With the Supreme Court ordering the government to maintain status quo on GM (genetically modified) mustard’s environmental release and not plant it until the hearing on November 10, civil society activists, including NGOs, scientists, farmers and researchers, protesting under the ‘Sarson Satyagraha’ platform, have said they will step up their agitation against the government move.

They argue that the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s (GEAC) environmental release of GM Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH)-11 could be an “irreversible and unaccountable” misadventure leading to lower yields, contamination and health hazards.

Regulatory procedures

“GM mustard approval followed worse regulatory procedures than even Bt brinjal and the way GEAC has given its hasty approval is shameful. Scientific rigour has been sacrificed and the Environment Ministry appears to have abandoned responsible policy-making when it comes to a dangerous herbicide-tolerant GM food crop. It falls upon us to present the scientific evidence to the citizens – to let them know what an irreversible dangerous experiment has been unleashed on the basis of unfounded claims”, said Umendra Dutt from the Kheti Virasat Mission at a press conference organised by Sarson Satyagraha.

In an interim order on November 3, the SC bench ordered status quo on the GEAC’s decision of  October 18 and subsequent decision of the Ministry of Environment & Forests on October 25 to allow environmental release of GM Mustard/ HT Mustard /DMH 11 in five states on interim application filed by  Aruna Rodrigues in her pending Writ Petition.

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Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Rodrigues, informed the court that it had in 2012 constituted a Technical Expert Committee which called HT (herbicide tolerant) crops “unsustainable” and “unsuitable” for India and noted that the herbicide sprayed on HT crops caused cancer.

According to Dhiraj Singh, former Director of ICAR’s Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research, the claims of substantial increase in yield of the GM variety were inflated as farmers in India already had the option of mustard hybrids that are on offer from both public sector and private sector. “The genetic variety of the existing plants were already hybrid in nature, so there was not much scope of increase over it,” he said at the press conference.

The DMH-11 variety will not increase productivity at all, pointed out Devinder Sharma, agriculture and food policy analyst. “DMH-11 is a junk variety as its yields are lower than existing variety. This should have gone into the scientific dustbin, “he said.

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Revival of yellow revolution

The government is keen on introducing GM mustard in order to increase yield and production of mustard to bring down dependence on edible oil imports.

Sharma called for revival of the “yellow revolution’’ and made a case of increased import duties on mustard oil so that there is enough incentive for domestic farmers.

Pointing out at the inadequate testing done, Kapil Shah of ASHA-Kisan Swaraj said that parental lines had not been tested at all, while parental lines which are also herbicide tolerant GM plants have also been allowed for environmental release.

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Create losses

There is also the possibility of male sterility trait spreading, which will actually create losses for farmers, he said.

“Who will be made liable for spread of HT trait, losses due to weedkiller drift, spread of sterility and contamination including loss of organic certification? How are regulators planning to prevent farmers from using herbicide glufosinate?,” Dutt asked.

India’s growing production and export of honey will also take a beating if GM mustard is allowed to be grown, pointed out Amit Dhanuka, an exporter of honey. “When BT Cotton was introduced, honey production in the cotton growing region stopped. If GM mustard is allowed, then honey production from mustard will surely take a hit and exports will fall. Moreover, our exports will not be allowed in markets such as the EU and Japan,” he said.

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