Know the Hubbub on GM Mustard

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is a body that evaluates genetically modified crops. On May 11, 2017 GEAC recommended the commercial use of GM mustard. GEAC is the apex body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests for ensuring ‘Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells 1989′, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Ever since the advent of the GEAC decision many sections of the Indian public – students, farmers, and environmental activists are once again up against arms to protest against the Ministry of Environment regarding approval given for commercial use of genetically modified mustard. It is to be noted that GEAC has given approval for GM Mustard after it was earlier rejected in 2002.

The nay-sayers state that GM mustard is inferior in yields compared to non-genetically modified organism Indian hybrid. Further the approval seems to have been carried out under pressure from Monsanto and Bayer and so GM mustard is actually Bayer mustard actually, especially if you look at their history, traits and patents of component technologies. GEAC is thus misleading the nation in that GM technology in mustard is to increase yields through producing a hybrid.

The real truth is that GMO mustard is herbicide resistant mustard that is resistant to Bayer herbicide glufosinate, which is established to be a neurotoxin. Further, Bayer has hundreds of patents related to GMO mustard. Now that Bayer has merged with Monsanto it can very well be termed Monsanto/Bayer mustard. So while on the one hand these companies are corrupting the regulatory agencies, on the other hand they are also trying to influence the courts to undermine the patent laws.

Article 3 J of the Indian Patent Act excludes seeds, plants and animals from being patented. Monsanto and Bayer are pushing GMOs to collect royalties from seeds. Actually they are doing two things simultaneous. One, pushing GMOs and second, attacking patent laws. And all the while their real intention is to patent seeds. To this end they are pushing a failed and toxic technology of genetic engineering on Indian farmers and citizens.

Experts tell us that GM Mustard is dangerous because India’s monopoly on its own mustard seeds would be gone, exactly like Monsanto took over monopoly on cotton seeds. The second danger is the spread of toxins in our agriculture that will occur through the spread of the herbicide glufosinate as well as through genetic modification by inherent toxicity.

More and more people are now beginning to understand that the assessment done by GEAC is a sham and that no feeding studies were done either on animals or humans. In fact there is no blood analysis available of the animals. GMO will cause devastation to not only biodiversity but also irreversibly impact Indian native mustard, bees, soil and organisms. We have witnessed this in the case of Bt Cotton ever since these corporations came to India, leading to the cycle of rural debt that pushed countless farmers to commit suicide.

The fact remains that the GEAC approval is only a recommendation. The government, especially the environment ministry has still to decide whether to accept the suggestion or not. More importantly agriculture is a state subject and bio-safety laws of India require state approval. All states producing mustard can maintain their commitment and say no to GM mustard. This is precisely how Bt Brinjal was stopped from being planted in India. Likewise a Sarson Satyagraha by farmers and citizens can push the movement to set things right.

‘Sarson Satyagraha’ comprises of a broad forum that includes numerous NGOs, farmers, consumers, scientists and others who are all resisting the approval of GM mustard in India. They condemn the recent approval to the herbicide tolerant GM Mustard for commercial cultivation of genetically modified Mustard. Once the crop is used for commercial purposes, it cannot be called back because of cross pollination and its impact on health that can be manifold, although as yet there is no scientific evidence on this. The protesters are challenging the ministry for a public debate on the use of such genetically modified crops. May 20 will see a global March Against Monsanto in several cities, including in India.