The hidden agenda behind GM Mustard

By Pandurang Hegde

Ignoring the assurance given to ban GM crops before it came to power, the BJP led NDA government is fast tracking the process to give clearance to genetically modified mustard seeds. The pretext is: GM mustard is developed by Deepak Pental, an Indian scientist with the support of Public Sector. It is not a product of Multinational Seed Company.

The proponents claim that the import bill of Rs 65000 crores on edible oil will drastically be reduced by introduction of GM mustard as this will increase the yield by 35 per cent. In addition, it is environmentally safe and do not have adverse consequences on the health of human beings.

Though these claims look very genuine and promise to address the question of edible oil crisis, we need to analyse this rhetoric and understand the reality in a wider perspective of international food politics.

The GM mustard has a gene that is owned by Bayer, a multinational seed company. This fact is not made public while submitting the application for seeking clearance to allow GM mustard. This is also herbicide resistant technology, which means in order to grow this GM mustard, it is essential to spray the herbicide supplied by the Bayer. The past experience in Argentina has shown that the company will claim the royalty for this technology, incurring huge costs.

We need to carefully analyse the factors that has led to the crisis in edible oil production in India. In 1980s we were self reliant in edible oil production, however in 1998 we started importing 1.45 crore tons of edible oil, especially from the subsidised farmers in European Union and Canada. After 1991 with the introduction of market reforms and under the pressure form WTO India cut the import duty and allowed cheap import of edible oils like palm oil on a large scale that was dumped in India.

This led to fall in prices of edible oil seeds; farmers in India were unable to recover the costs of planting oil seeds. The low price for the coconut oil in south India is closely linked to this market policy that favours cheap import of edible oils ignoring the interest of local farmers.

Obviously, the low production of edible oil seeds has nothing do with increased production or yields promised by GM mustard. It is related to the flawed market policies leading to the present crisis. Instead of addressing this issue, the NDA led government is assuring that GM mustard will solve the edible oil crisis.

There are numerous mustard varieties in India that can yield more than 30 per cent yied with proper soil management and inputs. With assurance of higher price the farmers are willing to grow oil seeds to attain self reliance.

The claim that GM mustard is environmentally safe is unfounded as the use of herbicide resistant mustard is reported to kill bee colonies and impacting the honey production in developed countries. India produces 90000 tons of honey per annum, mostly from mustard fields in north and east India. With introduction of GM mustard, the bee colonies will face extinction affecting the pollination of food crops.

Realising these dangers and learning form the bt cotton fiasco states like Kerala, Bihar, West Bengal and few others have categorically rejected introduction of GM crops.

The hidden agenda behind GM mustard is to open the flood gates for further propagation of other GM food crops across the country. This will lead to seed slavery as India will lose its seed self reliance and farmers will be forced to depend on multinational seed companies perpetually.

(The author is a environmentalist and founder of the Uttara Kannada-based 'Appiko' movement to protect bio-diversity of the Western Ghats)

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