our food items in many countries including Europe. The danger is that as soon as this non-GM tag is removed from India’s exports, India’s exports will be disrupted to a large extent, as Europe and many other countries want to buy from countries like India, that do not produce GM. Significantly, today India exports food items worth 50 billion dollars. The country cannot afford to disrupt these exports. If these exports are disrupted, then the possibilities of increasing the income of the farmers will be exhausted and valuable foreign exchange will also be lost.
It can be said that in the country where there is no need for GM foods, the permissions given to them under the pressure of foreign powers can cause huge damage to the country’s agriculture, environment, health and exports. In such a situation, it is the responsibility of the Government to protect the interest of the country rejecting the recommendations of GEAC in this matter.