The battle against the commercial cultivation of GM Mustard has intensified with 34 distinguished persons from the medical fraternity, including two former Union Ministers, writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reject the transgenic food crop. The move, spearheaded by Dr Vallabhbhai Kathiria, former Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare and chairman, Gauseva & Gauchar Vikas Board, Gujarat, is regarded as a sequel to the failure of officials of the Union Ministry of Agriculture to file the opinion of the Government of India on points of law in a case between Monsanto and Nuziveedu Seeds, a private seed company.
Most countries around the world disallow GM crop cultivation due to multiple risks associated with this technology, which is a living, irreversible technology when released into the environment.
The letter, dashed off on 27 July 2017, and understood to have the blessings of the Sangh Parivar which is staunchly opposed to transgenics, particularly after the colossal failure of Bt Cotton nationwide, has been endorsed by the who’s who of the medical fraternity.
These include Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, Member of Parliament, and Former Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare; former Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, Dr. Lalit Nath (currently with Independent Commission on Health and Development, New Delhi); Dr B.M. Hegde, former Vice Chancellor, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka (Padma Bhushan and Dr B.C. Roy Award recipient); and Dr Inderjeet Kaur, All India Pingalwara Society, Amritsar (Padma Bhushan).
Urging rejection of the application by Delhi University before the Union Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change for “environmental release” (commercial cultivation) of a GM mustard hybrid seed and parental lines, the medical experts point out that the GM mustard is a herbicide-tolerant (HT) GMO developed with several crores of taxpayer funds. In fact, its proponents claim that since it is a public sector product, India should allow it, when the moot point is that it is inherently unsafe (created through transgenic technology).
Most countries around the world disallow GM crop cultivation due to multiple risks associated with this technology, which is a living, irreversible technology when released into the environment. There are several reports about the large environmental health crisis unfolding in some South American countries after adopting herbicide tolerant GM crops on a large scale. The danger from HT GM crops comes both from the genetic engineering process and the chemical /herbicide used on the crop.
Many countries revised upwards, manifold, the Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) of herbicides to accommodate the use of herbicides directly on the HT crop, with obvious implications for consumers’ health.
Outlining the health effects of GM foods, the medical scientists point that there is ample scientific evidence available that GM foods (in combination with herbicides used on GM crops which are mostly herbicide tolerant) cause adverse health impacts starting from allergies, to impaired immunity, organ damage, affected growth and development of an organism, reproductive health problems, and even carcinogenic effects.
Regarding the testing and appraisal processes, they point out that available evidence suggests that even the limited number of tests done on Bt brinjal – which results were made public and led to Bt brinjal being found unsafe and put under a moratorium – were not undertaken in the case of GM mustard, which is nonetheless being pushed as a safe food crop.
The truth, the medical experts point out, is that no chronic and intergenerational health impact studies were conducted, and the longest test was for sub-chronic toxicity, for 90 days. This was done without treating the GM mustard as a herbicide tolerant crop. The limited data available suggests that some significant differences were found between GM mustard and other control groups, but these differences were brushed aside as issues with the experimental design, instead of performing the experiment rigorously.
Though GM mustard is being projected as the product of a public sector institute, some of the tests for health safety testing were outsourced to private laboratories. Further, no data has been released in the public domain. This secrecy is inexplicable on a matter pertaining to the future health of citizens, especially when the regulatory body itself lacks all the required areas of expertise to assess risk.
The Union Health Ministry did not participate in the appraisal of GM mustard. The subcommittee created to appraise safety of GM mustard had only one health expert with objectionable conflict of interest issues. He was a Board member of industry-funded bodies like the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and had taken up health safety studies in the institute that he headed (as Director of National Institute of Nutrition). Moreover, the said expert did not participate in the four meetings of the sub-committee but gave a written sign-off towards the end. Worse, the regulatory system is not being rid of the conflict of interest. There has also been no testing of GM mustard’s impacts on Indian Systems of Medicine.
GM mustard has been genetically engineered by the insertion of bar gene, to withstand the application of a weedicide called Glufosinate. In India, Bayer has an active patent on this chemical. The implications of more chemicals sprayed directly on our food are worrisome as mustard leaves are widely consumed as Sarson da Saag.
Glufosinate ammonium, the herbicide that goes along with this GM mustard seed, has several adverse impacts, including on newborn babies. The evidence points to toxicity to intestinal microflora, impact on fetal development etc. As farmers would likely use glufosinate indiscriminately on GM HT mustard, ‘super weeds’ would emerge. It would be ill-advised to expose our citizens to such toxins.
The promoters are resorting to specious and unscientific arguments such as countries like
the USA have been eating GM foods for long, without adverse reports. This is no way to conclude the safety of any food. Can the GM advocates provide scientific evidence to show that the increasing incidence of various illnesses is not related to GM foods being cultivated and consumed? We need sound, independent, long term testing at the experimental stage itself before taking decisions, and this has not been done in the case of GM mustard.
Nor can the consumption of imported GM edible oil justify the risks we will face if we grow an HT GM crop on Indian farms, as the exposure to toxins will be more direct and higher, as workers will toil in herbicide-sprayed fields constantly, and Indians consume all plants parts like mustard leaves and seeds (and not just oil).
The regulators are making a completely untenable argument that we can install punitive measures to prevent farmers from using Glufosinate on this herbicide tolerant mustard crop. There is a long proven history of failure of regulation in the case of pesticides and GMOs. The Government of India must accept that this is a herbicide tolerant crop, and farmers will treat it as such, which will pose unacceptable dangers to farmers, workers, and consumers.
The medical scientists conclude that India does not need GM mustard, which is a danger for cultivators, agricultural workers, and consumers, with no visible benefits. Hence, there is no reason why India should take the dangerous step of permitting GM mustard cultivation. At present, only three countries have allowed GM canola /rapeseed cultivation, while most, including China, reject GM hybrids, and have higher yields.
History shows that pesticides and products like tobacco that have been claimed to be safe have proved hazardous for health over a period of time. Finally, the medical experts argue, the impact of environmental toxins on an already malnourished population will be adverse and the toxic GM mustard and associated herbicide would only subject this population to unwarranted risks.
|The experts who have endorsed this appeal include:|