Farmers and activist groups in Madhya Pradesh have asked the government not to give its approval for genetically modified mustard fearing a threat to the organic variety which is produced in large quantity in the state.
In a letter written to environment minister Anil Dave on Tuesday, representatives of over two dozen farmer groups and those promoting organic farming sought disclosure of all safety documents on GM Mustard.
The opposition comes after the safety document prepared by the sub-committee of Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) was put up on the environment ministry’s website on September 5, inviting comments within a month.
“The government can’t force people to eat GM mustard,” the letter said, asking the minister not to give approval for GM Mustard.
“What is the need to introduce GM mustard when everyone already knew the fate of Bt cotton?” they asked.
Kapil Shah, national secretary of Organic Farmers Association of India, told HT that only after people go though the documents would they be in a position to comment.
“We are demanding at least three months time to make comments. We also want disclosure of all the safety dossiers on the GM Mustard,” he said.
Shah said 15 years of Bt cotton cultivation in India had exposed GM technology as the insects, which Bt cotton was supposed to defy, developed resistance, and farmers were using more pesticides than ever before on cotton crops.
“Farmers and their representatives with whom I interacted here are very sceptical about GM mustard, as it is a food crop,” he said, adding that there are other means to ensure better yield and improve the crop.
Madhya Pradesh is the fourth major state producing mustard with a share of nearly 11% to the country’s total mustard production.
Neelesh Desai state convener Beej Swaraj Abhiyan said the state has been in the forefront of promoting organic farming.
“GM mustard has the potential to push local seed varieties to the background, increase monopoly of a particular seed variety and its suppliers. Also, we have no idea about its long term impact,” he argued.
In the past, Madhya Pradesh has strongly opposed introduction genetically modified technology, with the then state agriculture minister Ramkrishna Kusmaria, an agricultural doctorate, submitting a book he authored on dangers of ‘Genetically Modified Organisms’ to the members of the parliament in 2010, arguing that GM foods in the long run will end the autonomy of farmers and make them dependent on monopolized supply sources.
Farmers with whom HT spoke said they were not being informed about what could happen with the use of GM Mustard in the long run.
Laxman Singh Muniya from Jhabua questioned as to why the government can’t improve local seed varieties.
Another farmer Jagdish Yadav from Rewa district said they were apprehensive about its long-term impact on the health of people. “Manipulating crops like this, playing with nature can be dangerous. We don’t need to take this risk, especially when we have to eat it,” he said.
STORY BEHIND THE GM MUSTARD
India’s apex regulatory body on genetically modified organisms — Genetic Engineering Approval Committee — uploaded a document called ‘Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety’ on environment ministry’s website on September 5.
It invited comments for the proposal on authorisation of environmental release of genetically engineered Mustard (Brassica juncea) hybrid DMH-11.
At present, only GM cotton is cultivated in India.
Earlier, during the UPA regime, then environment minister Jairam Ramesh placed a moratorium on the commercialization of Bt Brinjal after activists and farmers opposed it.
If the environment ministry gives a go ahead for GM Mustard, it will be the first GM food crop to be commercially cultivated in the country
The GM mustard (DMH-11) was developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, Delhi University.