GM mustard musters fierce debate

The GM mustard has united the nation. Massive protests are being carried about against the possible approval of GM mustard in India. Yesterday, farmers and citizens gathered in protest and marched on the Besant Nagar Beach, Chennai. 

After cereals, oilseed crops are the second largest contributor to the agricultural economy. But at the same time, India is the largest importer of vegetable oils in the world. This is due to rapid increase in consumption on both household and industrial levels. The consumption is further likely to go up in future as standards of living increase.

The above trend for vegetable oils isn’t only specific to India. According to studies, by 2050 we’ll produce slightly over 100 tons more than what we are producing now.

But the shortage of mustard will pinch the most because it is the highest oil yielding crop (35-45%) among oilseed crops and it’s nutritious value. India is the second largest producer of mustard.

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In order to “address” the issue, some government players have been talking up Deepak Pental’s GM mustard for a while now. He is a professor of genetics and a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Delhi. It also dubbed as the India’s first GM crop, thus bringing the patriotic element. Soon the became the leading news story for all news outlets.

Recently, this has taken the shape of online activism and name calling between the divided groups, pro-GM vs anti-GM. So much so this issue has made some people look over politics. Dr. Ashwani Mahajan, an RSS affiliate wrote to the PM of India about how unscientific it would be to allow GM mustard in Indian agriculture.

But ironically (or not) no formal statement of approval or otherwise has come from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee or the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

In light of this confusion, we got some clarity from Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court HT GM mustard case. In her interview with Firstpost, she said

In the last few days, in the aftermath of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) approval on 12 May, virtually all media, especially the print focused on this “supposed” superiority (higher yields) along with the other “supposed” issue that is the presumed bio-safety of GM mustard variety called HT DMH 11.

The fact is that the government themselves in their “reply” (to our application) admitted on 88, pg 56, “No such claim has been made in any of the submitted documents that DMH 11 outperforms non-GMO hybrids. The comparison has only been made between hybrid DMH 11, National Check (NC) Varuna and the appropriate zonal checks (ZC). A maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of 2,670 kilograms per hectare has been recorded over three years of Bio-safety Research Level (BRL) trials which were 28 percent and 37 percent more than the NC and ZC respectively”.

While it was important that to the media covered this extensively,  it’s also important to find the solutions.

The problem of natural resources cannot be solved by playing God. In fact, we have learned that using GM foods will only benefit the rich few at the cost of health and livelihood of others.

According to Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research(ICAR), the are the challenges faced in meeting demand for vegetable oil are

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This ICAR report is carried in Rajasthan, the State with the highest producer of mustard.

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But this report doesn’t single out genetic modification as a strategy for 2050. It talks about using nanotechnology, crop diversifications, improving input efficiency, farm mechanization, market and trade policies, capacity building and technology transfer and improving water management.

You can read the full report here. (Graphs and pie charts have been used from this report)

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