Published On : Mon, Oct 24th, 2016

SC to decide on GM Mustard seed today as large contingents of farmers arrive in Delhi

mustard-fieldsTrains going from Nagpur to Delhi carried many ‘activists from Nagpur also who will be joining people coming from all over the country to protest and agitate against legally allowing G.M. ( genetically modified) mustard seeds for agricultural production in India.

It has been over a month since the genetically modified mustard seed was cleared by a committee of experts in the environment ministry. But final clearance for commercial release is now in the hands of the Supreme Court which is expected to give a decision on the matter today.

Former Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental is frustrated. A sub-committee in the environment ministry has ruled that the genetically modified mustard seeds Pental’s team has developed is safe for human consumption. But the debate over the long-term impact of genetically modified food products on human health and farmer welfare has thrown the launch of the seed a curve ball.

What Pental is saying

But the big boost these seeds can give Indian agriculture will have to wait, since commercial release is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. Former Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental is frustrated. A sub-committee in the environment ministry has ruled that the genetically modified mustard seeds Pental’s team has developed is safe for human consumption. But the debate over the long-term impact of genetically modified food products on human health and farmer welfare has thrown the launch of the seed a curve ball.

What is Dr. Pental claiming?

Pental and his team are claiming that GM Mustard seeds developed by them will increase production of mustard by 30% on an average and benefit farmers.

The safety of the seeds for human consumption has been cleared by the concerned committee so that is also not an issue.

The claims of farmers that these gm seeds will make Indian farmers dependent on multinationals also does not hold water since the patent for the process has long expired and they can be produced in India too.

What the farmers and environmentalists are saying

Modifying any food or agricultural commodity like cotton is an unsafe and unstable process and enough research hasn’t gone in to study long term effects on environment and human health.

Introduction of any gm seed disturbs the traditional process of agriculture where farmer could select the healthiest seeds grown by him for propagation – reducing costs and keeping availability of an important input in his hands.

As Dr. Sharad Pawar, retired Scientist of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre who specialized in agriculture says, the claims of Pental that gm seeds will increase production is not borne out by facts. The gene that has been incorporated with Mustard genes is not known for increasing otput.

In fact, he alleges in an interview on the subject, that the main purpose and aim of the gm mustard seed is that it is herbicide resistant – which means that farmers can ‘safely’ spray certain herbicides to kill weeds without affecting crops.

So, the real aim of this seed could be to open up markets for herbicide manufacturers and we all know that MNC Monsanto has almost a monopoly on this!

What is genetically modified exactly and how is it different from hybrids?

For decades, or rather centuries, agriculturally even hybrids did not exist. There were many varieties of each crop – Jowar, bajra, wheat, paddy, cotton, oil seeds etc. and nature selected and propagated the best. According to theory of ‘survival of the fittest’. Farmers selected which variety they wanted to cultivate based on what grew best in that area and his budget etc.

Commerical hybrids came in 50 -60 years ago when agricultural scientists fused the genes of two varieties of the same plant species to make them yield more and give more commercial yield. It was since then that the dependence of farmers on Seed companies began and increased. In the process we have almost lost our natural treasure – our original seed germs.

Genetically modified goes one step further – one BIG step further. It marries genes of one species to another for commercial gain! To give a simple example – in the USA gene of tomato has been combined with the gene of a fish living in the cold Arctic seas to prevent damage due to cold weather. This can raise some fundamental questions – is this tomato vegetarian or non vegetarian now? Is it really tomato any more??

To give a somewhat shocking analogy. If tomorrow Doctors and genetic engineers decide that too many human beings die very young of preventable diseases and invent a genetically modified prototype of a human where genes of say the long living tortoise are ‘married’ to human genes! Will that human be really even human?

Genetic modification by definition is playing with and tampering with nature and natural processes and therefore many countries the world over are wary of gm seeds and crops.

Even their commercial gain is to be debated. Just consider the case of gm cotton and how spectacularly it failed in certain Indian states leading to mass farmer suicides.

The crucial importance of mustard in India

Mustard is not just a seed that is used for ‘tadka’ in Indian cooking like jeera. Mustard oil has long been the most popular medium for cooking in North Indian states from Kashmir, to U.P., Bihar – right up to Bengal.
In fact it was the most consumed oil till ‘foreign oils’ like Soyabean and Palm oil were thrust on us by clever marketing, manipulations and economics. This, when the suitability of soyabean for human consumption is being debated newly world wide.

But when all these tactics still could not do away with traditional cooking oils of India like coconut oil, mustard oil, sesame oil and groundnut oil the markets are sought to be controlled by controlling inputs themselves.

That is why more than 100 farmers’ groups and environment vigilantes are gathering in Delhi today in an agitation to say NO to gm mustard. There are more than 26 just farmers groups – but even ordinary and aware citizens are joining in the march.