Stick to the science, slow down on GM crops GM technology

Those who oppose GM crops and are in favor of agroecology or biosafety or precautionary approaches are repeatedly derided as “unscientific” and “Luddite”. Let’s look at the facts.

Unlike other technologies, transgenic technology is uncontrollable and irreversible after environmental release. Living Modified Organisms (LMOs), as referred to in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), reproduce and multiply by themselves. This process cannot be reversed. Therefore, any intentional environmental release must undergo a comprehensive, independent, peer-reviewed long-term impact assessment. The precautionary principle is a cornerstone because of the unpredictability and time lag of severe consequences manifested in highly complex living systems, and their irreversibility. As an example, none of the 330 invasive species in India (eg lantana, white orchid) have been wiped out, although 10 of them are estimated to have cost Rs 8.3 trillion!

More than 25 years after the introduction of GM crops, only 29 of the world’s 172 countries are still growing GM crops. Furthermore, 91% of GM crop acreage is still in just five countries (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India). Most European countries and Japan, Israel, Russia, Malaysia, etc. do not grow genetically modified crops. In China, as the first adopter, Bt cotton acreage has been declining and non-GMO hybrids are being used in canola/mustard.

More than 85% of GM crops have only two traits – herbicide tolerance (HT, crops are modified to tolerate a wide range of toxic herbicidal chemicals) and/or insect resistance (insecticidal toxins, usually Bt, are factory production). In 2000, 761 scientists issued warnings of adverse effects. Scientific evidence suggests that adverse effects are spreading.

HT crops not only cause ecological damage, but also have an impact on the human health of consumers. Like tobacco, once it is declared safe, it takes a long time for the effects to be felt. Beekeepers say HT mustard affects honey production and contaminated honey hurts exports. Regarding human health, possible carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive health problems, organ damage, etc. It has been documented in independent studies of genetically modified crops and related herbicides, and has been claimed to be “safe” by developers and regulators. Like thousands of doctors in other countries, more than 100 prominent Indian doctors have expressed their concerns to the prime minister and demanded that the HT food crops not be released and that the planted GM mustard be uprooted before flowering.

DMH-11 is allegedly not a herbicide tolerant crop because the use of the Bar gene — which confers herbicide tolerance — is essentially a pollination control technique used to breed hybrids, and glufosinate will only be used on seeds used during production. The fact is that because the Bar gene is present in both parental lines and therefore in all their hybrid offspring, this genetically modified mustard can tolerate applications of the toxic herbicide glufosinate, including in agricultural fields. Therefore, it should be evaluated as an HT crop. If the government, for more than 10 years, has been aware of the rampant illegal cultivation of herbicide-tolerant cotton and the illegal use of glyphosate on such herbicide-resistant cotton, and is unable or unwilling to prevent this, what kind of ” Regulatory process” will prevent farmers from finding low-cost weed control solutions by spraying glufosinate on herbicide-tolerant mustard?

The ongoing litigation in the Supreme Court is about serious flaws in our regulatory system. The absence of regulatory protocols for HT crops is reflected in the minutes of meetings of the regulator GEAC and in the ‘Guidelines and Protocols’ on the regulator’s website. However, a crop with HT properties is being released into the environment! The multiple unanimous reports of the SC-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) and two parliamentary standing committees have exposed serious failures and deficiencies in biosafety testing. They all suggested that herbicide-resistant crops such as GM mustard should not be grown under Indian conditions. Even government-appointed experts in TEC have called for a ban on the use of HT crops. Of course the government cannot say that they are unscientific!

Testing of GM mustard is done according to a testing protocol established by the crop developer, and most of the testing is done by the applicant. No independent health experts were part of the committee studying the safety of GM mustard. To date, biosafety data on the GM mustard has not been posted on the regulator’s website for independent review.

The development team’s initial publication touted the herbicide tolerance of the GM mustard as a huge benefit to farmers. When strong evidence of HT crop and herbicide hazards emerged, claims were made for yield increases estimated at 25-30%. When it is shown that the yield increase claim is based on comparisons to older non-hybrid varieties, and that there are several higher yielding mustard hybrids that should have been compared, the parent line claiming DMH-11 would have been very useful in breeding better Hybrids, although the most productive countries in the world do not use this genetically modified high temperature technology. The claimed benefits are therefore questionable.

GM mustard is said to be necessary to reduce India’s edible oil import bill. Most of the cooking oil we import is not GMO oil but cheap non-GMO palm oil. To increase mustard yields, safe agro-ecological solutions such as the “mustard intensification system” are significantly increasing yields. This technology should be promoted instead of GM HT mustard with questionable yield and safety.

What is the urgent need for the release of GM mustard when two reports of the Supreme Court Technologists Committee and the Multi-Party Parliamentary Standing Committee have unanimously recommended that India ban HT crops and follow the precautionary principle?

The author is Vice President of the BNHS and a member of GOI’s National Conservation Strategy Committee, NBWL and NCEPC. She chaired the working group of the Maharashtra State Government’s 25-year Agricultural Action Plan.

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