Farmer groups across the country on Sunday protested against the government’s conditional approval for the commercial development of genetically modified mustard. Groups from Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh held dharnas, fasted and adopted resolutions not to use genetically modified crops.
Kirankumar Vissa, an engineer with the Rythu Swarajya Vedike, a farmers’ rights organisation based in Andhra Pradesh, said, “Farmers organisations have strong concerns about seed production being taken over by single companies.” The group was also a part of Sunday’s protests.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, an apex body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, had in September declared that a variety of GM Mustard developed at Delhi University was safe for human and animal health. It has invited public comments on its biosafety report until October 5.
The ministry has released only a summary of the safety report and not the full trial data, which is available in Delhi only with prior appointment. Given that constraint, activists say that a month will not be sufficient for scientists to review that data.
Sunday’s protests are the latest in a series of similar such gatherings through the year. The issue has united activist groups across the political spectrum, from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch to the All India Kisan Sabha associated with the Communist Party of India and even groups not affiliated with any political party.
Among their concerns are that the seed is a herbicide-tolerant plant. A scientific committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2013 had called for an indefinite moratorium on the release of herbicide-tolerant crops.
Scientists in the field of biotechnology, however, said that the variety developed in Delhi had not been developed with herbicide resistance in mind.
Bhagirath Choudhary, founder-director of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre said, “GM mustard developed by Delhi University is purely a technology that creates [hybrid vigour] in mustard resulting in fully fertile hybrid mustard seeds.” The herbicide resistant gene that had been modified, he explained, was used only as a marker for commercial seed production.
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this copy erroneously called the All India Kisan Sabha as the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh.