Farm activists and sustainable agriculture campaigners demand rejection of GM mustard, citing serious ecological and health implications
EXCERPT: The yield claims of GM mustard were busted systematically by presentations that had detailed data which points to rigging of data in addition to violation of GEAC's own decisions.
Activists urge government to reject GM mustard application
Times of India, Jul 18, 2016
A group of anti-GM farm activists and sustainable agriculture campaigners on Monday demanded rejection of the current application of the transgenic mustard, claiming that all the genetically modified organisms being considered for approval in this case are herbicide tolerant (HT) with serious ecological and health implications.
The activists also urged the government not to limit its risk assessment only to health and environment but also incorporate choice of farmers and consumers in the decision making process while taking care its social and economic aspect.
Appearing before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — a central regulator on biotech, the group noted that India does not have a risk assessment regime worked out for HT genetically engineered crops and therefore it would be dangerous to take decision in favour of it.
The activists also claimed that the clearance of GM mustard will force farmers to buy seeds every season and will affect their sovereignty, crop diversity and profitability even as the regulator assured them that the scientific correctness will be maintained before taking any decision.
The anti-GM group was asked to made its detailed presentation before the GEAC so that the points raised by the civil society members can be assessed and scientifically checked properly before taking any call on the future of the GM mustard in India.
Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), who was part of the 8-member team that went into the GEAC meeting, however, expressed her disappointment with the regulators saying it has adopted "a very narrow and limited framework to assessing risks", especially in the absence of any other responsible institution that will take into account various socio-political and economic issues.
She said, "It was clear that regulators are limiting their mandate to assessing risks to health and environment, without going into any other issues like farmer and consumer choices. So, who will be responsible for comprehensive impact assessment?"
"This is alarming given that even biosafety is being assessed in an unscientific and narrow manner, in an event-based approach, without independent testing or scrutiny, based completely on crop developer's data. Even that data has been generated using protocols prescribed by the crop developers themselves," she said.
Though the GEAC assured the delegation that a channel of dialogue with all will be kept open as part of the ongoing consultation process, it did not commit whether it would share all information in the public domain.
Main issues raised by the delegation:
1. Herbicide Tolerant crops increasing chemical usage, creating superweeds and causing numerous health and ecological impacts; HT crops will also impact poor rural women's livelihoods and employment opportunity directly.
2. Concerns on possible hidden agenda of giving greater markets to MNCs like Bayer - whose application for a similar GMO with bar-barnase-barstar complex was rejected in 2002 for being a HT crop - through the usage of glufosinate (which is not approved for usage in mustard crop by the pesticides regulator incidentally but where Bayer's brands are the sole brands in India today) which also holds a patent on the bar gene, were raised. India becoming a dumping ground for hazardous rejected technologies is a serious concern.
3. The effect on farm yields due to male sterility trait transmission in farm saved seed of both DMH-11 and neighboring non-GM crop due to contamination is a matter of serious concern that has not been looked into by GEAC. Instead of fulfilling the hyped yield increase promises, this transmissibility will actually impact yields adversely.
4. The yield claims of GM mustard were busted systematically by presentations that had detailed data which points to rigging of data in addition to violation of GEAC's own decisions.
5. The authenticity of tests, apart from the scientificity of protocols and methods used were questioned with evidence.
6. The absence of a liability regime was pointed out, even as serious lacunae in the risk assessment regime were highlighted (the tests not conducted and the issues with tests that were claimed to be conducted).
7. The snatching away of choices for farmers and consumers was unacceptable, they said.
Demand of the team:
1. Rejection of the current application in toto and immediately, for all 3 GMOs;
2. Fixing of liability on crop developers for false/incorrect evidence provided willfully to regulators in addition to violations of biosafety norms laid down for field trials and blacklisting such applicants in the regulatory system;
3. Putting out all documents pertaining to DMH-11 R&D from its inception into the public domain immediately.