Rigged research and corrupt science now threaten the Indian population and ecosystem with a potentially dangerous genetically modified crop used in food, oil, medicine, and spice.
For most Americans, mustard is either a spicy powder or condiment for hotdogs. They are unaware of its long history dating back to prehistoric times, or the extensive use of the whole plant in Indian cuisine, animal feed, soil remediation, and ayurvedic medicine. But if the recommendations of the pro-GMO Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee are accepted by the Environment Minister, a genetically modified version of mustard may become infamous for the wrath it may bring.
Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) was genetically engineered by Delhi University to resist spray applications of the toxic herbicide glufosinate, also known as Liberty. A close relative to glyphosate, which is used in Roundup, glufosinate is a neurotoxin linked to birth defects and numerous other health and environmental issues. Despite promises by the biotech industry that these types of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops would reduce the use of herbicide, we can now confirm without doubt that the opposite is true. In the US, HT crops increased the use of herbicides like glufosinate and glyphosate by 527 million pounds in the first 16 years, and much more since.
False Science and Biased Regulators Promote GMOs
Another promise of the GMO makers is that they will increase yields. The mustard makers rolled out that myth as well, but, in the long tradition of the biotech companies like Monsanto, the mustard developers engineered their research to hide the truth. They compared the yields of their gene-spliced plant to varieties that were 40 years old. Compared to a poorly yielding control, the GMO was superior, but as a coalition of farmer unions pointed out in their letter opposing GM mustard, “GM mustard yields are lower than many recent, popular hybrids and varieties. The testing has been rigged to have favorable results.” Even the Chief Minister of the State of Bihar cried foul, saying the “testing was deliberately misleading so as to obtain favorable results for GM mustard.”
The Chief Minister tactfully stated that “conflict of interest plagues the decision-making system.” The farmer unions went further. Their members who attended the GEAC special meetings found the members “biased, unscientific,” and lacking integrity.
The dark side of this committee was laid bare years ago after Aruna Rodriguez petitioned the Supreme Court of India claiming that the GEAC was a façade, rubber stamping approvals of GMOs on behalf of the industry. The Supreme Court asked one of the world’s prominent biologists, P.M. Bhargava, to attend the committee meetings and share his recommendations. After about a year of watching the charade from the inside, he reported that the committee members rejected out of hand all objections to GMOs, ignoring their merit or potential impact. Irrespective of their source, every single scientific fact or research paper that showed potential harm was dismissed with the declaration that it was discredited.
Bhargava exposed the unscientific nature of the government’s approval committee in letters to the Prime Minister, Health Minister, and Supreme Court. He further told them that no GMO anywhere in the world had been properly evaluated. Of the 30 areas that needed to be analyzed for risk, a mere 10% had been superficially examined by the industry’s own scientists. The GEAC responded to Bhargava’s report in their traditional way, claiming that he was discredited and had no relevant publications in DNA or RNA research. In fact, Bhargava had published more on the subject than all the members of the committee combined.
Ignoring Dangerous Side Effects
Now it us up to the Indian Environment Minister to accept or reject the GEAC recommendations. The Supreme Court must also weigh in on a GM mustard case that is pending. If approved and commercialized, the DMH-11 mustard will likely pave the way for more GMO food crops waiting in the pipeline. From what we know about GMOs in general, the genetically modified mustard will likely have numerous unpredicted side effects that can promote disease.
For example, in December 2016, scientists in England discovered that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn had over 200 altered proteins and metabolites compared to its natural counterpart. Two compounds that were significantly increased in the GMO were aptly named putrescine and cadaverine. Not only are these compounds largely responsible for the horrific smell of rotting, dead bodies, they are linked to increased allergic reactions and cancer. Another of Monsanto’s GMO corn varieties carried a new allergen, and their soybean had up to seven times the amount of a known soy allergen. All these detailed analyses were done independently, after the crop was already being consumed by millions. No regulatory agency even asks for this type of data. Since no GMO mustard safety research was made public, we can assume that the developer similarly skipped this type of analysis.
Animal feeding studies on GMO crops reveal a wide variety of health issues, ranging from organ damage, immune system responses, reproductive disorders, excessive tumors, and premature death. Again, no data for the genetically modified mustard.
If released, the tracking of the DMH-11 mustard and possible human health reactions will be virtually impossible.
Irreversible Contamination of the Mustard Gene Pool
If the DMH-11 mustard is eventually found to cause health issues, a full recall is impossible. Mustard plants can send pollen up to 75 meters; bees can take it miles. The buffer distance for the GMO mustard trials was only 50 meters.
At present, India represents a center of plant diversity, possessing a treasure trove of Brassica juncea (Indian mustard). The public sector released 91 varieties of mustard between 1967 and 2013. And the sub-varieties (accessions) of various types of mustard in India number more than 10,000. Once a GMO variety is released, contamination of natural varieties, including organic is inevitable.
And then there is honey. Mustard plants naturally attract beneficial insects and pollinators. For Indian bee keepers, this means that Indian honey will contain pollen from GMO mustard.
GMOs Hurt, NOT Help, the Economy
The biotech industry always claims that their cutting-edge technology will increase exports or, in the case of India, reduce imports. Even a cursory review of these promises expose the fiction. Time after time, GMOs have been rejected by markets around the world, reducing exports and lowering prices. The consumer concern that drives that rejection is only growing.
If India moves forward with this travesty, they, like the US, Canada, Australia, and other nations, will lose markets. Those nations and industries that have learned their lessons are closing their doors to GMOs, but the central government of India apparently has not, and they have become a major target for the GMO makers.
Internationally respected Indian food and trade policy analyst, Devinder Sharma, says: “As European Union continues to stand firmly against GM crops, so much so that after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s firm opposition, the incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron has now made it abundantly clear that he will not allow GM crops, all eyes were on India. Why India? Simply because even China, despite the communist regime, has remained wary of the risky technology. Where else could the GM industry turn to in these difficult times?”
We may think that India is far away and this genetically modified mustard may not impact us, but in the globalized world, the spice on your shelves or the mustard on your hotdog may come back to bite you. An approval anywhere can influence not only our diet, but the gene pool of the species. The only thing that lasts longer than the self-propagating pollution of the gene pool is… extinction.
The Indian State of Kerala just voted in opposition to GMO mustard. Let us hope that the central government will follow suit and protect India, Indians, and the earth’s precious ecosystem.
The Institute for Responsible Technology has been successful in initiating a tipping point of consumer rejection against GMOs in the US by sharing the documented health risks. In this globalized food system, food has no borders. Please contribute to IRT so that we may bring our compelling information to India and the world.
IndiaGMInfo (2015). Briefing paper. http://indiagminfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/DU-GM-MUSTARD-BRIEFING-PAPER-coalition-final-jul10-2015.pdf
Chief Minister Bihar (2017). Letter to Minister of State (Independent Charge) Environment, Forest & Climate Change. Scan. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4cLs8BFq9mNaEhPaWhUcXBqMFE/view
Livemint (2017). Article. “Civil society groups threaten nationwide stir if govt approves GM mustard”. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/XlZycIxOXKAnCObgJjvE8N/Civil-society-groups-threaten-nationwide-stir-if-govt-approv.html
Business Standard (2017). Article. “GM Mustard: India gearing up to be biggest dustbin for risky, harmful tech”. http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/gm-mustard-india-gearing-up-to-be-biggest-dustbin-for-risky-harmful-tech-117051600321_1.html
NDTV (2017). Article. “Kerala Passes Resolution Against Genetically Modified Mustard”. http://www.ndtv.com/south/kerala-opposes-commercialisation-of-genetically-modified-mustard-seed-in-the-country-1695731