After the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) gave a positive recommendation to genetically modified mustard (GM Mustard) on Thursday, activists have urged Union Environment Minister Anil Dave against the crop, claiming that the tests performed were rigged.
GEAC, the country's regulator for transgenic crops, in its meeting this week gave positive feedback to the GM Mustard, calling it safe and fit for commercial release.
The approval is now due with the Environment Minister and once it gets clearance, GM Mustard will be the first genetically modified food crop to be cultivated in India.
Saying that the crop is a herbicide tolerant (HT) variety and would have direct adverse impacts on Indian farmers and consumers, activists have dubbed the GEAC as "anti-environment" and which used "farcical processes" of public feedback.
"We note with deep disappointment and shock the regulatory green signal from the GEAC for the commercial cultivation of GM Mustard. By clearing this crop GEAC has failed the very mandate and purpose of its creation - to protect citizens from risks of genetically modified organisms. By clearing GM mustard, GEAC has shown itself to be anti-science, anti-farmers, anti-environment and anti-consumers," Sridhar Radhakrishnan of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said in a letter to the Environment Minister.
He stated that it had been proved through rigorous analysis of all available material how GM Mustard will increase chemicals in the food and farms since the crop is a HT variety.
"The appraisal was shoddy while the tests were rigged and many tests not taken up. The need for GM mustard was never questioned and answered. GEAC has ignored all the many valid questions raised by scientists and others and chose to function in an unscientific and biased fashion," he said, adding that when the rest of the world is shunning GM crops, we would be foolish to rush into GM mustard commercialisation.
"We appeal to you, in your capacity as the Minister for Forests, Environment and Climate Change to summarily reject the application for approval of GM-Mustard," Radhakrishnan said.
The Environment Ministryâ€™s approval could open the gates for the entry of nearly 100 other GM food products, many of which are still in its trial stages, Sanjeeb Mukherjee writes in Business Standard.
These include genetically modified varieties of rice, wheat, ragi, sugarcane, carrot, tobacco, castor, etc.
Some activists have also claimed that even 25% cultivation of GM mustard would impact the livelihood of millions of farmers by reducing 4.25 crore employment days.
Kavita Kuruganti from the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), who has been cautioning against GM crops, said that India should rather focus on procurement issues, import policy and subsidising oil seed cultivation.
"Even if 25 per cent of mustard land grows GM mustard, about 4.25 crore employment days will be lost for millions of hard working poor women," Kuruganti said. She added that India already has hybrid crop and doesnâ€™t need GM mustard.
"The main objection is because it is HT, which means farmers will be using more chemicals," she stated.
Activists have also pointed out that the BJP in its election manifesto had promised that it would not subject Indians to GM food crops without proper long term scientific evaluation.
Mayank Aggarwal in a piece for Live Mint states that the government's decision will be be one to watch out for. He points out that contrary to the BJPâ€™s manifesto promise, â€śGM crops are central to the governmentâ€™s plans for pushing investment and growth in the biotechnology sector. The government also considers it critical for boosting farm productivity in India.â€ť
Calling the GEACâ€™s approval â€śa fraud perpetrated on the nationâ€ť, scientist and environmentalist Dr Vandana Shiva told FirstPost that it has been â€śgranted under pressure from Monsanto and Bayerâ€ť.
â€śThe truth is that the GMO mustard is a herbicide resistant mustard, which is resistant to Bayer herbicide glufosinate, which is established to be a neurotoxin. Further, Bayer has hundreds of patents related to the GMO mustard. Bayer has now merged with Monsanto therefore one can call the GMO mustard a Monsanto/Bayer mustard. While on the one hand, they are corrupting our regulatory agencies, Monsanto is also trying to influence the courts to try and undermine our patent laws,â€ť she told the site.
Just last month, an international civil society initiative concluded that US-based biotech giant Monsanto's activities violate basic human rights.
The Monsanto Tribunal judges concluded that Monsanto has engaged in practices that have impinged on the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food and the right to health. Additionally, Monsanto's conduct has a negative impact on the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.
Meanwhile, those working on developing GM Mustard have rubbished all allegations of it being unsafe. Deepak Pental, a geneticist at Delhi University who led the team that developed the genetically modified variety of mustard called Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH)-11, has been saying that the crop is safe, and that the whole uproar against it has gone too far.
With IANS inputs
Read our earlier story detailing What the fight over GM Mustard is all about.