Farmers concerned over GM Mustard
Farmers in India expressed concern over the raging debate on the safety of GM Mustard. Several farmer groups protested at Jantar Mantar against the government's "hurried" clearance for commercial cultivation of the GM Mustard crops. Several big farmer unions such as Bharatiya Kisan Union, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, All India Kisan Sabha and Swadeshi Jagran Manch joined hands with international NGOs to protest the move.
Genetically modified (GM) crops are plants which are used for agricultural purposes, and whose DNA has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. The aim of genetic modification is to introduce traits in a species which were non-existent before.
Since the genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton was introduced in India in 2002, it saw a massive increase in India's cotton yield. India went from being a net importer of cotton to the second-largest producer and exporter of cotton in the world. Bt cotton is India's only GM crop in use. Yet, dependence on multinationals for seeds has invited opposition from nationalist groups.
Bt Brinjal was created in 2005 by Mahyco and American MNC Monsanto claimed to improve yield. However, environmental activists, supported by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini have raised concerns over the introduction of such experimental foods. According to reports, GM crops, when tested on rats, have proved fatal for lungs and kidneys. Commercial release of Bt Brinjal is still under consideration.
In February 2014, a National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) conference wanted the "de facto moratorium" on field trials to be lifted, and declared the technology to be "promising, relevant and efficient", possibly reducing extensive losses. Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) officials believe that the requirement of a no-objection certificate from the state governnment was hindering public sector advancements in GM technology.
Since the introduction of GM crops in 1996, the global acreage of GM crops has increased from 1.7 mh to 181.5 mh as of 2014, marking the fastest adoption of the agricultural technology in the world.
The Ayush Ministry which deals with Ayurveda and other indigenous forms of medicine raised issues with the Environment Ministry regarding the adverse impact genetically-modified (GM) crops could have on varieties of wild plants used for Ayurveda. It has sought representation in the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex body clearing GM field trials. Even before, implementation of GM crops had received strong opposition.
120 scientists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the processing of the GM mustard environmental release application. The scientists raised strong objections with regard to the secretive, hurried manner in which the processing was taking place. The scientists questioned the GM crops' biosafety assessment regime and its ability to actually protect India's environment and citizens' health from the risks of modern biotechnology.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar told the Lok Sabha that the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee had recently received an application for the "environmental release" of mustard hybrid, DMH. The GEAC asked Delhi University's Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants to revise its bio-safety report of the GM crop. The report will now have to incorporate all concerns raised by farmers' bodies and NGOs.
The Coalition for a GM-Free India has accused the Delhi University of rigging tests to falsify data, in order to get clearance for the commercial cultivation of their GM mustard. The group also shared raw data from field trials which shows that derived yield is completely at variance with yields reported by the Delhi University. However, Delhi University officials have rejected the allegations.
A sub-committee formed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to look into the GMO crop debate has stated that GMO mustard is safe for consumption and the environment. The committee said the mustard hybrid, DMH-11 developed by Delhi University poses no risks to human health or to animals. The committee said the decision was made based on "toxicity and allerginicity studies."
A day after the Ministry of Environment and Forests said that GM-Mustard was safe for consumption, civil society groups have called for scientific scrutiny of the crop. Organizations complained that details of the MoEF's study protocols or data generated have not been made available for independent scientific scrutiny. The Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture has written to the Environment Minister in this regard.
PM Modi had recently demanded a speedy-assessment of GM mustard by senior ministers/bureaucrats and attended a presentation by GM mustard's biotechnology department. Analysts believe PM Modi seems inclined to favour GM technology to raise India's oilseed output and reduce massive cooking-oil imports that stoke inflation. This stance could put Modi and RSS at loggerheads given RSS's vehement opposition to GM crops due to health-risks.