HUNDREDS OF ORGANISATIONS AND CITIZENS START EXPRESSING THEIR OPPOSITION & WARN GOVERNMENT AGAINST MOVES TO COMMERCIALISE GM MUSTARD

Nov 6th 2015, New Delhi: Scores of civil society organizations and networks from across the country today jointly demanded the government to stop any approval processes related to GM Mustard commercialisation. Representatives of Sarson Satyagaraha, a broad alliance spearheading this resistance, warned the government against any moves to approve this GMO and said that they we will not allow the choices of farmers and consumers to be violated by the introduction of an unneeded, unwanted, unsafe, irreversible and uncontrollable technology.

Opposition to the GM mustard has been gathering strength by ordinary citizens adding their voice in an online petition, writing directly to the Environment Minister and regulators. In new developments, APMCs in mustard growing belts of Gujarat have written to the regulator pointing out that there is no special demand for GM food in the market, whereas non-GM food is preferred by consumers and bringing in GM mustard will jeopardise their situation. These APMCs together represent around one lakh farmers and business worth 400 crores of rupees.

In a letter from the former Union Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss to the current Minister Mr J P Nadda, Dr Ramadoss drew out the parallels between Bt brinjal and GM mustard (both being crops for which India is the Centre of Diversity, both crops eaten more or less directly by Indian consumers, both used extensively in Ayurveda etc.) and asks why India should be opting for this unsafe (transgenic) technology and why the transgenic option should be explored at all when alternatives exist.

In a strongly worded letter, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh in Gujarat, having a five lakh membership base, said that there is no yield advantage with hybrid variety in mustard, based on their experience on the ground. The organization in its letter also summed up its bitter experience with Bt cotton in the recent past and said that in hindsight, it would have been better if Bt cotton has not been accepted.

Addressing the media, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM Free India said that, “we hope that the land acquisition ordinance fiasco has taught the government some lessons in going against people’s interests. The same fate is in store if government pushes GM crops onto us despite evidence against the technology in terms of its safety and impacts on livelihoods. These risky technologies are not acceptable to farmers as well as consumers and the food security arguments around GMOs are untenable”.

The Right To Food Campaign meanwhile had written to Prakash Javadekar stating that the problem with oilseed production is due to lopsided policies of successive governments and not an issue of productivity alone, and should not be sought to be resolved through adoption of unneeded, risky techno-fixes. Deepa Sinha of the RTF Campaign, addressing the media said that food security is a broad concept that includes livelihood issues of smallholder producers, and that food safety is an integral part of such food security.

Speaking on the yield enhancement claims of GM mustard developers, Dharmendra Malik of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU Tikait) said that productivity is not an issue at all, if farmer-friendly policies are put into place by the government, including the right price signals and actual procurement. This GM mustard is unneeded and will impact farm livelihoods adversely, he added. He also said that the current farmers’ rights law in the country (PPV&FR Act 2001) is not helping promote farmers’ diverse varieties of Indian mustard. Only one farmers’ variety has been registered out of 54 applications received, whereas 46 extant varieties have been registered in contrast, mostly belonging to NARS (national agricultural research systems). Why are these non-GM varieties not being promoted, he wanted to know. He also cited instances of farmers being sued in the name of Intellectual Property Rights including in the case of GM canola contamination and pointed out that there is no guarantee that today’s Trojan Horse of a public sector GM will not become private proprietary product of MNCs tomorrow.

Speaking at the press conference Abhishek Joshi, one of the organisers of Sarson Satyagraha stated that “there is tremendous rejection of GM crops in general and this GM Mustard in particular in our country. We can see that from public response flowing in from all parts of the country. The regulators and government would be ‘unresponsive to society and irresponsible to science’ if they continue to overlook it and proceed in the way they are currently doing. As in the case of Bt Brinjal, GM mustard also has not found support from state governments. States like Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh which are the leading mustard cultivating states and also BJP-ruled states had even denied permission to do field trials of this GM mustard in their respective states”.

Dr Mira Shiva, health expert leading ‘Doctors for Food Safety and Biosafety’ and associated with Navdanya, pointed to the absolute inadequacy in the safety assessment around GMOs in our country. “The lack of safety of GMOs has been proven time and time again, including by the fresh analysis taken up by Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee members in their report on Bt cotton and Bt brinjal dossiers, that the regulators had incidentally certified as Safe. The classification of Glyphosate as a Probable Carcinogen by WHO tells us once again that adequate long term tests are not being done comprehensively so that scientific decisions can be taken about the safety of a product. In the absence of long term comprehensive tests, to call any product safe is unscientific. Unfortunately, GEAC continues to act like a promoter of GMOs instead of being a responsible regulator. Conflict of interest continues to be pervasive in the regulatory body. It not only has inadequate biosafety assessment system but also hides such studies from public, even when asked under RTI, despite SC and CIC orders to the contrary”.

A letter from citizens’ groups, sent to the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, was also released in the press conference. Movements like Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) and Bhakar Bhitrot Adiwasi Vikas Manch are prominent signatories from Rajasthan, the largest mustard growing state in India. Many well-known environmental organisations have also endorsed the letter, in addition to associations of scientists and doctors.

For more information, contact: Kavitha Kuruganti at 8880067772/kavitakuruganti@gmail.com ; Dr Mira Shiva at 9810582028/mirashiva@gmail.com ; Abhishek Joshi at 9717088005/abhishek.ar.joshi@gmail.com ; Dharmendra Malik at 9219691168/bku.tikait@gmail.com

The GM mustard in question named DMH 11 (Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11) has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGCMP), Delhi University (DU) with support from DBT (Dept of Biotechnology) and NDDB (National Dairy Development Board). Media reports have confirmed that the developers have moved an application for permission to commercialise this GM Mustard which GEAC would be looking into anytime soon. DMH 11 hybrid mustard has been created by genetically engineering bacterial genes into selected mustard parental lines to create male sterile parent plants and also to restore the fertility. This has been done mainly to facilitate seed production by seed manufacturers. Along with these genes for inducing male sterility and restoration of the same is also another bacterial gene for herbicide tolerance in the guise of a marker gene. More information on this GM mustard is available as a Briefing Paper here: http://indiagminfo.org/?p=880

An online petition where citizens can share their views with the MoEFCC is at: https://www.change.org/p/prakash-javadekar-gm-mustard-is-unsafe-for-us-do-not-approve-its-commercial-cultivation