GM mustard unsustainable in India, SC told; arguments to continue today
The Supreme Court was on Wednesday told that the genetically-modified (GM) mustard was unsustainable in the Indian context. Petitioners against the sowing of the crop argued that the companies holding the patent for GM crops are themselves testing the viability of these crops.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Aruna Rodrigues, said there is no evidence to show that GM mustard varieties would produce more yield than traditional varieties. He urged the court to order that the varieties already planted must be weeded out to prevent contamination.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for Gene Campaign, the other petitioner in the case, said the extensive use of herbicides might also eradicate the weeds that are fodder for the livestock. He said it would also mean that farm workers, especially women, whose jobs are to weed out the fields may lose their jobs.
He said an assessment is required to determine any negative effect on beneficial organisms such as honeybees.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) earlier this year cleared a proposal for commercial cultivation of GM mustard, and it was also approved by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
The government previously told the court that the approval for the “environmental” release of transgenic mustard hybrid DMH-11 was given to the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) after a “long and exhaustive review process”, starting in 2010.
The Centre had submitted the background of the application given by the CGMCP, the decision-making process of the government, the regulatory framework under which permission was granted to DMH-11, and its scientific and socio-economic importance to the country.
However, Bhushan told the court on Wednesday that the companies which have the patent for genetically-modified crops are themselves testing the viability of the crops. “Regulators are not doing an independent study into the effects of such crops but companies who have commercial interest doing tests,” he said.
He pointed out to the bench of justices Dinesh Maheshwari and BV Nagarathna that the parliamentary committee reports extensively dealt with the impact of GM crops in India. The committee had in its report said it is at a loss to understand why the government is pushing for GM crops without even having thoroughly assessed its environmental impacts, even when the desired result of increased productivity could be achieved through our traditional methods of farming and the long-term benefits of GM crops were under doubt.
Bhushan asked the court why India does not have a lab of its own to test the crops. “If the impact would have been studied BT cotton would not have been allowed. The nation didn’t know then but now it knows about BT brinjal (now),” he said.
The court decided to hear the arguments of the attorney general, on behalf of the central government, on December 1.
Earlier, Bhushan had also accused the GEAC of “serious non-governance” and undertaking an “underground process to hide its misdeed” and asked it to make public the full biosafety dossier of GM mustard.
In the court, he gave the example of the US, saying that aeroplanes are used by big companies to spray the crops with herbicides. “Herbicides cause a lot of health problems and no independent studies have been done to study the correlation between them and health hazards,” he said.