Why does India need GM Mustard at all?

Guest article by Mr Devinder Sharma, Food and Trade Analyst

devinder-sharma

Thirteen years after the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had ‘deferred' commercial approval for genetically-modified (GM) mustard; the genie is once again back. Costing Rs 70-crore of taxpayer's money, which could have helped set up at least 3,000 new schools, the new GM mustard awaiting approval for commercial cultivation this time comes dressed up in public sector attire.

The same claims, the same language (almost the same) and the same fears. Earlier it was Pro-Agro Seeds India, a subsidiary of multinational agro-chemical giant Bayer, which claimed its GM variety containing four foreign genes, would raise the productivity of mustard by 20-25 per cent, and improve oil quality. The new GM mustard that has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, University of Delhi, and contains three alien genes - Bar, Barnase and Barstar -- also makes strikingly similar claims. At the same time, for reasons that can be explained, the promoters of the earlier Pro-Agro GM mustard as well as Delhi University's new GM mustard deny the expression of herbicide resistance, although both use a gene known for it.

Pro-GM lobbies distorting facts
The country is importing Rs 60,000-crore worth of edible oils every year and therefore there is an urgent need to increase the production of mustard, which in turn means producing more edible oils, goes the refrain. In several panel discussions and public debates on this subject in which I have participated, I have heard Dr Deepak Pental, a former Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University and the lead developer of the new GM mustard, repeatedly assert on the need to cut down on the foreign exchange outgo and also how much would be the resulting saving for a developing country like India. This is exactly what the promoters of the GM mustard developed by Pro-Agro used to claim some 13 years back. Edible oil imports at that time were also around 50 per cent of the domestic requirement, costing the state exchequer Rs 12,000-crore.

To any educated person, the argument on the need to reduce the huge import bill on edible oils sounds very appealing. But very cleverly, the GM lobby has used this argument to give an impression as if it is because of the shortfall in mustard production. In reality, it is not so.

Let me explain. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was piqued over India's rising imports. He was desperate to cut down on what the macro-economists call as the Current Account Deficit. Fuel, fertilizer and edible oils topped the import chart. The annual import bill for edible oils then hovered between Rs 1500 and Rs 3000-crores. Knowing that edible oil imports could be stopped since India had the ability to raise domestic oilseeds production and also undertake processing, he launched a Technology Mission in Oilseeds in 1985.

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Anupam Paul 9 September 2016 at 09:50 PM

It is heard that GOI is going to launch GM Hybrid Mustard DMH 11 commercially. I would like to point out the followings. 1. There were more than 9000 varieties under Brassica sp in India ( NBPGR 2007-08) 2. India is the home of Brassica. Are we contaminating our own varieties thus jeopardizing our own mustard diversity. 3. Whether characterization of all the varieties have been done with regard to yield. 4. If so where we can get the data and we compare with the new GM hybrid 5. Have we explored all the options of increasing yield excluding pure hybrid. 6. Have we stopped exploring other option of edible oil like Safflower, rice bran . 7. Many parts of India is suffering from irrigation facilities and these GM hybrids require fertilizers means more water requirement. 8. Is it necessary to increase the cost of cultivation with hazardous chemical fertilizers and pesticide, while millions of farm land are being degraded each year. 9.Have the policy makers have ever cultivated mustard in his own hand . 10. Have the policy makers heard of SMI and NPM. 11. How pollinating bees are affected by GM mustard? 12. If so , when they visited farmers' fields? 13. If these are not complied , then there is no need to launch G M Hybrid mustard.

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Vijay Agrawal 5 September 2016 at 07:17 AM

Excellent well researched article with facts..I wish mainstream press does its duty of reporting both sides, facts based instead of just parroting the official narrative/sold to vested interested and money..With current Govt there seems to be even more throttling of independent ideas, press, judiciary and every pillar of a free democracy..Sad state but thank you to ppl like you, Kavita for keeping up the hope.

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