“The biosafety and related tests have not been done” – scientist Pushpa M. Bhargava

The statement below by GM mustard developer Deepak Pental to the effect that ”all the risks have already been assessed” since “people have been consuming canola oil with similar genetic engineering since 1995” is unscientific in the extreme.

GMO regulatory systems worldwide recognise that all GMOs are different and the safety of one GMO cannot be deduced from data on another GMO.

A further problem with Pental’s statement is that he doesn’t seem to be referring to any actual safety testing data on the canola oil. Instead he makes the anecdotal claim, “It is already in the food chain and no untoward reactions have been recorded.”

But as no surveillance system for GMO health effects exists anywhere in the world, it is hard to know how such reactions could be recorded.

Safety concerns over DU’s GM mustard

Jayashree Nandi
The Times of India, Nov 7, 2015

Delhi University's genetically modified mustard—Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11 (DMH 11)—is in the eye of a storm with several civil society groups as well as scientists raising concerns about its safety and the need to introduce it.

According to scientist Deepak Pental, the mustard has cleared all safety tests and will be considered for commercial release soon. But civil society organisations on Friday said that the safety test data and results have not been released for public scrutiny. Several farmers groups, like Sarson Satyagraha, are also resisting the technology. Right to Food campaigners have also raised concerns about farmers losing control over seeds as well as production.

Scientist Pushpa M Bhargava, founder of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and Supreme Court appointee to the GEAC, told TOI: "The biosafety and related tests have not been done. Secondly, the data of the tests has not been released to ascertain whether they were done properly. I don't believe GM mustard is ready for commercialisation, nor should it be under any circumstances."

However, Pental said, "All the risks have already been assessed. People have been consuming canola oil with similar genetic engineering since 1995. Japan, for instance, is the biggest importer of this GM canola oil. It is already in the food chain and no untoward reactions have been recorded. We imported edible oil worth Rs 65,000 crore last year because of declining production, so this is going to help our country massively," he said.

Pental claims about Rs 70 to Rs 80 crore have been spent to develop the "high yielding" seeds would cost about 1.5 to twice the cost of conventional seeds. The patent for the variety is with DU.

The GM-free coalition members, who have been trying to access safety test data of GM mustard, say there is a suspicious secrecy around it. The appellate authority of ministry of environment and forests said the information sought cannot be disclosed because it "would harm the competitive position of third party" and another RTI enquiry only got a reply saying the matter is under process

Kavitha Kuruganti of the coalition has appealed to the CIC also. "GEAC hasn't seen the bio-safety data yet, so how can they release it for people to see," argued Pental. Ministry sources said the GEAC meeting will take place this month.

Meanwhile, some agricultural produce market committees in Gujarat recently wrote to GEAC pointing out that there is no special demand for GM food in the market. Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, which has about five lakh members, said that there is no yield advantage with hybrid variety in mustard based on their experience on the ground.

Food campaign said, "The production of mustard came down long before this GM technology was discovered. It is not a technology problem but there are political and economic reasons for production of mustard and oil seeds to come down. We have been asking for decentralizing production and procurement.

The organisation has also written to Prakash Javadekar stating that the problem with oilseed production is due to lopsided policies of successive governments and not an issue of productivity alone.