Press Release



New Delhi, November 28th 2022: Coming down heavily on the Government of India actively putting in untrue and incorrect information in its affidavits to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Hearings on GM mustard, a senior scientist and other experts asked the Union of India to redeem itself by putting in the correct information at least now. They pointed out that the matter concerns serious implications for the life and livelihoods of all citizens of the country, given that commercial cultivation of GM herbicide tolerant (HT) mustard will jeopardise human health, environment, livelihoods and trade security on numerous fronts. Panelists in a press conference urged the Hon’ble Supreme Court to immediately pass orders to uproot and destroy GM mustard crop planted in multiple sites, in defiance of court orders and Government’s own undertaking in the Court.

The media interaction comes one day before a crucial Supreme Court Hearing about GM Herbicide Tolerant mustard, its need and safety, the Court’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC)’s recommendations, veracity of data and transparency with regard to the biosafety dossier, the approval processes and the planting of GM mustard in at least six locations.

“It is with alarming alacrity that the Government of India violated its own undertaking to the Supreme Court in Hearings related to this matter, and also acted in Contempt of the Court’s orders, when it got them planted in six locations around the 1st of November 2022. In fact, the Supreme Court did not actually get to hear the arguments of parties in 2016 and 2017 because of the repeated undertakings in the Court by the Government that it is yet to take a decision. Now, a fait accompli has been delivered by the Union of India, its regulators, the Ministry of Environment and its agriculture ministry’s apparatus. This means that in just about a week’s time, the pollen from GM mustard will start contaminating non-GM mustard fields with transgenes including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits. It is an imperative that GM mustard that has been planted has to be uprooted immediately, to prevent irreversible and irreparable damage to our mustard diversity. We urge the Supreme Court to take this matter seriously, with all the attention it deserves in terms of the ramifications from the irresponsible actions of GoI”, said Kapil Shah of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).

Alleging that the Government of India is actively misleading the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “we can list at least five areas where Govt of India is actively providing incorrect information to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

(1) that the Court’s Technical Expert Committee report is being implemented and that the TEC was a divided house – this is simply incorrect and major unanimous recommendations of the original and independent members of the TEC around ban on Herbicide Tolerant crops, a moratorium on Bt food crops and ban on GE in crops for which we are the Centre of Origin/Diversity have to be acted upon by the Government/Court. It is worth noting that even the Government-nominated Experts of the TEC were recommending the same unanimous conclusions;

(2) that GM mustard is not a Herbicide Tolerant crop because the applicant did not apply for HT commercial trait – this is an outrageously irresponsible and unscientific position to take. A crop is herbicide tolerant or not based on what genes got inserted, and what new traits has the plant acquired, not by how the applicant describes the plant. Bar gene being enhanced manifold in its expression is a dead give-away that GM mustard is nothing but an HT crop. As both the parental lines of DMH-11, the HT hybrid also carries bar gene; they will produce nothing but HT progeny. Govt and its regulator must accept them as HT crop/ lines and treat them accordingly. For a Government and its gene technologies’, seeds’ and pesticides’ regulators that are completely incapable of stopping the spread of illegal Herbicide Tolerant (HT) cotton in India, to be giving a conditional approval of a HT crop and then seeking to criminalise farmers, is utterly unacceptable;

(3) that after first stating in the Supreme Court that “Heterosis is due to careful selection of the parents and not due to the three transgenes….The developers have nowhere claimed that yield increase is due to the three transgenes”, and also that “No such claim has been made in any of the submitted documents that DMH-11 outperforms non-GMO hybrids”, to be then arguing that “with the increase of production of mustard due to hybrids developed using GM technology, there would be substantial savings in foreign exchange” is utterly baseless, unscientific and inconsistent. It is important to note that India is self-reliant when it comes to mustard oil. We have been pointing out time and again that there is no scientific evidence to show that GM mustard outyields non-GM hybrids and varieties that are already there in the Indian market. In fact, around the world, the best yields are in countries which have non-GM rapeseed/canola hybrids.

(4) that GM-based pollination control technology is more effective than non-GM hybridisation options – Even without any assessment in a comparative framework, conclusions are being drawn on this front. Nothing is being mentioned with empiricial evidence about any additional benefits that farmers, consumers, environment and agricultural workers with this risky seed production technology, which is not even about heterosis or hybrid vigour. In this unneeded and unproven GM based pollination control approach, environment and people are being exposed to risks of GMOs including spray of Glufosinate herbicide three times over – once during maintenance/multiplication of parental lines, then during hybrid seed production phase and lastly, when farmers grow HT GM mustard hybrid as commercial crop.

(5) that India’s regulatory regime with regard to gene technologies is robust and science-based. This is utterly untrue, and in fact, the regulatory regime can be seen to be deteriorating. With GM mustard, even the inadequate testing that was done in the case of Bt brinjal has not been undertaken, even though mustard is grown on a much large extent in India. An HT crop has not even been tested as a herbicide tolerant crop and India does not have any specific regulatory protocols for the same. Conflict of interest continues along with opaque functioning and hiding of biosafety data. And parental lines, although being independent events were never tested as GMOs. How did the regulatory regime improve, as is being claimed robust and science based in the SC by the Govt?”.

Dr Dhiraj Singh, former Director of ICAR’s Directorate of Rapeseed Mustard Research (DRMR) said: “India’s production of rapeseed-mustard has increased by around 38% in the past decade. We are self-sufficient when it comes to mustard oil demand and supply, even as only 15% of India’s edible oil consumption is from mustard. Further, farmers already have more than a dozen non-GM mustard hybrid options in the market which are well-performing, and high yielding than GM hybrid Agronomic research results are also promising with significant improvements in yields. In such a context, where is the need for GM mustard? Why is the Hon’ble SC being told that we need this option, which is risky and irreversible? Seed production of a hazardous GMO which has not even been shown to yield better is objectionable”. Quoting the experience of other countries, he shared worries of gene transfer to native mustard crop and invaluable germplasm at research stations.

Kumar Prashant, President of Gandhi Peace Foundation said that our vision for agricultural development should be holistic, scientific and empowering to the farmers through real Swaraj for them. Manipulating scientific facts does not bode well for improving the scientific temper in the country, and this would compromise scientific integrity in various institutions. He urged the Supreme Court to take cognisance of the real facts, and ensure that the GM mustard plots that have already been planted are uprooted immediately.

Mr. Dharamvir Singh, farmer leader shared the letter sent to Hon. Prime Minister signed by more than forty famer leaders across India requesting stopping of environmental release of GM HT mustard. He gave the example of how ‘refugia condition’ in Bt cotton permission letter was never adhered to, nor anyone made responsible for the same, to illustrate in a simple manner how GEAC’s “conditional approval” is meaningless and farcical. He insisted that GM crops are not favourable to the farmers quoting the experience of Bt cotton. He also demanded uprooting the crop wherever it has been planted.

Panelists in the press conference asked the government to stop misleading the Supreme Court, and urged it to instead present accurate and full information on what is the scientific logic in not testing a GM crop with bar gene in it as a herbicide tolerant crop, what exactly is the operational plan for preventing illegal use of herbicides on HT crops when even a PM-commissioned FISEC could not stop the illegal spread of HT cotton, where is the scientific evidence to claim/project yield and production increases with GM mustard, what is the evidence on GM hybridisation vis-à-vis non-GM in a comparative framework, what is the full set of tests done on parental lines which have been approved.