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Centre should say NO to GM mustard

Centre should say NO to GM mustard

Even nationalistic sentiments can’t stop vested interests.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has approved the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) mustard in India. This was following the recommendations of a regulator under the GEAC. Bt cotton is already being commercially produced in India. Although the expert panel had approved of GM brinjal, the then environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had intervened and blocked the process due to the strong protests by agricultural scientists and NGOs as well as rampant skepticisms raised regarding biosafety. It’s well known that the international companies like Monsanto and Bayer, their Indian subsidiaries and the ‘scientists’ they procured have been constantly pressurizing for the approval of GM crops. There have been odd incidents like hundred Nobel laureates writing an open letter to capitalist companies. In the ‘regulatory panel’, there are more government representatives than experts. The unbiased voices in the farming sector point out that the main claims laid down by Deepak Pental, the lead scientist of Delhi University who developed GM mustard and the GM lobby that backs him to get the crop approved is itself baseless. The GM lobby argues that the country spends Rs 60, 000 crore annually for importing edible oil and hence an increase in the production of GM crops would save money.

Agricultural expert Dr Devinder Sharma had proved India to be self-sufficient in the production of oil seeds by 1993 with the help of the Technology Mission Scheme (Yellow Revolution) in the 1980s. It’s a fact that imports increased in later years even when it wasn’t required. It wasn’t because of reduced production but because the Centre gradually cut short the oil imports due to other interests. This means that we needn’t depend on the imports for fulfilling the edible oil requirements.

The loyalty of GEAC has been questioned before. Even though its goal is to protect the people from the ill effects of unscientific agricultural research, it dances only to the tune of the GM lobby. There are several evidences of the GM crops adversely affecting the environment- the soil, air and water as well as public health. Many countries that have approved GM crops are now deserting the technology. They have realized that producing such crops won’t end the food crisis and that it increases flaws in farming. The Bt crops are now being discarded from the cotton fields in India itself. The genetically modified crops have benefitted only the bourgeoisie. The agricultural sector depends on them and they conveniently exploit the farmers. (Monsanto reaps Rs 650 crore from India by selling Bt cotton seeds alone. That too when the farmers in Punjab commit suicide). Beyond economic considerations, if the GEAC fails to see the health risks posed by the GM crops, it’s the people who will be at risk. Such produce will overhaul the market in a way that undermines our control on our homes as well as on health. Dr Vandana Shiva, a biosafety scientist backed by documents and evidences says that the GEAC report that vouch for the safety of GM mustard is pure lies. It plainly neglects the biosafety aspects taking into consideration only the chemical factors. Three kinds of genes, barnase, barstar and bar, that are not yet known to be safe, are found in the GM mustard crops recommended for approval. Vandana Shiva had defied all the arguments and claims presented in favour of GM mustard crops.

Even if the GM crops aren’t harmful to health, there aren’t sufficient justifications for permitting them. The damage caused by these crops to the soil and the seeds could not be undone for years. Beyond all these factors, no inquiries have been carried out still, about the social and economic repercussions in the state likely to be caused by the GM farming, leave alone a proper research. With the GEAC given its approval, it’s the Union Environment Ministry that is left to decide on the matter. Environment Minister Anil Dave says that the government would take a stand only after the Supreme Court decision. Shouldn’t the court verdict be considered only if the GM mustard crops has to be approved? What’s the hindrance for saying NO to GM crops?

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