The Daily Star (Bangladesh) has reported that the Indian environment ministry on September 5 published the full report on food and environment safety of GM mustard, seeking public comments until October 5 before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India’s highest GM regulatory body, gives final approval. According to the report, the GM mustard, developed through public funding by a team of scientists at University of Delhi South Campus (UDSC), has 30% higher yield potentials than the varieties grown in Indian oilseed fields now.
Conflict of interest
The Hindustan Times reports that several officials who sit on India’s biotech regulator, which is preparing to take a decision on genetically modified mustard, are also associated with global organisations that lobby for GM crops. Such an arrangement represents potential conflicts of interest and critics argue that there must be an arm’s length distance. The HT adds that most of the scientists who serve as regulators are developing GM crops.
Devinder Sharma gives historical context: “Thirty years back, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation of what was later called as Yellow Revolution. The Oilseeds Technology Mission he launched in 1986 converted India from being a major importer to become almost self-sufficient in edible oil production by 1993-94, in less than ten years. A remarkable achievement, indeed.
“And then began the downslide. India happily bowed to World Trade Organisation (WTO) pressures to kill its Yellow Revolution . . . Severe cuts in import tariffs brought in a flood of cheap imports pushing farmers out of cultivation. Import duties – from a bound level of 300% were slashed to almost zero – in a phased manner. As a result, farmers abandoned cultivation of oilseeds crops and the processing industry too pulled down the shutters. India today imports more than 67% of its edible oil requirement costing a whopping Rs 66,000-crore”.
Sharma’s recommendation: raise the import duties on edible oil and provide farmers with a higher procurement price
He relates that Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said India is keen to cut down the huge import bill of edible oils and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh thinks that this can be done by allowing the commercial cultivation of the controversial genetically modified mustard (GM Mustard) in the name of increasing productivity. But cultivation of genetically modified Bt cotton has brought about an increase in the application of chemical pesticides in India and elsewhere (see Sharma) and in whitefly and bollworm attacks. There are said to be five non-GM mustard varieties which yield significantly higher than the transgenic variety DMH-11.
NGO and political opposition
- NGOs actively opposing GM in agriculture include, Kavitha Kuruganti (representing an anti-GM advocacy group), Vandana Shiva (Navdanya), the Coalition for a GM-Free India Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements and a farmers’ organisation, Kisan Mahapanchayat.
- The chief minister of Patna in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, recently wrote to the Centre criticising its “clandestine” approach.
- Several ministers and bureaucrats from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have also opposed GM crops.
- In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said the AAP government would not support commercialization of genetically modified mustard. He alleged that Delhi University had been conducting field trials of GM crops without a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Delhi government – an illegal action.
- He also questioned the “secrecy and hushing-up” of the application process for commercialization before the genetic engineering appraisal committee of the environment and forests ministry (MoEF).
- India Today reports that the AAP is to make opposition to GM mustard a feature of their campaign for the 2017 Punjab Assembly Elections, holding public meetings in towns and villages.
New Delhi TV refers to several steps to be taken before a GM mustard crop can be released for use in farmer fields but only two are specified:
‘A political call’ to be taken by the environment minister and by the agriculture minister. A report which has been posted online and seeks the public’s feedback within a month.