Say no to GM mustard in India

It was only public outcry that blocked impending approval of the cultivation of Genetically Modified BT Brinjals in India. Now, word is that approvals for genetically modified mustard are being mulled and, alarmingly, reportedly very near clearance too.

I came across this petition on Change.Org, which sometimes has flippant petitions, but this one is dead serious, and one that warrants all support from everyone who has the knowledge and ability to spread the word on this petition on social and digital media to ensure millions of signups, so that this very dangerous move may be quashed once and for all.

Here’s what the Change.org petition by Samyuktha G from India says: (The petition will be delivered to Minister of Environment Forests and Climate Change, Government of India Anil Madhav Dave)

Indian Govt: Say NO to GM Mustard!

Our kitchens are going to be filled with harmful and unnatural foods if we don’t act today.

image-for-GM-Mustard-India-Petition-Story-pavanrchawla.wordpress.com

Image courtesy the petition on Change.org

It’s going to begin with Mustard – a regular ingredient in all Indian kitchens. The Government is gearing up to approve the cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) mustard any day now.Soon, mustard oil and  mustard seed tadka in our food could harm us. Once GM Mustard is approved, it will open the floodgates for many more GM food crops – maize, rice, jowar, wheat, brinjal, bhindi, groundnut and so on.

There is a great deal of secrecy surrounding this new mustard. The genetic modification of this mustard has been done in a way that more chemicals will be used on the crop to control weeds. This will lead to more toxins in our food and environment. Such poisons have been known to be dangerous to toddlers, for example. The harm from this GM mustard is from both the genetic modification that has been done as well as chemicals that will be used on the crop.

Very little data about tests has been made public even after a Central Information Commission order to do so. The negative impact on the environment has been suppressed and the yield has been exaggerated and unproven.

In fact, major Mustard growing states of  Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana have said no to even experimental trials. I can’t understand why the Central Government wants to go ahead with an approval for cultivation!.

Sign my petition and show the Central Government and the new Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave that we don’t want to eat Genetically Modified (GM) mustard.

This mustard could be approved any time soon. We have very little time to make sure that this does not happen.

If the first GM food crop gets approved, many companies are ready to push for other GM food crops to be allowed too. Behind this are powerful, profit-hungry foreign companies like Monsanto and Bayer, which want to take control of India’s seed system and food system.

After people rose up in protest, the permission for cultivation of Bt Brinjal was stopped. We can do this again. Sign my petition so that I can show the Government that we Indians don’t want GM mustard. (The petition will be delivered to Minister of Environment Forests and Climate Change, Government of India Anil Madhav Dave)  [end of the petition text]

So go ahead, sign the Change.org petition here, and spread the word.

Two important reports against GM Mustard in India

I visited www.gmwatch.org, and found two news report there. One pertains to what a Supreme Court-appointed committee had recommended: an indefinite moratorium on field trials of GM crops. Headlined, Supreme Court panel has said no to GM crops, it is what Hindustan Times had reported three years ago, on 22 July 2013, and this is what it reads:

SC committee says no to GM crops for time being

Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times, July 22 2013
http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/SC-committee-says-no-to-GM-crops-for-time-being/Article1-1096481.aspx

A Supreme Court appointed committee had recommended an indefinite moratorium on field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops till the government fixes regulatory and safety aspects and a ban on introduction of GM varieties in regions of their origin.

The final report submitted to the court made public on Monday, with dissenting note from R.S. Paroda, agriculture ministry’s nominee, does not mention 10-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops as suggested in the interim report. Instead, it has imposed four conditions for “meaningfully” considering allowing trials of GM crops for commercial release.

The conditions suggested are setting up a secretariat of experts to fix gaps in bio-safety protocol, housing the new bio-technology regulatory in either environment or health ministry in pace of ministry of science and technology, identification of specific sites for conducting of field tests and mandatory civil society participation as part of risk management strategy.

Once these conditions are met, the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) had suggested that the trials should be only allowed on land owned by GM crop application and not on leased land as done presently.

Aruna Rodrigues, on whose petition the TEC was formed, said the report shows there is “little that can be called rigour or comprehensive regulation” and the GM crop was being pushed without understanding its adverse implications.

The TEC did not find any “compelling” reason for allowing commercial release of BT for food such as rice and brinjal first in India and gave global example of where transgencis such as soyabean, corn, and canola are primarily for oil or feed after processing.

Another major recommendation of TEC could result in non-introduction of developed BT brinjal and rice in places where they are domesticated such as West Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar as it can result in reduction of “diversity” and “genetic purity”.

“Oryza nivara, medicinal rice, can also be at risk if GM rice comes to dominate the crop as has happened for cotton in India,” the report said, adding that India was not facing any shortage of food-grains like in 1960s to allow GM crops in its area of origin or diversity.

The report also said allowing GM crops in area of origin would impact India’s food export, especially rice which is worth Rs. 12,000 crore every year. This was based on department of agriculture’s submission that India does not have a system to ensure proper labeling of GM and non-GM foods.

The committee has also said no to herbicide tolerant crops on the ground that they would exert a highly adverse impact over time on sustainable agriculture, rural livelihood and environment. “The TEC finds them completely unsuitable in the Indian context,” the report said.

The most of the new GM crop applications received by bio-tech regulator — Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — are of herbicide tolerant varieties.

The recommendations of the report if accepted by the court could have serious implications for future of bio-technology and GM crops as it means no commercial release of them in the near future. [end of HT report]

So go ahead, sign the Change.org petition here, and spread the word.

Second report: Nip GM Mustard In The Bud

Next, I invite you to read another extremely insightful piece Aruna Rodrigues filed in The Hindu on 12 August 2013. Rodrigues was the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court for a moratorium on GMOs and in which case the TEC was formed.

Nip this in the bud

Aruna Rodrigues
The Hindu, 12 Aug 2013
http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/nip-this-in-the-bud/article5012989.ece

Genetically modified crops, whose ecological effects are irreversible, could become a mainstay of Indian agriculture thanks to collusion between the government and the biotech industry

The final report of the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on field trials of genetically modified crops is packed with revelations on what is wrong with institutional governance and regulation in India when it comes to GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). The report’s release late last month came days before biotech giant Monsanto decided not to submit any further applications for GMOs to the European Union, a decision forced by non-acceptance on scientific grounds and rejection by civil society.

Remarkable consensus

The TEC Final Report (FR) is the fourth official report which exposes the lack of integrity, independence and scientific expertise in assessing GMO risk. It is the third official report barring GM crops or their field trials singularly or collectively. This consensus is remarkable, given the regulatory oversight and fraud that otherwise dog our agri-institutions. The pervasive conflict of interest embedded in those bodies makes sound and rigorous regulation of GMOs all but impossible.

The four reports are: The “Jairam Ramesh Report” of February 2010, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal, overturning the apex Regulator’s approval to commercialise it; the Sopory Committee Report (August 2012); the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) Report on GM crops (August 2012); and now the TEC Final Report (June-July 2013). The TEC recommends that in general, there should be an indefinite stoppage of all open field trials (environmental release) of GM crops, conditional on systemic corrections, including comprehensive and rigorous risk assessment protocols. The report includes a specific focus on Bt food crops.

It also calls for a ban on the environmental release of any GMO where India is the centre of origin or diversity. It also says herbicide tolerant (HT) crops, targeted for introduction by the regulator, should not be open field-tested. The TEC “finds them completely unsuitable in the Indian context as HT crops are likely to exert a highly adverse impact over time on sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods, and environment.”

The PSC report which preceded that of the TEC was no less scathing: it was “ […] convinced that these developments are not merely slippages due to oversight or human error but indicative of collusion of a worst kind […] field trials under any garb should be discontinued forthwith”.

Sound science and factual data form the basis of the TEC decisions. There is practical and ethical sense too. The TEC insists that the government bring in independence, scientific expertise, transparency, rigour and participative democracy into GMO regulation and policy. The accent is on bio-safety.

Assessment and performance

GMOs produce “unintended effects” that are not immediately apparent and may take years to detect. This is a laboratory-based, potent technology, described by WHO as “unnatural”. The risk assessment (RA) protocols for GMOs are an evolving process to be performed by qualified and experienced experts who must be responsive to the latest scientific knowledge. The fact is that GMOs involve us in a big experiment in the idea that human agencies can perform adequate risk assessment, which, it is expected, will deliver safety at every level/dimension of their impact on us — the environment, farming systems, preservation of biodiversity, human and animal safety.

After 20 years since the first GM crop was commercialised in the U.S., there is increasing evidence, not less, of the health and environment risks from these crops. Furthermore, we now have 20 years of crop statistics from the U.S., of two kinds of crops that currently make up over 95 per cent of all GM crops cultivated globally, (like Bt cotton) Bt and HT crops. The statistics demonstrate declining yields. GM yields are significantly lower than yields from non-GM crops. Pesticide use, the great “industry” claim on these GM crops, instead of coming down, has gone up exponentially. In India, notwithstanding the hype of the industry, the regulators and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Bt cotton yield is levelling off to levels barely higher than they were before the introduction of Bt.

It takes roughly $150 million to produce a GMO against $1 million through conventional breeding techniques. So where is the advantage and why are we experimenting given all the attendant risks? We have hard evidence from every U.N. study and particularly the World Bank-funded International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge and Science for Development Report, which India signed in 2008. The IAASTD was the work of over 400 scientists and took four years to complete. It was twice peer reviewed. The report states we must look to small-holder, traditional farming to deliver food security in third world countries through agri-ecological systems which are sustainable. Governments must invest in these systems. This is the clear evidence.

Conflict of interest

The response to the TEC Final Report came immediately, with the Ministry of Agriculture strongly opposing the report. The MoA is a vendor of GM crops and has no mandate for regulating GMOs. The same Ministry had lobbied and fought to include an additional member on the TEC after its interim report had been submitted. That “new” member came in with several conflicts of interest, his links to the GM crops lobby being widely known. His entry was in fact a breach of the Supreme Court’s mandate for an independent TEC and provoked me to file an affidavit in the court, drawing attention to this. Oddly enough, he did not sign the final report, or even put up a note of dissent. This allowed the final report, then, to be unanimous; as indeed was the TEC’s Interim Report submitted by the original five members.

The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) promotes PPPs (Public-Private-Partnerships) with the biotechnology industry. It does this with the active backing of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The MoA has handed Monsanto and the industry access to our agri-research public institutions placing them in a position to seriously influence agri-policy in India. You cannot have a conflict of interest larger or more alarming than this one. Today, Monsanto decides which Bt cotton hybrids are planted — and where. Monsanto owns over 90 per cent of planted cotton seed, all of it Bt cotton.

All the other staggering scams rocking the nation do have the possibility of recovery and reversal. The GM scam will be of a scale hitherto unknown. It will also not be reversible because environmental contamination over time will be indelible. We have had the National Academies of Science give a clean chit of biosafety to GM crops — doing that by using paragraphs lifted wholesale from the industry’s own literature! Likewise, Ministers in the PMO who know nothing about the risks of GMOs have similarly sung the virtues of Bt Brinjal and its safety to an erstwhile Minister of Health. They have used, literally, “cut & paste” evidence from the biotech lobby’s “puff” material. Are these officials then, “un-caged corporate parrots”?

Along with the GM-vendor Ministries of Agriculture and Science & Technology, these are the expert inputs that the Prime Minister relies on when he pleads for “structured debate, analysis and enlightenment”. The worrying truth is that these values are absent in what emanates from either the PMO or the President.

Ministries, least of all “promoting” Ministries, should not have the authority to allow the novel technology of GMOs into Indian agriculture bypassing authentic democratic processes. Those processes require the widest possible — and transparent — consultation across India. With GMOs we must proceed carefully, always anchored in the principle of bio-safety. Science and technology may be mere informants into this process. After all, it is every woman, man and child, and our animals, an entire nation that will quite literally have to eat the outcome of a GM policy that delivers up our agriculture to it: if a GMO is unsafe, it will remain irreversibly unsafe. And it will remain in the environment and that is another dimension of impact. [end of The Hindu piece]

Detailed note: 10 Questions About GM Foods

Do GMOs increase yields and reduce pesticide use, and are they needed to feed the world? Find out in the 16-page document: 10 Questions About GM Foods.

So go ahead, sign the Change.org petition here, and spread the word.

If you agree, please go ahead and sign the petition on Change.org, here. And if you’re as convinced as I am about the good and essential work www.gmwatch.org does, then do support it as best as you can. (My belief is based on  what I’ve  read on their website) Let me reproduce the information under ‘About’ on their website here, for a snapshot on what they do. I hope you will agree it is important for everyone.

GMWatch provides the public with the latest news and comment on genetically modified (GMO) foods and crops. GMWatch is an independent organisation that seeks to counter the enormous corporate political power and propaganda of the GMO industry and its supporters. It does this through its website, email listsPowerbase portalLobbyWatch, social media (Twitter and Facebook), and other outreach and campaigning activities. GMWatch was founded in 1998 by Jonathan Matthews and its managing editors are Jonathan Matthews and Claire Robinson.

GMWatch gratefully acknowledges donations from individual supporters and funding from NGOs, charitable foundations, and trusts.

 In 2011 funders included Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth UK, the Soil Association, and the Courtyard Trust. Between July 2011 and May 2012 a GMWatch editor received payment from the Institute of Responsible Technology (IRT) for editorial support to the IRT’s newsletters. 

In 2012 and 2013 GMWatch received funding from the Isvara Foundation, Friends of the Earth Europe and the Courtyard Trust. In 2014 GMWatch received funding from Food Democracy Now!, the Isvara Foundation, and the Sheepdrove Trust. In 2015–2016 GMWatch received funding from the Sheepdrove Trust and the JMG Foundation

GMWatch is also supported by the work of dedicated volunteers in different countries around the world.

So go ahead, sign the Change.org petition here, and spread the word.

The letter for Minister Anil Madhav Dave:

Here, for your ready reference,  is the text of the letter that will go out to Minister of Environment Forests and Climate Change, Government of India Anil Madhav Dave after the petition on Change.Org is signed:

To:
Shri Anil Madhav Dave,
Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change,
Government of India.

Dear Shri Dave,

Sub: Our NO to GM Mustard or other Genetically Modified Foods

Namaste! This is to draw your attention to the fact that India’s apex regulatory body for gene technology called Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under your Ministry, is in an advanced stage of processing an application for 3 GMOs of mustard to be released for cultivation in farmers’ fields including for seed production. It is worth noting that all the 3 are herbicide tolerant GMOs, even though the application makes it appear as though herbicide tolerant genes only had a “marker” function.

However, proof of the intention of the crop developer to gain a backdoor entry for Herbicide Tolerant crops has already been presented to the regulators. The adverse impacts of herbicide tolerant crops including greater agri-chemical usage, more chemical residues in our food and environment, adverse impacts of both the GM crop and the linked chemical usage on our health and environment, entrapping of farmers in a seed and chemicals market trap, creation of super-weeds etc., are all well documented. Importantly, in a socio-economic-cultural context where millions of women in India find employment in manual de-weeding, displacing them from existing employment opportunities has huge implications for livelihoods of the poorest in India.

Meanwhile, after a special meeting convened by GEAC to listen to citizens’ representatives (scientists, farmers’ leaders, consumer activists), it became clearer that the regulatory body is limiting itself to only narrow biosafety assessment that too in an unscientific and incomplete manner.

However, there are numerous issues of concern that remain totally unresolved with this kind of regulation – what about the rights of a farmer who wishes to remain GM-Free but finds her/his crop contaminated by neighboring GM crop? What about the rights of consumers who wish to know what is in their food, have a right to informed choices and have a right to safe food? Will a labeling regime ever work in a country where most consumption is not of packaged commodities, but open? Can citizens draw any faith on such regimes when even the existing GM labeling regime for packaged commodities is a sham in the absence of its implementation? Where is a well worked out liability regime in India to address issues of penalties, redressal and remediation when things go wrong with this risky technology? Why is it that the government is ready to dabble with a hazardous unneeded technology when there are other solutions that exist which are farmer-controlled, safe, sustainable and affordable? What about natural/organic farming and the fact that transgenics and organics are incompatible in numerous ways, including by way of regulation?

It is clear that your Ministry or the regulatory body have no answers. In which case, there should be no processing of applications in the first instance. We write to you to communicate our rejection of transgenics in our food, farming and environment and to urge you to stop your regulators from providing any regulatory clearances to GMOs and their environmental release. This applies to the current case of GM mustard in particular (all the 3 GMOs) but also all GM foods [end of letter text]

So go ahead, sign the Change.org petition here, and spread the word.

Please also share your comments. Thanks for stopping by. See you again, soon.

Featured Image from the Change.org petition, here

3 thoughts on “Say no to GM mustard in India

  1. Dear Pawan Ji

    Don’t be swayed by rhetoric and lies. GE mustard is a farm innovation by Dr Deepak Pental and Brassica research team at Delhi University. Dr Pental, ex-VC of Delhi University has spent his life developing this innovative solution. India imports a large quantity of GM mustard (Canadian canola) for last many years, but some select groups opposes its commercialization in India. Our mustard farmers suffer from low yield, and become non-competitive.

    The safety of GE Mustard is proved beyond doubt. World has been consuming edible oil derived from GE mustard (Canadian canola). Consult your cook!! he must have been cooking your food in imported GE mustard/canola oil or GE soybean oil for many years.

    If yu, as an educated citizen of India wants to help our farmers, GE mustard is a way to help them increase their productivity and production.

    If yu want to know more about benefits of GE mustard please visit; http://eepurl.com/cfGRvT

    i will be pleased to answer your queries on GE mustard. Please help 60 lakh Indian mustard farmers access high yielding GE mustard technology. Canadian, American and Australian farmers have been growing same GE mustard (Canola) for last 20 years.

    • Dear Bhagirathji,

      I redirect your views and have published your comment so that my readers and friends too can get the benefit of a balanced perspective and decide for themselves.

      I have also shared your comment with @GMwatch for their considered reply, which I will publish on receipt. If you could call me on 9819293932 or send me your number, I’d like to discuss this further. Thanks for writing in.

  2. Dear Bhagirathi ji,

    I am sorry to say that @GMWatch has not bothered to reply to my query. I am mailing them again. I shall share what they revert with, here.

    Thanks.

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