The GM mustard variety that has been approved is not high yielding; its productivity is less than three other existing non-GM varieties
EXCERPT: I have never doubted the ability of The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to be a rubber stamp for the GM industry but the shoddy way the approval has been granted to GM mustard breaks all scientific norms. It is a scientific fraud.
GM mustard: India gearing up to be biggest dustbin for risky, harmful tech
Business Standard, 16 May 2017
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* Even European Union continues to stand firmly against GM crops
The news has still not sunk in. The nation has still not been able to understand the serious ramifications of allowing commercial cultivation of GM (genetically modified) food crops. The regulatory approval granted to GM Mustard is actually aimed at opening the flood gates for GM foods. India is, in reality, is getting ready to be the world’s biggest dustbin for a risky, unwanted and harmful technology.
As European Union continues to stand firmly against GM crops, so much so that after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s firm opposition, the incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron has now made it abundantly clear that he will not allow GM crops, all eyes were on India. Why India? Simply because even China, despite the communist regime, has remained wary of the risky technology. Where else could the GM industry turn to in these difficult times?
There is no denying that science and technology will lead the world into the next century. But if in the name of technological innovation, a junk genetically mustard variety — DMH-11 — has to be given a nod for commercial cultivation, it only shows how unscientific the entire process of scientific regulations has turned out to be. I have never doubted the ability of The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to be a rubber stamp for the GM industry but the shoddy way the approval has been granted to GM Mustard breaks all scientific norms. It is a scientific fraud. If the GEAC has to fall over backwards to simply be in the affirmation of Niti Aayog’s recommendation to usher in GM technology to address the continuing agrarian crisis there is something terribly wrong with policy makers understanding of what has led to the prevailing farm crisis.
Nevertheless, let’s look first at an absurd claim that has been hyped by most newspapers in the editorial columns. It is often said that repeat a lie a hundred times, and it becomes the truth. The claim that GM Mustard yields 30 per cent higher and therefore would be India’s best bet to reduce the Rs 76,000-crore edible oil import bill, simply falls in that category. It is a lie that has been spoken a hundred times, and since it is now generally accepted that GM Mustard will help cut down on imports, I find it is actually the Niti Aayog that has been prompting it. The absurdity of the fake claim lies in the fine print. The devil is in the detail. DMH-11, the GM mustard variety that has been approved, is not a high yielding variety. Its productivity is less than three other non-GM varieties that exist. DMH-11 is therefore actually a junk variety. By all scientific norms, it should have been confined to the dustbin.
In a presentation made by a scientist of the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, University of Delhi South Campus (see the attached chart) it has been conclusively shown that there already exist four mustard varieties with higher productivity. Three of the varieties are in the same DMH series and in fact DMH-4, which is a traditional variety, provides 14.7 per cent higher yield than GM Mustard. Two more varieties, produced by Pioneer and Advanta, too give higher or almost equal yield than the variety for which the media has falsely gone to the town saying it gives 30 per cent high yield. I therefore don’t understand how does India plan to cut down on edible oil imports by cultivating a low-yielding GM mustard variety? Are public policy decisions taken by just what is planted in the media?
In 2016-17, India had a record mustard harvest. A bumper production and the prices crashed. Reports coming from the mustard growing areas show how farmers had to resort to distress sale. Prices on an average fell by Rs 400-600 per quintal for farmers. Cultivated in nearly 65 lakh hectares, mustard has never been faced with problems associated with low productivity. The biggest problems farmers face is the failure to realise a remunerative price, matching at least the minimum support price (MSP) that the government announces. Not even remotely making an effort to provide farmers with an assured price, the Niti Aayog has been deliberately diverting attention from the dire need to provide a higher income to as if productivity is the main problem. Neither the government not the consumers will benefit from its questionable wisdom.
I remember it was in 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi decided to reduce the current account deficit by cutting down on edible oil imports. At one stage he had asked me whether I thought raising domestic production was a better way than to go on with edible oil imports, which were the third largest import at that time. He launched an Oilseed Technology Mission, and by 1993-94 India became almost self-sufficient in edible oil imports. As much as 97 per cent of the edible oil requirement was met domestically and only 3 per cent was imported.
The “Yellow Revolution” as it was called simply didn’t last long. Successive governments went on slashing the import duties. Against the bound rate of 300 per cent import tariffs that India could impose, the import duties were subsequently brought down to almost zero. Cheaper imports, and that too predominantly of palm oil, began to flood the domestic markets. From just 3 per cent imports, India now imports more than 60 per cent of its edible oil requirement. This forced oilseed farmers, mostly cultivating in the harsh drylands of the country, to shift to other unremunerative crops, and the domestic edible oil industry too brought down its shutters. So much so that some Indian companies had even moved to Sri Lanka, setting up processing plants and then exporting processed edible oil to India.
If cutting down the edible oil import bill is the objective, what is required is to first provide the same enabling environment. Unless the import tariffs are raised to level that can turn imports uneconomical, any talk of reducing the import bill is meaningless. The Niti Aayog knows this. It is aware that India will have to walk down the “Yellow Revolution” pathway if the intentions are to increase domestic production of edible oil. But cutting down on import bill is not the intention. The objective is to push in GM crops through the back door using a flawed argument of the need to raise production simply to justify the risks any GM technology brings along.
The GEAC has also denied that the GM Mustard is actually a herbicide-tolerant crop in disguise. It was shocking to know that some GEAC members had even told a group of civil society representatives that they know DMH-11 will push in herbicides but since the chemicals are expensive they expect farmers will refrain from purchasing the herbicides. If this is a scientific explanation, please tell me what is unscientific.