In a well-attended conference on Saturday at Anna University in Chennai on the sides of three-day Seed festival, experts from various walks of life sought to throw light on why they were wary of Genetically Modified Mustard and its commercial cultivation in India. Organised by Poovulagin Nanbargal, the conference was addressed by food policy expert Devinder Sharma, Kavitha Kuruganti of Safe Food Alliance, Prof Sultan Ismail, Siddha expert Dr G Sivaraman, Agriculturalist Pamayan and actor and activist Rohini among others.
Warning against ‘scientific fraud’, Dr Devinder Sharma debunked the claims that the Genetically Modified mustard would not drive an oil revolution. The Environment Ministry’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had in May cleared the commercial use of GM mustard, making it the first GM food crop in India.
Elaborating, Dr Sharma said the GM Mustard proposed to be introduced was not a high-yielding variety as being touted. He said it was not possible for a low-yielding variety to bring about an oil seed revolution and dismissed the variety as ‘junk,’
Dr Sharma also pointed out that only one clinical trial has ever been held for Genetically Modified Organisms, making it unclear what the dangers are. “As citizens we have failed to raise any questions. We think it is the responsibility of the government to decide whether GMOs are safe or not. That is the travesty of our society. We are willing to spend if we are affected but not spend for taking precautions.”
He also noted that there were at least five non-GM varieties that were either doing as well or even better than the GMO variety. The GMO variety posted a threat to food safety and security, he warned.
Pamayan of Tharcharbu Iyakkam added, “It is time that state governments asserted their constitutional authority over their agriculture and health by writing to the Prime Minister and asking him to get this GM mustard commercialization proposal rejected immediately. Tamil Nadu government should do so too” He said the farmers will be affected by this which in turn will affect the animals.
“In India, the fact that GM mustard is an Herbicide Tolerant crop is something that is being carefully hidden from the public,” said Dr Sultan Ismail. An herbicide tolerant called “Glufosinate” is a neuro toxic pesticide that causes damage to nerves and the brain.
Pointing out that Ayurveda and other Indian systems of medicine use mustard in their different preparations, Siddha expert Dr Sivaraman said no testing has been done on the impact of GM Mustard on these medicines. “Herbicide Tolerant crops will result in larger chemical usage on mustard crop. This has direct implications for agricultural workers and their employment opportunities. Importantly, it will also mean greater chemical residues in our food, leading to health impacts on consumers” he added.
Appealing to the State governments to take up the issue with the Centre, Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture said “It was a clear case of broken promises, the fact that GM mustard application has been entertained this far and has received a regulatory clearance, with no basis at all. BJP is breaking its promise to the citizens in its 2014 election manifesto. It is also unclear why this GM mustard is being promoted when the adverse impacts on BJP ruled states will by far be the worst”. She said it was dangerous that the GM was being touted as silver bullet that will solve the oil crisis. Urging the state governments to protest the commercialisation of GM Mustard, she said the states must act in the interests of its own people. “GM Mustard is a symbol of how wrongly we have understood the development” she said.
Seeking a greater plan of action in countering the dangers of GM Mustard, actor and activist Rohini said she would work with artists to produce short films that would explain the dangers of GM mustard in public domain.