Calls to Halt Commercialisation of GM Mustard in India



Dear Friends and Colleagues

Calls to Halt Commercialisation of GM Mustard in India

India’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) approved and recommended the commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) herbicide tolerant mustard (Brassica juncea) DMH-11 in May 2017. The Environment Ministry now has to make the final decision.

This is the first food crop to have received regulatory approval in India since Bt brinjal. In 2010, the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh, following public hearings, placed a moratorium on Bt brinjal given the uncertainty over its safety in the long-term on human health and environment, and the impacts on the rich genetic diversity of brinjal in India.

Hundreds of comments have flooded in objecting to the GM mustard. One is a letter addressed to Mr. Anil Dave, Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate, by Advocate Prashant Bhushan who has demanded the withholding of the commercial release of GM mustard, calling it "a massive and dangerous experiment" (Item 1).

In the letter, Mr. Bhushan cites three grounds for withholding the approval. First is the assurance given by the Attorney General in October 2016, that India would not release DMH 11 “without the prior approval of the Supreme Court”. Secondly, he highlights the biosafety and food safety issues, and the risk of contamination of India’s mustard germplasm by DMH 11. Thirdly, he states that the history of GMO regulation in India is marred by “the most serious conflicts of interest and lack of expertise”. 

In October 2016, more than 100 organisations representing farmer unions, trade unions, civil society groups and political parties protested against the government’s plans to commercially release GM mustard. India’s largest farmers’ unions have reiterated their objection to the approval of the GM mustard (Item 2), stating that it “has no utility for farmers and is in fact against our economic interests”.

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Item 1


Apoorva Mandhani 
LiveLaw                                                                                                                                               14 May 2017

In a letter addressed to Mr. Anil Dave, Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate, Advocate Prashant Bhushan has demanded to withhold the commercial release of GM Mustard, which was approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) on Thursday.

In the letter, Mr. Bhushan has “expressed great disquiet and anxiety at the opaque and unscientific regulatory oversight of this GM mustard”. Therefore, demanding that the plan of commercialization be nipped in the bud, the letter states, “The issue also is that with GMO contamination, our mustard will be changed at the molecular level. Any toxicity that there is will remain in perpetuity. Are we prepared to be the agents for such monumental risk and put India and its people in jeopardy without any recourse and remedy? For these reasons among others, and there are decidedly ‘others’, I would urge you on behalf of our Nation not to endorse this outrageous and antinational approval, but reject it in the public interest. You will be doing India a noble service in posterity.”

He thereafter, enlists three grounds for withholding the approval. First, he relies on the assurance given by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, in October, 2016 that the Union of India will not release DMH 11 “without the prior approval of the Supreme Court”.

Second, he highlights the issue of the biosafety of HT Mustard DMH 11, which, he says, is “critical for India’s agriculture in mustard, its food safety (both as a vegetable and seed oil), and furthermore, and of outstanding importance, the certain contamination that will occur of India’s mustard germplasm.”

Third, he emphasizes on the “lessons of history of GMO regulation in India”, averring that it is marred by “the most serious conflicts of interest and lack of expertise”. 

“For this reason, self-assessed safety dossiers by crop developers are kept secret by our Regulators and governing Ministries,” he further points out, highlighting the fact that the GM mustard dossier has also remained unpublished.

The letter goes on to rely on certain statements made by the Centre and the GEAC in a reply affidavit filed before the Apex Court. For instance, the Centre had, in the affidavit, admitted that there has been no claim that DMH 11 out-performs Non-GMO hybrids.

“Therefore, we draw the conclusion that the stated regulatory intent is to deregulate HT DMH 11 as a policy agenda based on no science, and to convert India’s mustard agriculture, in a massive and dangerous experiment, to (GM) HT hybrid mustard, (variants of DMH 11),” the letter thereby states.

Read Prashant Bhushan’s letter here:

Item 2


13 May 2017

Representatives of farmer unions in India have writtento the environment minister Anil Madhav Dave asking him to reject GM mustard for commercialisation.

The GM mustard was given the green light by the GMO regulator GEAC last week. But the environment minister now has to approve the commercialisation.

The farmer unions say in their letter that they are “deeply dismayed and disappointed” by GEAC’s decision. They continue:

“We urge you to reject this application in toto and not approve this GM HT mustard which has no utility for farmers and is in fact against our economic interests. This GM mustard engineered with herbicide tolerance trait will only benefit the large agro-chemical corporations like Bayer, which are seeking to expand markets for their poisonous chemicals (glufosinate herbicide in this case), and lock us into the package of external seed supply with associated pesticides.

“This is a GMO which is meant to help seed manufacturing companies and not farmers. We already have choice of seed varieties and hybrids in the market. We do not need this risky technology to be deployed in our farms and risk contaminating our other seeds. This GM mustard will also jeopardise organic farming and leave farmers with very little choice in reality.

“The reason being cited for introducing this crop is better oilseed production through higher yields. In reality, this GM mustard yields lower than many recent, popular hybrids and varieties. The testing has been rigged to have favourable results for this unsafe GMO. Some of us who participated in a special GEAC meeting have found that the regulators are biased, unscientific and even lack integrity required.

“Here, we would like to point out that oil seed production has taken a hit due to bad pricing/procurement support from the government, and inappropriate anti-farmer import policies adopted by the government. It is not because we are unable to produce enough or do not have the seeds or know how. If the pricing, procurement and import policies are made farmer friendly we assure you that we can produce all the mustard and other oil seeds the country needs.

“In addition to the various issues with this GM mustard, it should be noted that the extensive cultivation of this can be devastating for the environment. It is engineered to be tolerant to a herbicide glufosinate which is not even approved for use in mustard crop. The result of approving this crop will be the rampant use of this herbicide, increased chemicalisation of our farms, affecting our own health and creating health and ecological problems in rural India. We would also like to remind you that your party had made a promised to all of us in your election manifesto and it now falls on you to keep that promise. The regulatory clearance certainly goes against the commitment made in the BJP manifesto.

“In view of the fact that this GM mustard has no benefits for farmers and is potentially harmful, we ask you to outright reject this application for approval for commercial cultivation. This GM mustard deserves the same fate as the GM mustard application considered for commercialisation in 2002, and Bt brinjal in 2009-10 in India. We oppose it and we request you to reject the application.”

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