Prominent civil society members Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan today urged the government not to approve the release of GM mustard citing “non-scientific, opaque and deceptive” processes adopted by country’s biotech regulator in studying it.
In a letter to Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave, they said, “We write to you to communicate our rejection of transgenics in our food, farming and environment and to urge you to stop your regulators from providing any regulatory clearances to GMOs and their environmental release.”
“This applies to the current case of GM mustard in particular (all the 3 GMOs) but also all GM foods,” said the letter written by citizens, which also include former health and agriculture ministers, eminent academics cutting across different disciplines and senior retired bureaucrats.
They referred to the report on GM mustard’s biosafety datasubmitted by a sub-committee which was constituted by country’s biotech regulator- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
After the sub-committee examined the data, the report was placed on the Environment Ministry’s website inviting comments from stakeholders within a period of 30 days before the biotech regulator took a decision.
“We urge you to extend the public feedback time to 120 days,” they said.
The report claimed that the hybrid variety did not pose any risk to biodiversity or agro-ecosystem.
“We are alarmed at the non-scientific, opaque and deceptive processes being adopted by the regulators in the name of collecting public feedback on GM mustard,” they said.
They also urged the government to ask the regulator to put out the full biosafety dossier in the public domain for independent scientific scrutiny as has been done with other GMOs in the past.
“…and make sure that feedback is collected in all forms without any prescribed formats,” the letter said.
Terming the GMOs as herbicide-tolerant, the letter said the adverse impacts of such crops including greater agri- chemical usage, more chemical residues in food and environment, entrapping of farmers in a seed-and-chemicals market trap and creation of super-weeds are well documented.
“Importantly, in a socio-economic-cultural context where millions of women in India find employment in manual de- weeding, displacing them from existing employment opportunities has huge implications for livelihoods of the poorest in India,” the letter said.
They said they have been urging the regulator that this application should not have been accepted or processed by regulators at all from the beginning.
“There are several other issues including the fact that yield increase claims are unfounded and that there are various ways and means by which India’s oilseeds production can be increased without resorting to transgenic technology.
“In fact, the release of (even non-transgenic) hybrids has not resulted in any yield or production increases of mustard as evidence shows,” the letter said.
They said that after a special meeting convened by GEAC to listen to citizens’ representatives, it had become clearer that the regulatory body is limiting itself to only “narrow biosafety assessment” that too in an “unscientific and incomplete manner”.
“There are numerous issues of concern that remain totally unresolved with this kind of regulation – what about the rights of a farmer who wishes to remain GM-Free but finds her or his crop contaminated by neighbouring GM crop?
“What about the rights of consumers who wish to know what is in their food, have a right to informed choices and have a right to safe food? Will a labelling regime ever work in a country where most consumption is not of packaged commodities, but open?” they added.