Farmers on Sunday staged a demonstration against genetically-modified mustard seeds near Roshanpura square in Bhopal.
GM mustard could become India’s first GM food crop released for cultivation by regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
Farmers and activist groups in Madhya Pradesh have asked the government not to give its approval fearing a threat to the organic variety which is produced in large quantity in the state. Madhya Pradesh is the fourth major state producing mustard with a share of nearly 11% to the country’s total mustard production.
Majority of the protesters were from Jhabua district where the state government has reportedly decided to introduce the GM mustard seeds first.
During the protests, about 15-20 farmers carried placards saying ‘Say No to GM Mustard’ and ‘GM sarson murdabad’. They were also wearing Gandhi caps with ‘Jai Hind’ written on them.
A farmer, Lakshman Singh Muniya, said they will not allow the government to introduce the GM mustard seeds in Jhabua.
“We all are fully aware of the damage that the GM seeds would cause to our fields. It would increase the yield of the crops by threefold in the first year of its sowing, but eventually it would turn our fields into barren lands. It would leave us nowhere and give us the only option of suicide,” added Muniya.
Another farmer, Surendra, said the GM seeds will end the natural fertility of the soil in Jhabua.
“Till now, majority of farmers in Jhabua avoid using chemical fertilisers and do farming by implementing natural fertilisers such as neem and manure. The introduction of GM seeds would destroy the land of Jhabua,” he said.
A social researcher, Arvind Mishra, accompanying the protesting farmers said this was a symbolic protest. “We want to send a signal to the government through today’s protests that if it doesn’t back out from their introduction of GM mustard seeds, there would be a much bigger protest by the farmers in the coming days. This was just a hint,” said Mishra.
Seeds of discontent
Expressing their resistance against GM-mustard, thousands of people joined ‘Sarson Satyagraha’ in 18 states on Gandhi Jayanti, asserting the hybrid variety is “unwanted, unneeded and unsafe”.
Recently, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had sought public comments on safety aspects on the DMH-11 mustard variety developed by the Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants.
The ministry has put the sub-committee’s 133-page ‘Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety of GE mustard’ (AFES) online and invited public comments before the GEAC takes the final decision on GM mustard. Comments can be submitted till October 5.
Activists have alleged that the sub-committee did not have any health expert and three of its members have conflict of interest.