Genetically Modified Mustard Steps Closer to Approval in India
GM mustard is more controversial than other GMOs
A panel of scientists with India’s Ministry of Environment said in a risk assessment of genetically modified mustard that the crop does not “pose any risk of causing any adverse effects on human and animal health and safety.” 
Mustard oil accounts for more than 10% of India’s cooking requirement of approximately 21 million metric tons.
The scientists have spoken, but not everyone is convinced that the information is accurate.
The oilseed “does not raise any public health or safety concerns on human beings and animals with respect to overall nutritional characteristics,” nor is it likely to invade natural ecosystems, the panel said in a document posted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s website. The scientists also said GM mustard poses negligible risk to biodiversity and agriculture productivity. 
The hybrid mustard plants, in development at the University of Delhi since 2003, are supposed to increase yield by 25% to 30%. Scientists say the oilseed will not only increase production, but also reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.  
The report came from a sub-committee of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), an expert body appointed by the ministry.
GM mustard has been a controversial subject for the Modi government, and while the final decision on whether to allow the crop to be grown in India has not been made, based on the positive findings of the assessment, the government’s Center for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) is likely to give the seeds the go-ahead. 
In a note seeking public comments, the Environment Ministry wrote:
“The document prepared by the subcommittee has been placed on the website for comments by stakeholders and general public for a period of 30 days. The comments received will be reviewed by the sub-committee and GEAC prior to taking appropriate decision.”
The agency said in its public domain report that:
“the risk assessment performed after examining and considering the existing information in literature and data provided in the dossier submitted by the developers, against the background of available knowledge in the subject areas, it is clear that GE mustard lines Varuna bn 3.6, EH-2 modbs 2.99 and the hybrid DMH-11 do not pose any risk of causing any adverse effects on human and animal health and safety.”
If the mustard is approved by the state, it would be the first food crop approved after the government in 2010 rejected Bt Brinjal, an eggplant developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co.
Chengal Reddy, adviser to the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association, said:
“Making genetically-modified mustard seed available to Indian farmers will have an enormous economic benefit, increasing substantially farmers’ income by as much as 50 percent.”
Why so Much Controversy Over Mustard?
GMOs are always controversial. India’s GM mustard, however, is more controversial than most. Let’s take a look at why. 
- The Coalition for a GM-Free India says the suggestion that GM mustard increases yield by at least 25% is misleading because researchers compared the genetically engineered plant to conventional varieties that tend to be less productive in the first place.
Yudhvir Singh, Convenor, Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements, said:
“The government and its regulators have built an environment which supports the interests of seed and chemical manufacturers, at the expense of farmers and other citizens, despite numerous risks and evidence of fraudulent science.”
- Opponents fear that the introduction of GM foods could reduce biodiversity, which is vital to plant survival. A lack of biodiversity would prevent plants from adapting to external changes and would put food production in jeopardy.
- GMO seeds tend to be more expensive than traditional seeds, which could be a financial burden to the farmers who must purchase them every year. Proponents argue, of course, that the higher yield would make up for the higher cost of acquiring the seeds, but they’ve been wrong in the past.
Indian Farmers Have Reason to be Concerned
If Indian farmers seem a bit jumpy over GM mustard, well, that might be because Monsanto-made GM crops have left them wounded in the past.
Wounded, and sometimes dead.
Some say that 290,000+ farmers in India have committed suicide because genetically modified seeds produced by the agritech giant either failed to grow, or caused unstoppable superweeds and superbugs. The result was financial ruin and starvation for many families. In 2009, about 1 farmer suicide occurred every 30 minutes.
In a sad twist of irony, many of the farmers took their lives by drinking the same crop-ravaging chemicals provided to them by Monsanto.
What’s more, many farmers in India cannot afford biotech herbicides and pesticides, but companies like Monsanto, Dow, and Bayer practically force their products on them. When a farmer commits suicide, any debt he has falls on the remaining family members.
Said the wife of one deceased farmer:
“We are ruined now. We bought 100 grams of BT cotton. Our crops failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.”
(BT cotton is engineered to protect against insects such as the bollworm, and the Asian and European corn borers.)
But despite any negative association between GMOs and the suicides, it certainly can’t be said for sure that GMOs are the cause.
The panel’s report will remain on the environment ministry’s website for a few more weeks for comments by stakeholders and the general public. Comments will be reviewed by the panel and the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee before a final decision is made.
 The Quint
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.