10/03/2016 11:36 EDT | Updated 10/03/2016 11:42 EDT

Keep Bayer-Monsanto's 'Trojan Horse' GM Mustard Out Of India

The decision whether to allow the commercialization of the first genetically modified (GM) food crop (mustard) in India is nearing. Serious conflicts of interest and outright fraud could mean the decision coming down in favour of commercialization.

Pacific Press via Getty Images
KASHMIR, INDIA - 2016/03/23: Mustard flowers are in full bloom on the outskirts of Srinagar the summer capital of Indian controlled Kashmir. (Photo by Faisal Khan/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The decision whether to allow the commercialization of the first genetically modified (GM) food crop (mustard) in India is nearing. Serious conflicts of interest and outright fraud could mean the decision coming down in favour of commercialization.

The real story behind GM mustard (DMH 11) in India is that it presents the opportunity to make various herbicide tolerant (HT) mustard hybrids using India's best germ plasm, which would be a money spinner for developers and chemical manufacturers (Bayer-Monsanto).

Campaigner Aruna Rodrigues is petitioning (the petition includes all evidence to support her claims, as outlined in this article) India's Supreme Court, seeking a moratorium on the release of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment pending a comprehensive, transparent and rigorous biosafety protocol in the public domain conducted by agencies of independent expert bodies, the results of which are made public.

To understand the GM mustard issue in India, it is important to appreciate the history behind it, as outlined in the writ petition:

In 2002, Proagro Seed Company (now Bayer), applied for commercial approval for exactly the same construct that Prof Pental and his team are now promoting as HT Mustard DMH 11. The reason today matches Bayer's claim then of 20 per cent better yield increase (than conventional mustard). Bayer was turned down because the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) said that their field trials did not give evidence of superior yield.

The petition says that, some 14 years later, invalid field trials and unremittingly fraudulent data now supposedly provide evidence of a superior yield of 25 per cent. DMH 11 is the same Bayer GMO construct -- an herbicide tolerant GMO of three alien genes. It employs, like the Bayer construct, pollen sterilization technology barnase, with the fertility restorer gene barstar (B&B) and the herbicidal bar gene in each GMO parental line. The employment of the B & B system is to facilitate the making of hybrids as mustard is largely a self-pollinating crop (but outcrosses at rates of up to 20 per cent). There is no trait for yield. DMH 11 is straightforwardly an herbicide tolerant crop. This aspect has been consistently marginalised by the developers.

As mustard tends to be self-pollinating, to produce a hybrid, two parent lines had to be genetically modified. The outcome is three GMOs: the two parents and the offspring, DMH 11, which will be ideal for working with the glufosinate herbicide.

Various high-level reports (listed here) have advised against introducing GM food crops to India. In a press release, Aruna Rodrigues notes the abysmal state of GMO regulatory oversight in the country and the need for the precautionary principle to be applied without delay.

GM mustard (DMH 11) is a HT GMO with three alien genes, which have suddenly emerged in the line-up for commercial approval as part of the DMH 11 "package." They are HT crops designed to be used with glufosinate (notably Bayer's market brands, Liberty/Basta), a neurotoxin that will be banned in the EU from 2017.

Rodrigues asserts that the two parent lines and the hybrid DMH-11 require full independent testing, which has not occurred. And it has not occurred because of a conflict of interest and regulatory delinquency. The Department of Biotechnology is an active partner with Prof Pental (and his team at Delhi University, who have been developing GM mustard). The institutions of GMO governance in India see no problem in regulating DMH11, which they are also invested in and promote.

Allowing for not one but three GMOs is a serious case of regulatory sleight-of-hand. It means that the system allowing for GMOs in India has been deregulated.

Rodrigues shows how the tests for GM mustard have been based on fraud. GM mustard is said to out-yield India's best cultivars by 25-30%. The choice of the correct comparators is an absolute requirement for the testing of any GMO to establish whether it is required in the first place. But Rodrigues argues that the choice of deliberately poor comparators is at the heart of the fraud.

In the absence of adequate and proper testing and sufficient data, no statistically valid conclusions of mean seed yield (MSY) of DMH 11 could be drawn anyhow. Yet they were drawn by both the regulators and developers who self-conducted and supervised the trials.

Deliberately poor non-GMO mustard varieties were chosen to promote prospects for DMH 11 as a superior yielding GMO hybrid, which then passed through the system and was allowed by the regulators. Rodrigues shows how the fraud continued by the active fudging of yield data of DMH 11 by 15.2 per cent to show higher MSY. She offers a good deal of evidence to show how and why it was done: to justify the request for commercial approval.

A combination of fudged data and regulatory delinquency mean that DMH 11 and its two GMO parental lines are effectively forcing open the backdoor entry into India of HT GMOs based on non-GM traits.

Rodrigues concludes:

It matters not if DMH 11 is not approved. What does matter is that its two GMO parental lines are: HT Varuna-barnase and HT EH 2-barstar will be used "for introgressing the bar-barnase and bar- barstar genes into new set of parental line to develop next generation of hybrids with higher yields -" (Developer and Regulator). This extraordinary admission confirms that the route to any number of 'versions' of HT mustard DMH 11 is invested in these two GMOs as partents. India will have hundreds of low-yielding HT mustard hybrids, using India's best mustard cultivars at great harm to our farmers and contaminating our seeds and mustard germ plasm irreversibly.

This unremitting fraud and unremitting regulatory delinquency is being protected by a subterranean process of regulation that has also broken India's constitutional safeguards by keeping the biosafety data hidden from the nation.

Rodrigues says:

These matters require criminal prosecution.

It raises the question why are top officials seemingly hell-bent on driving GMOs into India. That is an issue in itself, one that is again related to more collusion and deception.

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