Prof Dhiraj Singh, former director of the ICAR Directorate of Rapeseed Mustard Research, speaks out against the newly planted GMO
1. "GM mustard must be uprooted and burnt" – Professor Dhiraj Singh
2. GM mustard is not India's own, it's patented by multinational company Bayer, government of India "misleading" Supreme Court, Modi is told
1. "GM mustard must be uprooted and burnt"
By RASHME SEHGAL
rediff.com, 9 Dec 2022
* 'Why should our government opt for unproven technology that has been rejected by most countries across the globe?'
'Being dependent on any other nation to supply you seed for your good crops is another form of slavery.'
Professor Dhiraj Singh, who served as director of the Indian Council of Agricultural's Directorate of Rapeseed Mustard Research, is a strong opponent of the government's move to introduce genetically modified mustard -- GM mustard.
"Once the GM mustard seed has been sown and starts flowering, it will contaminate other indigenous varieties as also our soil and water. This is an irreversible process," Professor Singh cautions Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.
[INTERVIEW BETWEEN REDIFF.COM ("Q") AND PROF SINGH ("A")]
Q: Why has the issue of GM mustard suddenly cropped up after being in cold storage all these years?
A. The issue of GM crops has been debated in India for the last six years.
GM crops have been negated worldwide. Only five to six countries in the world have GM crops.
I am deeply concerned about this because GM mustard DMH 11 and its two parental lines are tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium.
As you know, Indians consume the oil, the seeds and the leaves of mustard. But this GM mustard is being released without having studied its various health impacts and without comprehensive testing.
This has not been done because the inherent lack of safety in this technology will get exposed in the results of such testing.
Q. Without following due processes, are the test trials of GM mustard taking place?
A: Yes, GM mustard is being grown presently in six institutes.
This has happened two months ago and it must have reached the flowering stage. These should all be uprooted and burnt.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee had recommended it be grown after the environment ministry had given its approval. But the question we are asking is where is the data on bio-safety and on it providing a higher yield?
The recent affidavit they have submitted to the Supreme Court is highly misleading.
Q: In what way do you say their claims are misleading?
A: GM mustard uses the pretext of creating hybrid technology in a plant like mustard, but in effect is a herbicide tolerant crop, and the entire bio-safety assessment of GM mustard does not take this fact into account.
In the case of GM mustard, a patently false claim is being made that the herbicide glufosinate will only be used for seed production and that farmers will be prevented by legislation from spraying it for weed control. But we have found that illegal spraying of this dangerous herbicide is being done in the case of BT cotton.
Nor have the regulatory tests taken into account that a glufosinate is known to have adverse effects on the environment and on health.
The bar-barstar-barnase gene is a patented technology of Bayer Crop Science, but this fact has been deliberately concealed from the public.
Once this GM mustard has been sown and starts flowering, it will contaminate the soil and also contaminate other indigenous varieties of crops.
Q: You are saying they provided incorrect information to the Supreme Court?
A: Yes, they have submitted incorrect information in their latest affidavit submitted in November 2022.
The government's claim that GM mustard would help reduce our import bill is not born on facts on the ground.
India's production of rapeseed and mustard has gone up more than 38 per cent in the past decade.
Nor should we forget that mustard comprises only 15 per cent of India's edible oil consumption.
Further, farmers have more than 12 hybrid options all of which are high performing and high yielding to choose from, so why should they inform the Supreme Court about this risky and irreversible option?
The problem is that GM mustard is a herbicide tolerant which will push farmers towards a greater use of deadly chemicals.
An excess use of pesticide will end up contaminating non-GMO and organic mustard fields.
Why should our government opt for a random and unproven technology that has been rejected by most countries across the globe?
Agriculture will not be diverse. I must emphasise that once the GM mustard seed has been sown, and starts flowering, it will contaminate other indigenous varieties as also our soil and water. This is an irreversible process.
India is the centre of agricultural diversity and by introducing GM crops, we are endangering the global human heritage.
Q: How will this process of contamination take place since farmers will use the herbicide only on their GM crop?
A: Pesticide drift is bound to contaminate non-GMO and organic mustard fields.
The DM-11 mustard variety being herbicide tolerant allows farmers to kill the surrounding weeds without harming the crop or so they claim.
Let me point out that the technical expert committee of the Supreme Court (2013) and the unanimous reports of the Parliamentary Standing Committees which examined GM crops recommended a complete ban on GM crops.
Q: Will introducing GM crops jeopardise our food exports?
A: Of course, this is something we have been emphasising.
We are exporting close to five lakh crores of food products only because they carry the non-GM tag.
Most of these countries are averse to allowing GM food products in their respective countries.
Q: GM Mustard is known to have an adverse impact on the population of honey bees?
A: This will affect honey exports which are fetching us Rs 75,000 crore (Rs 750 billion).
The honey bee population will collapse in GM mustard is introduced.
Today, mustard is the only natural crop that bee farmers depend on.
Mustard honey comes from pollen and nectar of mustard flowers which is collected by bees.
Other food exports will also stop. BT cotton yield has increased, but sustainability is also a factor.
Q: China has not allowed GM crops?
A: No country is willing to allow corporate houses to gain a monopoly over our seed business.
Being dependent on any other nation to supply you seed for your good crops is another form of slavery.
Our traditional cotton seed used to cost the farmers Rs 60 per kg, today he is having to pay Rs 800 for 400 grams of cotton seed.
His input costs have gone up so much. So even if the yield increases, a farmer in the long run is not finding growing BT cotton sustainable.
That is why so many cotton farmers are committing suicide, but one never hears about a single scientist ever committing suicide though they are the ones providing this technology.
Dr Deepak Pental (former vice chancellor, Delhi University) has been working in the area of GM mustard for the last 35 years with support by the government, but the farmers have rejected his findings.
From 1978, we have increased our mustard production from 1.8 tonne per ha to 35 tonne per ha.
GM mustard seed is smaller than our indigenous seed varieties and also has poor agronomic characteristics. It has a high portion of seed fall off.
Corporate houses want to ultimately introduce GM in all our food crops, whether it be wheat, maize, canola, soya bean and paddy.
Earlier farmers grew several varieties of cotton, but all these have got contaminated.
The same will happen to all our remaining crops.
We must not forget that India has been the centre for such a wide variety of crops.
These will get lost as will the number of herbs that we use in Ayurveda. These will become extinct.
Q: Why is all this criticism going unheeded?
A: GM crops have not stood the test of scientific rigor and will only serve to burden our farmers further.
We were offered this BT technology at Rs 5 crore many years ago, but were not willing to pay for it. Now we are paying Rs 4,000 crore every year towards paying for Bt cotton seed.
They are doing this at a time of climate change when farmers have already been pushed to the wall.
2. GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told
[GM mustard is not India's own, it's patented by multinational company Bayer; the government of India is "misleading" the Supreme Court, Modi is told]
Counterview, 30 Nov 2022
In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives, backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard.
Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations.
The representation comes even as a panel of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than 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.
Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court 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 Government of India is actively providing incorrect information to the Supreme Court of India.
Another expert, Dr Dhiraj Singh, former director of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research's (ICAR’s) Directorate of Rapeseed Mustard Research (DRMR) revealed, “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.”
“In such a context”, he asked, “Where is the need for GM mustard? Why is the Supreme Court 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”.
Text [of the representation to Modi:]
We wish to convey our strong objection and deep disappointment over the decision of the GEAC to approve the environmental release of GM HT Mustard, hybrid DHM-11 and its parental lines. Permission letter as well as media reports indicate that these parental lines will be distributed to private and public sector researchers to develop other hybrids.
We vehemently oppose this move (as we did in the past). This genetically modified / herbicide tolerant Mustard will not bring any economic benefits to the farmers and will further contaminate our rich heritage of diversity of mustard and will pollute soil and environment. It will take away the livelihood opportunities of mustard farmers, organic farmers and beekeepers. The farmers are already in distress! This HT Mustard will further coerce them towards the usage of a deadly herbicide (Glufosinate) which will only benefit large Agro-chemical corporations like Bayer, the producer of this herbicide. Your Ministry’s regulators have made various ‘claims’ in favour of the release of DHM-11, all of which lack logic or science.
Claim around yield increases
It has been exposed several years ago by independent scientists that the claims around yield increases through GM HT mustard are hollow and unfounded. Data has been rigged and manipulated, and ICAR protocols have been severely compromised. It is unscientific that the Government of India and its regulators are parroting the false claims of the crop developers, and it is outright irresponsible. In fact, yields are going to decline if this GM mustard is approved - that is because this GM mustard is a low-yielder compared to other non-GM varieties and hybrids in the market; it is because the sterility trait is likely to spread given that farmers use farm-saved seed even from hybrids in crops like mustard; it is also because of losses to non-GM mustard farmers from herbicide drift related damages.
Claim of ‘Swadeshi’
To begin with, the claim that GM Mustard is Swadeshi and has been developed in India is completely untrue. We would like to bring to your kind notice that in 2002, Proagro Seed Company (Bayer’s subsidiary), applied for commercial approval for a similar construct that Prof. Pental and his team are now promoting as HT Mustard DMH 11. Bayer’s application at that point of time was turned down because the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) said that their field trials did not give evidence of superior yield. The bar-barstar-barnase gene is a patented technology of Bayer Crop Science. This has been deliberately concealed from the people of India. The story of Bikaneri Bt cotton pushed in the name of indigenous Bt cotton technology in India, and its subsequent withdrawal from the market by none other than the Government of India’s research bodies is a scandalous story already witnessed by us. The “Swadeshi” bogey of GM mustard will not be believed by farmers of the country and rightly so. Moreover, a poison is a poison, whether Swadeshi or Videshi.
Claims of biosafety tests
Independent experts who have looked into the biosafety data submitted by the crop developer in Delhi University have clearly pointed out that while GM mustard has not even been tested rigorously and adequately, and has never been tested as a herbicide tolerant crop, in the tests that were indeed taken up in a limited fashion, the lack of safety of GM mustard to the environment and human health was clearly captured. There are also numerous other implications including on Indian Systems of Medicine. What is also important to note is that glufosinate is a dangerous herbicide, like glyphosate. It is irresponsible for the regulatory body to recommend environmental release, and then ask for testing to be done post-environmental release, knowing fully well that GM technology is a living technology, irreversible and uncontrollable.
Claims of expected savings in foreign exchange
While it is being claimed that GM mustard approval will bring down the edible oil import bill of India, what is not being stated is that India is nearly self-sufficient when it comes to mustard demand and supply. It needs to be noted that edible oil consumption in India is region-specific and socio-cultural. Just because mustard production is increased does not mean that people in South India will start consuming mustard oil, for instance.
India is exporting nearly 5 lakh crores of food products to the rest of the world. As our country has not allowed GM in food crops, non-GM tag on our exports helps us in fetching orders from European nations, where GM is banned [GMW: This is incorrect. GM is not banned in the EU – it's just regulated]. If we allow GMOs in our edible food crops, we would lose out on exports to these countries. The threat to trade security is in fact manifold - export of mustard oil and oilseed cake once GM crop cultivation starts, export of organic produce where mustard oilcake is used widely for soil amendments and where organic certification itself will be cut off, and export of honey from India will all be jeopardized with this unwise move by the Government of India.
Impact on honeybees, beekeeping and honey exports
Mustard is a very important Rabi crop, not just for our farmers but also to lakhs of Beekeepers in India. These honey producers rely majorly upon Mustard as a livelihood. The yield of this crop also benefits from the pollination by the honey bees. Bee keeping with mustard creates a winwin situation by increasing yields of mustard by about 20-25%, even as it supports honey production and additional income for the beekeeper. This GM mustard has potential adverse impacts on honey bees. Studies (sponsored by the GM seed industry at that!) from elsewhere indicate this. This will impact crop production in general and also honey production. GM mustard could therefore result in adverse impacts on honeybees, lower honey production, contaminated honey and export rejections too. The impacts will be from transgenic pollen contamination as well as herbicide residues in honey.
Impact on existing certified organic farmers
We farmers pride ourselves in bringing diversity to our crops and practice sustainable agriculture to keep the purity of our seeds and cultivars. GM crops like DHM-11 will contaminate neighbouring crops by outcrossing! How will we ensure the purity of our seeds and crops and protect organic certification? GM Mustard is herbicide tolerant, which will push farmers towards the use of greater amounts of deadly chemicals. Pesticide drift is bound to contaminate non-GMO and organic mustard fields. This is in outright contradiction to the Prime Minister’s call for natural and organic farming to be adopted by more and more farmers.
GM technology is unproven, random and heavily dependent on agro-chemicals
GM crops are an unproven technology, which has not stood the test of scientific rigor. They are an unnecessary addition of pressure into a system that is already squeezing the farmer dry, adding to the riskiness in farming, that too in the age of climate change crisis. GM crops clearly are a relinquishment of our sovereignty to corporate interests that will threaten our food supply and our ability to control our own food chain. In short, the case for GM crops is weak, though the vested interests are strong.
On the one hand, India is proudly asking her farmers to adopt natural / sustainable farming, and on the other hand, you are forcing this technology on us which goes totally against all the principles of natural farming!
Mustard to us is not just a ‘variety’, it is a part of our culture. It is celebrated in folk songs and popular culture too. India is a Center for Diversity for mustard and several official committees have time and time again recommended against transgenic technologies in crops for which we are the Centre of Origin or Centre of Diversity.
The contamination of our food supply, soil and the environment by this GMO is something we farmers are not willing to accept. This is a monster which, once released, cannot be put back to sleep.
We strongly oppose this, and urge you to take these points into consideration, to stop and reject the approval of the GM Mustard and all other GM field trials. In doing so you avoid the irreparable damage that GMOs will cause to our diversity, soil, food and the environment. If the Government of India does not put the interests of ordinary citizens like us in policy-making around such hazardous technologies, we will be forced to step up our struggles to protect our interests.
For signatories, see: