In 2006, Monmohan Singh, the then-prime minister of India, made a deal with George W. Bush to open India's agriculture sector to U.S. agribusiness interests. The Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture was a quid pro quo agreement related to the U.S. sanctioning and facilitating the development of India's civil nuclear sector.
Since that time, India has been under pressure to change its land acquisition and seed patenting laws, open up its gene banks and dilute provisions that protect farmers' rights. A combination of physical access to India's gene banks and a possible new intellectual property law that allows seed patents would deliver India's genetic wealth into U.S. hands and would be a severe blow to India's food security and self-sufficiency.
If allowed to go through, India will be forced to accept a highly toxic and unsustainable technology suited to monocropping.
Some 10 years on, the decision whether to allow the commercialization of the first genetically modified (GM) food crop (mustard) in India rumbles on. As I have previously discussed here, the bottom line is government collusion over GM crop technology (that is not wanted and not needed) with transnational agribusiness, which is trying to hide in the background.
The real story behind GM mustard 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 an irresistible money spinner for the developers and chemical manufacturers (Bayer-Monsanto). GM mustard is both a Trojan horse and based on a hoax. It is exactly what the Bush administration envision in 2006.
A number of high-level reports (listed here) have advised against introducing GM food crops to India. Allowing for not one but three GMOs (which is what the GM mustard in question constitutes, when we include its two crucial GM parental lines) is according to environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues a serious case of regulatory "sleight-of-hand," permissible due to diluted rules to ensure easy compliance.
If allowed to go through, India will be forced to accept a highly toxic and unsustainable technology suited to monocropping. HT GM crops would be particularly unsuitable for its agriculture given the large number of small farms growing a diverse range of crops alongside mustard that contribute towards agricultural biodiversity and, in turn, diverse, healthy diets.
The processes being used to push through GM mustard are, according to this writ by Rodrigues, based on fraud and unremitting regulatory delinquency. She argues that the whole system 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.
"These matters require criminal prosecution."
The Indian government has now told the Supreme Court (SC) that it won't release GM mustard without the court's say so. At the same time, however, it strongly opposes the writ filed by Rodrigues.
In an affidavit response to Aruna Rodrigues' writ, however, the Union of India revealed something that merited a press release from Aruna Rodrigues.
According to the press statement, the government's response contained an admission by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) itself that no claim had been made in any documents submitted to it that HT Mustard DMH 11 out-performs non-GMO hybrids.
So then, what is the point of GM mustard? And what were all the claims being made in media about GM mustard outperforming non-GMO hybrids by 25 to 30 per cent in yield?
Rodrigues says that claim was also made by the developers (Dr. Pental and his team at Delhi University) and is recorded by the media. She also notes that the claim of superior yield was implied in the Supreme Court (SC) during a "hearing" (October 24) on India's import bill for edible oil.
The press statement says:
"It is now clear, by the GEAC's own admission, that DMH 11 does not out-yield India's best non-GMO cultivars and this includes hybrids against which this mustard was not tested."
"Therefore, what is the Union of India's point? Is this HT mustard being introduced because of its ability to just make hybrids? Given that it does not outperform our non-GMO hybrids, the argument collapses on its essential lack of science and reasoned thinking."
She concludes that this HT Mustard DMH 11 is not needed -- which is in fact the first step of a risk assessment protocol for GM crops!
HT mustard DMH 11 will make no impact on the domestic production of mustard oil, which was a major reason why it was being pushed in the first place. The argument was that GM mustard would increase productivity and this would help reduce imports of edible oils. Implicit in this was that India's farmers were unproductive and GM would help overcome this.
While it is clear that India's imports of edible oils have indeed increased, this is not as a result of an underperforming home-grown sector. India essentially became a dumping ground for palm oil. Until the mid-1990s, India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils. Then import tariffs were reduced, leading to an influx of cheap (subsidized) edible oil imports that domestic farmers could not compete with.
This was a deliberate policy that effectively devastated the home-grown edible oils sector and served the interests of palm oil growers and U.S. grain and agriculture commodity company Cargill, which helped write international trade rules to secure access to the Indian market on its terms. It therefore came as little surprise that in 2013 India's then Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar accused U.S. companies of derailing the nation's oil seeds production programme.
Supporters of GM twisted this situation to call for the introduction of GM mustard to increase productivity.
Now their arguments on virtually each and every count have been shown to be erroneous and constitute little more than a cynical ruse to facilitate Bayer-Monsanto GM food crops and associated agropoisons entry into India.
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