GM Mustard – A scientific fraud to hijack Indian farmers

Posted by Manjeet Singh
October 5, 2017


GEAC has given positive recommendation to release GM mustard for which final call has to be taken from the desk of MOEFCC, GOI. GM technology is being quoted as innovation, but it violates law of natural evolution, section 3 (j) & (h) of Indian patent law, 1970, PPVFRA, 2002, and fundamental rights [Article 21 of Indian constitution] of small farmer community. GM food crops are widely cultivated world around and India is also one of largest producer of GM cotton. GM cotton in form of Bollgard I has failed, Bollgard II is failing and Bollgard III is in process to be released but entangled due to strict stand of government as reality of Monsanto is exposed. GM technology is scientific fraud to hijack the Indian agriculture and diversity, and to bleed the small farmers to slow death.

India is big importer of oil, both as fuel and edible oil. India imports worth $15 billion [~10,000 rupee] and 11.96 million tonnes edible oil during 2015-16. Our productivity level is less than canola and rapeseed mustard varieties being grown in Canada, Australia, USA. This is what supporters of GM mustard, some economists and lobbyists are planting in the minds of Indians. No disputes, we are one of largest edible oil importer. Our agriculture productivity is less than developed countries, which is common problem of Indian agriculture rather problem of mustard. We are almost self-sufficient in mustard oil. The share of mustard oil in total imported edible oil is mere 2.72 percent in terms of volume. Major import of edible oil is of palm oil which is further used in value-addition. GM mustard is scientific fraud to hijack the Indian farmers and Indian diversity by some MNCs, who are boasting to feed the world, which must be needed to feed irrespective of them as per nature rule and fundamental of right to life. But, what are the reasons for such fat import bill, deficiency and less productivity of Indian agriculture? Nobody wants to connect the dots to visualise the real picture. Let me connect the dots for you, and show you how this is one of biggest scientific fraud, and still the very scientific community of agriculture is aloof of.

Where the area under mustard has been lost

Post green revolution most of our pulse and mustard area has been shifted to wheat. Supplement irrigation and fertilizers, and market & well integrated value chain system in form of FCI, higher MSP for wheat further pushed farmers to grow wheat in place of mustard and pulses. We are not only edible oil deficient country but also importing worth $10 billion pulses. Pulse and millet production is also suffering from same disease, which requires separate discussion. Do we need to flood the Indian agriculture with GM crops led by some MNCs as we have to increase the production and cut down the import bill? Do we need to ape what the Canada, USA and Australia has done, without placing irrigation, market and other basic infrastructure in place?

Mustard is rain-fed and dry farming crop, grown in western Rajasthan, western Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh and in dry areas of Madhya Pradesh prominently. It is grown as subsistent crop where irrigation infrastructure is good in place e.g. Punjab, Haryana, western UP or Rajasthan. In nutshell assured irrigation, integrated value chains for rice-wheat, higher MSP, led conversion of mustard [and pulses, millets] area into wheat fields. This phenomenon is in progress since green revolution. We have become over sufficient in wheat and rice and deficient in pulses, oils and millets, right.

Now, GM mustard claims to give high yield which is nonsense. This is like putting atomic bomb under Indian agricultural system which will bring socio-economic disaster to the state to Indian agriculture over the years.

Cost of farming would increase

Farmers in case of mustard save, share and swap their seeds to grow over next season. Now, you cannot save, share and swap the gene construct [barnase-barstar] lethal mustard hybrid seeds for next season, requires every year new seeds to be bought from the markets. In case of varieties they can save, share and swap the seeds for n number of years. Over the time it will make the farmers dependent on the markets and monopolistic seed giants. This game will bleed and hit the poor farmers in terms of debt trap/high cost of cultivation/ crop failure/ suicides/ social disharmony etc. GM mustard promise to increase production/productivity/yields/profit initially but overall income to farmers’ hands will come down over the years. Bt cotton pushed by Monsanto-Mahyco is live example to be studied in socio-economical terms, which is bleeding the poor farmers of India. Cost of production, increase in chemical sprays due to break down of resistance of bollworm, the emergence of superweeds and new insect pests has been increased many folds. Overall farmers are poorly benefited; it is good for biotech companies but disaster for farmers.

Over the years cost of cotton seeds has been increase manifold that some state governments and centre needed to impose price regulation in Bt cotton. Since the introduction of Bt cotton price of cotton seeds has increased by almost 80,000 percent and 300,000 farmers have driven to suicides.

Erosion of biodiversity

Canada has release the GM canola in 1996 and has become largest exporter but it does not suit our agricultural system and our farmers. They did not lost anything in form of biodiversity [study Vavilov’s centre of biodiversity] and our farming system is very unique and subsistent in case of mustard. Mustard is prominently rain-fed and dry farming crop. Farmers generally grow local varieties or new varieties like Varuna, which have been well acclimatized to local climate, soils, diseases and pests occurrence over the years of cultivation. These local varieties have capacity to sustain inclement weather, poor fertilized soils, diseases and pests. Saving, sharing and swapping of seeds by farmers lead to conservation, preservation and creation of biodiversity in disguise. GM mustard would hit priceless biodiversity inadvertently and endangered the wild flora and fauna.

Bio-safety is a major issue

Unlike cotton which was introduced as non-food crop has become major edible oil crop in some states which has led many ill effects on the health of insects, animals and human beings. Mustard is consumed commonly in form of oil, leaves as ‘Sarson ka Saag’, condiment and being widely used in Ayurvedic medicines. All the genes [barnase, barstar and bar] are found in the leaves which may cause lethal effect and endanger the food chain over the years. Mere scientific studies on mouse or guinea pigs for small time frame cannot rule out hidden dangers and hazards. Moreover, bio-safety data of GM mustard is not in public domain in name of business confidentiality, third party patents and copyrights etc. How we can play with bio-safety of huge Indian population in name of business confidentiality. The whole system of research and trails has been conducted in very opaque manner which is even under the Supreme Court jurisdiction to be resolved since 2013.

GM mustard would lead to heavy sprays of glufosinate [basta] in the coming years which is well documented carcinogenic and poisonous to insect fauna particularly pollinators. Greater evolutionary pressure via more toxic genes results in faster emergence of resistance. Superweeds, super pest, environmental contamination, higher causes of cancers and health hazards were reported where roundup/liberty link® resistant canola, soybean, maize is being grown.

Hidden herbicidal/terminator/zombie seeds

Terminator technology or GURT is the genetic modification of plants to make them produce sterile seeds. For the time being there is not any discussion of deployment of herbicidal, terminator and zombie seed technology in GM mustard but seeds from GM mustard are not less than terminator seeds as farmers cannot save them for next season. To be discussed GM mustard, DHM-11 has bar gene which provides resistant to basta [Glufosinate ammonium]. Basta/round up resistant crops are becoming susceptible to superweeds and superpests so zombie seeds in form of liberty link® technology would imprison the Indian farmers further.

Now, this is the hidden game, this whole propaganda was motivated by few seeds giants e.g. Monsanto [subsidiary of Bayer], DuPont, Syngenta etc to push the GM mustard first and then round up and liberty link® resistant seeds in succession to loot the Indian farmers. This would leave control of mustard seeds in the hands of some mentioned seed giants- accounted for half of the global seed market. These companies have capacity to design and deploy genes [liberty link® technology] which would require seeds and chemical spray from the same company. This would create a new perpetual monopoly for the seed industry. Impact on honey production/bee keepers/pollinators Intra and inter-specific transfer of barnase gene to non GE mustard will lead to male sterlity among later due to expression of barnase gene. [see page of 86 AEFS report,]. This will lead to poor pollen availability/foraging to pollinators, particularly honey bees. This will contaminate the local varieties and would impact their yield due to sterility problems. Honey production and honey bees would hit badly once GM mustard released. 85 percent of pollen in honey comes from mustard in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Glufosinate ammonium (basta) is broad-spectrum systemic herbicide which is highly poisonous to insects and pollinators. CCD, colony collapse disorder in honey bees has well documented due to increase in cultivation of GM crops. Honey producers are in fear over release of GM crops. It is well documented that GM crops have led extinction of feral colonies of bees and are hitting bee, butterflies and other insect fauna.

No public/farmers’/states representation

GEAC is undemocratic and club of motivated sheep scientists. There is not any representation from farmer community or amicus curiae from public. India is signatory to Cartagena protocol which bound parties to take public opinion on board while approving/releasing any GMO. Agriculture is state subject, how few people in GEAC and MOEFCC can take such important decision unilaterally? You cannot bulldoze GM technology particularly which is linked to food chain system and health of billion people.

Lax regulation and lack of proper legal liability laws

In India the manufacturing, import, use, research and release of GMOs are governed by archaic rules of 1989 under EPA, 1986. Simply our regulation and oversight mechanism is not transparent, outdated and unsuitable to today’s advancement of GM technologies like GURT/zombie seeds. How anything that has the potential for risk to the public health be considered as confidential?

There is no bio-safety and FES data [food and environmental data] of Bt brinjal and GM mustard in public domain in name of business confidentiality, third party patent and copyrights laws. Then, most important aspect, there is opaque legal framework and laws in case of liability, compensation and punitive measures. Bollgard I has failed, Bollgard II is failing. Farmers are debt trapped/committing suicides/distressed, whom is to make held responsible. Companies [Mosanto-Mayhco venture] who have earned their profits, now they are not ready to take any blame of Bt cotton failure to bollworm attack which violates the section 64 and 66 of Indian patent law. 

Despite SC moratorium Bt brinjal, Bt maize has been reported from the farmers fields, how they landed in the hands of farmers? When unapproved liberty link® rice lines contaminated non GM rice in USA, Bayer needed to pay $750 million as compensation and punitive fee to 11,000 farmers. But, what we have doing when we are reporting Bt brinjal/maize contamination with our normal varieties? Our liability laws are not in place and awareness among scientific and farmer community is poor to sue MNCs who are contaminating Indian food system with non approved Bt lines. Way forward

Way forward

  1. We have almost self sufficiency in mustard oil. The share of mustard oil in imported edible oil is mere 2.76 per cent.. Farmers do not require new varieties; they need better policies in form of irrigation and market infrastructure, rationalization and realization of better prices, integrated value-chains and procurement system like FCI in case of rice-wheat. If we cannot solve these basic infrastructure problems, bringing new technology and varieties is not going to help out Indian agriculture. So, we need to increase the basic irrigation infrastructure with social and market supports to bring more areas under oilseeds, pulses and fodder.
  2. Most of our mainstream agricultural R&D is concentrated on wheat and rice. We need to strengthen R&D in oilseeds, pulses and fodder to make India really food sufficient. We need to broaden the genetic pool of Indian mustard through crossing with east European gene pool, through traditional breeding in form of varieties rather hybrids. Public sector and indigenous R&D should be strengthened to escape the hijacking of seed gaints. We need to learn from China who has deployed useful transgenic traits in traditional varieties, cultivars and OPV [open pollinated varieties] unlike in hybrids to make farmers self-reliant.
  3. We need to make our scientists social scientist first. Most of our scientists are brilliant but they really do not know how their work is going to impact farmers in socio-economic terms. They are running rat race to get good publications to get promotions. There is need to teach the patent laws, PPVFRA, 2002, TRIPS, biopiracy to our research scholars and scientific community to make them understand the new hidden game of seeds giants who are hijacking the seeds. If I put analogy, East India Company used Indian to exploit India- very much like British arbitrarily appointed zamindars to help them earn taxes and revenues from peasants.
  4. We need to bring social activism and scientific journalism into our institutions. There is needed to make GEAC democratic by making it integrated with ICAR, agricultural experts, and farmer community.
  5. GM crops have Frankenstein capacity and, require stringent rules and guidelines, smart policies, and sophisticated legal liability laws in place to regulate GM technology. Opaque and non-transparent mechanism of food and environment safety [FES] needs to be fixed which is under SC’s jurisdiction to be resolved.
  6. FES is a major concern for the introduction of GM food crops which is under judiciary’s purview to set the proper transparent regulatory mechanism. It has been ridiculous on GEAC part to recommend it without resolving the socio-economic concerns of farmers, honey producers, public and agricultural community.
  7. We need to bring agriculture into the concurrent list from the state list. There is very much need to integrate state agriculture universities and mainstream agricultural institution to work for the common problem of Indian agriculture rather solving the problems in agriculture in bits.
  8. There is need to bring ICAR under PMO as strategic sector just like atomic energy, space technology and defense as more than 60 percent folks are contributing mere 14 per cent of GDP. We need to learn from ISRO scientists who are working for nation with clear vision to make nation strong and self-reliant.

Youth Ki Awaaz is an open platform where anybody can publish. This post does not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions.