Supreme Court Raises Extremely Important Questions on GM Mustard


On December 1, in the on-going case relating to objections raised against the introduction of the first GM (genetically modified) food crop in the form of GM Mustard in India, the Supreme Court raised some important questions. As reported in The Times of India (December 2, 2022), “A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and BV Nagarathna told Attorney General R.Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre, that the question which needs to be answered is whether with the environmental release of the GM Mustard seeds there will be be any irreversible consequence. (News report titled ‘Is it must to release GM: SC; Apex Court asks Centre if there will be any irreversible consequence’).

In this context one is immediately reminded of two oft-quoted statements.

*Prof. Susan Bardocz stated—“GM is the first irreversible technology in human history. When a GMO ( Genetically Modified Organism) is released, it is out of our control; we have no means to call it back…Since GMOs are self-replicating, releasing them might have dire consequences for human and animal health and for the environment and can change evolution.”

*A number of eminent scientists from several countries constituting the Independent Science Panel have stated, “Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture.”

Now coming more specifically to GM Mustard or GE ( genetically engineered Mustard (DMH-11 hybrid) being debated at present widely in India and the subject of contention in the ongoing ( at the time of writing) Supreme Court cases, this is what four senior scientists have stated, while voicing their concern regarding the ‘approval for the environmental release of GE Mustard in India, “The potentially harmful long-term ecological and economic consequences  of releasing DMH-11 have not received sufficient consideration. Second, details of the mandatory trials to ensure food and environmental safety, which is a prerequisite before environmental release, have not been made public.”

This quote is from an article titled ‘What is the hurry for GM Mustard’ written by Prof. Renee Borges(Centre for Ecological Science, Indian Institute of Science), Vinod Gaur ( Distinguished Professor, Centre for Mathematical Modeling and Computer Simulation, Vidyanand Nanjundiah ( Centre for Human Genetics) and Imran Siddiqi ( Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) published in The Indian Express (November 29, 2022).

These quotes should be read along with the well-known statement of the most eminent Indian scientist on this issue, founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Prof. Pushpa M. Bhargava, where he has provided the essence of his lifelong study of this issue.  In this statement the distinguished scientists stated that “there are over 500 research publications by scientists of indisputable integrity, who no conflict of interest, that establish harmful effects of GM crops on human, animal and plant health and on environment and biodiversity” while “on the other hand, virtually every paper supporting GM crops is by scientists who have declared conflict of interest or whose credibility and integrity can be doubted.”

These four statements taken together make a clear case that the introduction of GM crops in general and GM Mustard in particular will be full of very high risks for farming, environment and health, and some of these risks are clearly of irreversible nature.

Another question raised by the Supreme Court in the same hearing was whether there are any compelling reasons for immediate release of GM Mustard? There are none that the GM lobby or the government side have been able to point out, except those relating to some claimed rise of yield, which have been convincingly refuted by others to have been made on the basis of wrong data and wrong kind of comparisons, together with much more extensive evidence of how past claims of higher yields for GM crops proved to be false.

The government side has stated in the court that the objections of critics are related only to ‘ideology’ without even caring to identify this ‘ideology’. This is only to draw attention away from the over 500  papers by scientists of indisputable integrity that confirm the high risks of GM crops and GM foods , to which we can add the numerous GM Mustard specific observations by scientists, including those tasked by the Supreme court for this work.

The only, repeat the only ‘compelling’ reason that exists in reality is that of undue foreign pressure from the powerful international GM lobby which has penetrated deep in India, also using its enormous money power and the influence of the powerful governments of those countries where the biggest GM companies and GM technology peddlers are based.  Prof. Pushpa M. Bhargava, who was nominated by the Supreme Court of India to protect safety concerns, warned (in an article titled ‘Food without Choice’ published in The Tribune), against “attempt by a small but powerful minority to propagate GM crops to serve their interests and those of multinational corporations (MNCs) (read the US), the bureaucracy, the political set up and a few unprincipled and unethical scientists and technologists who can be used as tools.” In the same article he warned that the ultimate aim of this in India is a multinational company led effort to grab control over Indian agriculture and food production. In the same article he gave examples of how big corruption too is involved in these efforts in various countries.

More recently as million dollar compensation cases relating to hazards of GM crops and herbicides sold along with them have been lost by multinational companies in the developed countries of origin they have stepped up efforts to expand more quickly in developing countries like India. The big business interests in developed countries are trying to strike a deal with big business interests of developing countries in which big political leaders are involved on both sides, and the introduction of GM crops is being pushed as a part of this. This is the only ‘compelling’ reason. Big business can gain, but ordinary people, consumers of food, farmers, farm workers, health, environment, safety, food security, food self-reliance and sovereignty will only lose from GM crops.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food and 14 Crucial Questions about GM Crops.

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