Activists allege regulators of the GM mustard crop have ignored all valid scientific evidence presented
A coalition of anti-GM crop activists has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that the application for commercial release of genetically modified mustard is rejected in toto.
Apprehending that GM mustard crop will be allowed for commercial planting with "certain conditions", Coalition for a GM-Free India said the country has already witnessed a farcical "conditional approval" in the case of Bt cotton.
"This is all the more unacceptable in the case of GM HT mustard since this GM is completely unneeded in the first instance... We write to urge you to ensure that this GM mustard application is rejected in toto," the coalition said in a letter to the prime minister.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), tasked with appraising GM crops, had recently recommended the commercial cultivation of GM mustard crop in a submission to the Environment Ministry.
The Supreme Court had on July 24 asked the government to apprise it by Friday of any adverse impact of the commercial release of GM mustard crop. The apex court will hear the matter on Monday.
The coalition said it has learnt that the GEAC and its sub-committee, which undertook the safety appraisal of GM mustard crop, are proposing that it should be allowed for commercial planting in India but with "certain conditions".
"The regulators have ignored all valid scientific evidence presented to it with regard to the lack of benefit and safety of GM mustard crop," Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convenor of the coalition wrote.
The apex regulator, GEAC, appears to be couching its "faulty and dangerous" decision in the garb of laying down certain conditions for permission to commercialise GM mustard crop, she alleged.
India has already witnessed a farcical conditional approval in the case of Bt cotton, Kuruganti claimed, adding there is no basis on which "we can depend on either the pesticides regulators or gene technology regulators in this country to create and implement sound regulation that fulfils the very mandate of regulation".
In the case of both "insecticides", including herbicides, under the Insecticides Act 1968 as well as GMOs under the Environment Protection Act 1986, the mandate of regulation is to protect citizens from risks posed by these technologies, she said.
Kuruganti noted that one of the conditions for Bt cotton was that every field where the crop is grown should be fully surrounded by a belt of land called "refuge" in which the same non-Bt cotton variety should be sown.
Numerous studies from academic institutions, civil society organisations, and private firms including a ministry of agriculture-commissioned study have clearly shown that an overwhelming majority of Bt cotton farmers do not plant any refuge, she said.
"This condition has never been followed, yet no accountability has been fixed on anyone for this violation. Regulators have not been made liable for coming up with unscientific and unfeasible conditions either," she said.
The coalition alleged that the GEAC "routinely" ignored complaints of violations of biosafety norms and guidelines.
'Gene Campaign' had in 2008 presented evidence of violations in Bt rice field trials in Jharkhand and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture had in 2005 come out with video evidence of violations in a Bt okra plot in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh which was subsequently reiterated by a state government report on the trial among others.
"The GEAC has also ignored reports of its own Central Compliance Committee (CCC) team on GM maize and GM mustard field trial violations. If this is the standard of regulation, how safe is this 'conditional approval' granted for GM mustard?" she asked.