Media Editorials on GM Mustard: Some facts from our side

We have been going through the various editorials from different media houses on the issue of GM mustard regulatory clearance and felt compelled to straighten the record with regard to some FACTS related to GM mustard, while respecting that perspectives might differ.


Indigenous oil production “Cottonseed oil is, indeed India’s second largest indigenously produced oil today after Mustard”.


Ref:  “Let the farmer judge” Editorial, May 13, 2017

Not correct. After mustard, soy and groundnut oils continue to be the largest indigenously produced oils, followed by cottonseed. While cottonseed oil is 16% of local production of oils, when combined with imports (which consist overwhelmingly of palm oil), the proportion is obviously smaller. (Ref. : USDA GAIN report, March 2017) has details on overall consumption which includes local production as well as imports, showing share of palm oil increasing significantly.

Import ≠ Cultivation “If so much of GM oil can be imported, why should similar technology not be permitted for oil made in India?”


Ref:  “Let the farmer judge” Editorial, May 13, 2017

To begin with, most imported oil is palmolein. GM soy and GM canola might add up to 10-11%.


Two, while untested health impacts are bad enough, to make this the basis for bringing in other additional hazards with cultivation of HT crop inside the country is a ridiculous argument.

Edible oil imports into India “Ironically, much of the edible oil imported into India like rapeseed oil, sold under the Canola brand, and soybean and corn oil, are the products of genetic modification.” 


Ref: “DNA Edit: Hope for GM mustard”, May 14, 2017



This is not true and a myth that is doing the rounds. Most edible oil imported into India is palmolein oil. Imported GM rapeseed oil in our food chain is less than 2%.


It is also important to note that most of the import of such GM oils has happened illegally. For instance, GM canola got GEAC clearance for being imported only in the recent past whereas such oil was being imported for years now. Instead of tightening regulation, to use illegal GM oil imports as the grounds for approving cultivation in the country is untenable.

Transparent and independent evaluation Last year, the entire dossier of safety studies submitted by the Delhi University team was placed in public domain for review”.


Ref: “Go with GM: Permit genetically modified mustard cultivation” May 13, 2017, TOI Edit

Only a summary of some 130 pages was put in public domain for review. Access to full dossier of about 4000 pages was practically not available because for that, one had to physically go to the Delhi office  of GEAC and see it there only during a short window of time. Even here, no photocopying or photography was allowed. Only mental analysis of an entire dossier!


The subsequent functioning of GEAC is also shrouded in secrecy – what happened to feedback given, how was it analysed, what was the response to key points raised etc.

Safety “Just as nothing calamitous has happened to us from ingesting Bt proteins all these years, there’s no evidence of the Barnase, Barstar and Bar proteins used in GM mustard being toxic to human or animal health”.


Ref:  “Let the farmer judge” Editorial, May 13, 2017

We have not been ingesting Bt proteins. We have been consuming Bt cotton oil.


On what basis is the author claiming that nothing calamitous has happened to us from GM cotton oil consumption? Where is scientific proof? Does s/he assume that calamitous happening is like acute poisoning where people drop dead after ingesting/consuming something?


A recent report published by Ministry of Agrarian Development, Govt of Brazil, 2017 captures evidence of adverse impacts. Ref: “TRANSGENIC CROPS –hazards and uncertainties: More than 750 studies disregarded by GMOs regulatory bodies” (


Problems related to animal health, particularly reproductive health of cattle fed on Bt cotton seed oil cake have been reported. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (2012) alludes to a study done in the NARS with regard to Bt cotton and adverse impacts and the author/media house might want to look at that.


Moreover, if studies have not been commissioned, it does not mean that there are no adverse impacts. Dearth of studies and evidence cannot be equated with dearth of impacts.


In case of GM Mustard, only acute and sub-chronic studies have been done and chronic or long run effects have not been studied (AFES p 62), animal feeding studies have not been done (p.67)


There has been no assessment of the safety of GM mustard as a herbicide tolerant crop, along with the safety of glufosinate for human health and for other living organisms.


And as regards, Environmental safety, “Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety”(AFES), the main document available in public domain admits that this is based on data submitted by the applicant, which certainly cannot be considered adequate independent evaluation.

Yield increase “In the case of GM mustard where yields are expected to rise by up to 30 per cent, …..”


Ref: “Mulling over mustard”, Business Line , May 12, 2017


“Scientists…claim that it has the potential to increase mustard yields by roughly 30 per cent…..”


Ref:  “Let the farmer judge” Editorial, May 13, 2017


“…is good news since it has the potential to increase productivity quite dramatically and raise farmer profits”


Ref: GEAC nod for GM mustard must not go the brinjal way. Also, price controls as in Bt cotton retrograde. FE editorial. May 15th 2017.


As per, AFES this GM hybrid has not been compared with best available non-GM hybrids or latest varieties; AFES only concludes that this GM hybrid is better than its parents (not better than best available alternatives) and some old-released varieties. Govt has admitted in the supreme court that No such claim has been made in any of the submitted documents that DMH 11 out-performs Non-GMO hybrids”. In fact, the current line of defence of regulators/crop developers is that this is only about pollination control, and nothing to do with yields.


Latest FAO data shows that worldwide at least 7 countries outperform 3 GM rapeseed producing countries, often by more than 100%.


Lastly, the Regulators and the Developer have both accepted that the intention to prove the superior yield characteristics of this GM Mustard was never the objective in testing this mustard and this was not done. SO, HOW IS THE PAPER CONCLUDING THAT THERE ARE YIELD IMPROVEMENTS?

Safety Testing “GM mustard has been through extensive safety trials”.


Ref: “Go with GM: Permit genetically modified mustard cultivation” May 13, 2017, TOI Edit




This is something that has not happened at all. Here is a picture of how GM mustard testing fares vis-à-vis Bt brinjal, which was placed under an indefinite moratorium for inadequate testing and proof of safety!


While testing itself was inadequate, appraisal of test results was unreliable and secretive.

Import bill savings “The argument in favour of GM crops is … for India to keep pace with domestic demand and to stop relying on expensive imports”.

Ref: “DNA Edit: Hope for GM mustard”13 May 14, 2017


Import bill depends both on demand and supply side. On the supply side, import bill depends on both possible yield levels as well as domestic prices. As shown under analysis of yield aspect, GM mustard does not improve on productivity. Hence, is unlikely to cut down on import bill. It has also been shown by us that existing hybrids have not been able to reduce India’s oil imports. How is GM mustard expected to do that??


Looking at the issue from demand side, per capita consumption of edible oils in India is already more than the recommended intake. So, need is not more production but judicious use.


Oil imports can be brought down by taking the right policy decisions in favour of farmers, not by chasing this dangerous mirage.

Herbicide tolerance “GM foods promise a way of out of a potential Malthusian trap, arguably with less pesticide use in the short run than existing varieties”.


Ref: “Mulling over mustard”, Business Line , May 12, 2017

This statement ignores the fact that in India, 14 years after Bt cotton was introduced, more agro-chemicals are used in cotton now than at the time of introduction of Bt cotton.


This statement also ignores that the largest area planted to GM crops globally is that of herbicide tolerant crops which actually increase the use of pesticides.


The unstated and unchallenged fact with regard to the current GMO is that is that this GM mustard is herbicide tolerant. Given this trait and availability of herbicides for which it is tolerant, usage of herbicide, whether recommended or not, is definitely going to skyrocket. But no tests have been done on impact of this. Recommended policy for India by various committees and commissions is NO to herbicide tolerant crops.

Who should decide and how? “Let the farmer judge”.


Now that the GEAC has cleared the technology, the government should let farmers test the claims on their fields”.


Ref:  “Let the farmer judge” Editorial, May 13, 2017

This is a strange proposition, in the face of the fact that regulators have not done their job of testing properly. Why should farmers be made experimental lab rats? And when some farmers are testing so, who will bear potential losses? What about other farmers and loss of choices for them while some farmers test claims? Who will be responsible for that?
Research period “After close to 2 decades of research….”


Ref: “Mulling over mustard”, Business Line , May 12, 2017


No, this GMO research began in 2003 only. Even here, the first GMO was different, and the crop developers started R&D with the current GMO in debate from 2007 onwards. The application for commercialisation was in 2015. This means only 8 to 9 years of research.
GEAC’s responsibility towards citizens “In contrast to the Bt-Brinjal fiasco, the GEAC appears better prepared and claims to have rigorously interrogated the documents submitted by the GM mustard promoters and responded to nearly 700 comments from the public.”


Ref: “DNA Edit: Hope for GM mustard”13 May 14, 2017

In reality, GEAC has done a more shoddy job of regulation than usual, with this GM mustard. Its response to the 700 comments from public is not to be seen anywhere, and the basis for its green signal is not clear. The contrast between Bt brinjal appraisal and decision making processes and GM mustard’s has been presented here, showcasing how an already bad regulatory regime has gotten worse:
New Technologies “Indian agriculture is in dire need of an increase in yields, and should therefore be open to introducing new technologies.”


Ref: “Go with GM: Permit genetically modified mustard cultivation” May 13, 2017, TOI Edit

Media houses do not seem to catch up with evolving discourse – yield centrism (at any cost?)  is passé. Even if the focus is on yields, it is not always ‘technologies’ as in popular imagination, that contribute to yield increases. Policy support with right pricing and procurement, other incentives, institutional support with adequate extension for adoption of innovative practices like SMI will all contribute to yield increases.
Ideological lobbying “…the government must not succumb to ideological lobbying”.


Ref: “Go with GM: Permit genetically modified mustard cultivation” May 13, 2017, TOI Edit

This statement assumes that the ones raising concerns are driven by only ideology and not scientific evidence. This is not true and ignores reams of evidence presented by several scientists amongst others.

Media edits-some facts – You can download the above in this word document.

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