Agri-biotechnology Agriculture Policy Briefing

GM Mustard Oil Lights a Fire on Twitter Even Before the Seed is Sown in Farmers’ Fields

As expected the regulatory recommendation for release of genetically-modified mustard for cultivation by farmers has provided the tinder for a Twitter fire. Those opposed to the technology are keeping the heat on environment minister Anil Madhav Dave with incendiary tweets.

Devinder Sharma, an anti-GMO activist, has tapped into the popularity of a phrase used recently by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor to denounce Arnab Goswami of Republic TV. The approval by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee is based on a “farrago of Distortions, Misrepresentations,” he says.

Kavita Kuruganti who has been another relentless campaigner against GM mustard calls the approval by GEAC “shameless, unscientific and irresponsible.”

For Ashwani Mahajan, National Co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, GM mustard is a disaster. It will destroy India’s biodiversity and increase its dependence on patented products without any productivity gain. He also says the approval goes against a Supreme Court stay on release of GM mustard for cultivation till October this year. He does not mention that the government has said it will take the Supreme Court’s approval before allowing cultivation of GM mustard, should it decide to allow it.

Among the supporters are Ram Kaundinya, former CEO of the Indian seed company Advanta and former D-G of the Association of Biotech-led Enterprises (Agriculture Focus Group) or ABLE-AG. Follow science and scientific assessments, not rumours and mischief mongers, he tells Mahajan and Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, who is the face of the anti-GMO movement. Both had brought foreign scientists to India to inveigh against GM mustard.

Kaundinya also questions the financial and intellectual integrity of some of those opposing an hybrid which has been developed with funding from the National Dairy Development Board and the Department of Biotechnology.

Bharat Char, who leads the technology division at Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company or Mahyco, the entity which sells cottonseeds genetically-modified to be resistant to bollworms, and also has a stake in a joint venture with Monsanto, which licenses the bolloworm-resistant trait to Indian cottonseed companies, asks activists to “open your minds and let farmers decide” because GM mustard is an option to increase productivity and catch up on a technology where India is “decades behind.”

K K Narayanan, who worked with Monsanto and later co-founded Metahelix Life Sciences, an agri-biotechnology company which he sold to the Tata Group, endorses the GM mustard hybrid developed by a team of Delhi University scientists, led by its former vice-chancellor, the geneticist Deepak Pental.

Bhagirath Choudhary of the Delhi-based South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC) is “shocked” at the “rant” of activists. With graphs he shows why GM mustard could plug India’s cooking oil imports.

G T Gujar, former head of the department of entomology at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI(), Delhi says the hybrid can help double farmers’ income, a goal the government has set for 2022.



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