Gandhians against GM

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While India is still dithering over adopting genetically modified or GM crops, over a hundred Gandhians have signed a petition against it. Bharat Dogra explains why.

Recently, over a hundred Gandhians, most of them activists involved in several justice-based struggles, signed a petition against the commercial release of a genetically modified mustard variety DMH 11 {GM (genetically modified) mustard, in short}. In addition to this petition sent to the Prime Minister on 14th June, they made a strong statement against other GM crops as well, particularly GM food crops.

This petition came at a time when the controversy surrounding GM food crops is about to peak with the final decision on commercial release of GM Mustard still pending before the government. Mustard or sarson is a very important oilseed crop of India, and its leaves are also cooked as a much relished vegetable (sarson ka saag); additionally, mustard has several medicinal uses, including in home remedies.

As no GM food crop has yet been approved in India, this decision will have wide reaching impact. There has been a lot of international interest in this issue as well; a decision taken by India is likely to influence some other developing countries as well.

Earlier, this controversy had peaked during the tenure of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government in 2009-10, when Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had called for public hearings to be held on this issue all over the country. Finally, on 9th February, 2010, Jairam Ramesh announced the important decision of moratorium on Bt brinjal which was widely welcomed. This time around also there is a lot of public interest, but the transparency of the earlier process is missing.

Right timing
The petition by the Gandhians against GM Mustard and other GM food crops has come at just the right time, when people have started asking a lot of questions about GM Mustard. This petition has been signed by senior Gandhians like S.N. Subba Rao of ‘National Youth Project’, and P.V. Rajagopal of ‘Ekta Parishad’.

The petitioners say that there is sufficient evidence to show that GM crops are not safe for human health. “Apart from the bio-violence that forms the inherent basis of genetically modification technology”, the petitioners note that transgenic varieties can contaminate all other crops as well, and if GM varieties keep spreading, after a point there will be no GM-free agriculture.

The claim of promoters of GM Mustard that this is necessary for increasing yields is rejected in this petition, which goes on to say, “Worldwide, experience shows that in the case of rapeseed which is of the same family as mustard, countries which grow non-GM rapeseed such as Germany, France, England and Czech Republic show yields much higher, almost double, compared to the ones which grow GM-rapeseed such as Canada and USA.” Further, there are other non-seed based agronomic approaches to increasing mustard yield such as the system of Mustard Intensification. This has already given good results in several parts of India.

Regarding ecological and health risks of GM Mustard this petition says that this is likely to increase herbicide and agri-chemical use. This will have a very adverse impact on a very important pollinator like honeybee, and on the production of honey.

The petitioners have demanded that in view of the adverse impacts of GM Mustard in particular, and GM food crops in general, the government should reject GM food crops to protect the interests of farmers, consumers, the interests of environment as well as the larger national interest. Alternatives of eco-friendly agriculture are available.

What this statement has said is in conformity on the one hand with the views expressed by several several senior scientists or groups of scientists such as the Independent Science Panel and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as some eminent scientists of India such as the late Dr. Pushpa M. Bhargava, who passed away on 1st August 2017. One of the signatories and founders of Ekta Parishad P.V. Rajagopal has said that the basic principles of Mahatma Gandhi are for decentralisation and increasing self-reliance of rural communities, while technologies such as GM crops are taking us in the opposite direction of making farmers excessively dependent on big corporates. Ran Singh, another signatory and one of the coordinators of Ekta Parishad said that Gandhi emphasised concern for the poorest and respect for all life forms, and technologies such as these which increase the expenses of poor farmers and have adverse impacts on bees and other life forms should be opposed.


Bharat Dogra

Bharat Dogra is a Delhi-based freelance journalist, who writes on social concerns.

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