‘Stopping GM trials is anti-farmer’

Genetically modified (GM) mustard hybrid DMH-11 developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants ran into trouble in March when the Rajasthan government suddenly withdrew permission for the field trials. Developed after 16 years of research by Deepak Pental, director of the centre, the GM mustard is being promoted by the National Dairy Development Board, which supplies cooking oil to the domestic market under the brand Dhara. So far the board, along with the Department of Biotechnology and the European Union among others, has put in around Rs 45 crore in this project which uses the interplay of the barnase and barstar genes to produce high oil yielding mustard (Brassica juncea). These genes come from a soil bacterium Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. In an interview to Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood, Pental explains why it is important for India to move forward in research on transgenic crops. Excerpts:

 
By Jyotika Sood, Latha Jishnu
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Deepak PentalHave you completed the Stage I field trials of GM mustard in Rajasthan?

Of the three centres where the trials (the second year of the first stage) were being conducted, we have data from two. In the third centre, the field was burned before we could collect the data. Even those countries that have not released a single GM crop have carried out open field trials using proper levels of isolation and biosafety precautions.

Therefore, the decision of the Rajasthan government to withdraw NOC for biosafety trials is based on total misinformation and has nothing to do with any perceived threats from transgenic mustard. We need a proper debate which is based on facts and figures rather than on rhetoric. The fact of the matter is that every law of the land was followed in these trials.

Do we need this GM technology for mustard?

Last year’s trials show that this hybrid gives 25 per cent higher yield than the best varieties in the fields. The 20-25 per cent higher yield comes without using a single extra grain of fertiliser or single extra drop of water. This hybrid was produced in 2002. We calculated that if hybrid is grown in just one million hectares of the total six million hectares on which mustard is grown, farmers will earn Rs 500 crore in one year. I am still not saying that put this technology in the farmer’s field. All I am saying is do the best biosafety trials. After that if political establishment thinks it is too hot to handle and NGOs have so much power in their argument and if the farming communities do not want it then so be it. But finishing off legitimate trials because it is politically volatile is, I think, anti-farmer because they are the ones who are going to benefit.

Now take Bt cotton. Everybody knows there is a huge reduction in the use of pesticides—about 40 per cent. Yields have doubled.

There is no scientific evidence. Let’s leave Bt cotton out of this.

No, you cannot leave Bt cotton out because it is proof that activists have got it all wrong. In 2000-01 yield was 190 kg per hectare and in 2010-11, it was 512 kg per hectare. Now isn’t this a miracle? I will also tell you what is wrong with Bt cotton. The only wrong thing is that it has come from outside and you have no way to stack more interesting genes into it because there are intellectual property issues coming in and cost and so on. This is what Keshav Kranthi (director of Central Institute for Cotton Research) says in his very good article. What he is saying is, look Bt cotton has done its job but there are other problems that you have to solve independent of Bt.

On the contrary, Kranthi is saying pesticide use has gone up sharply with Bt cotton. He also says the yield increases are not entirely due to Bt.

Yes, the pesticide use is because of sucking pests. Now if you have 400 plus hybrids that do not carry resistance to virus, and just one input (Bt gene) to fight bollworm that is what will happen. Each crop requires about half a dozen inputs. If you remove Bt cotton today, do you have an alternative? I am telling you if you want to take it away today from farmers’ fields, they will kill you. So, create an alternative.

The main thing that Kranthi is saying is that there are 400 plus hybrids and some of them are not good. As a good scientist, he is cautioning that Indian cotton is only going to deteriorate now because Bt is not enough. That is what we should be discussing. You should think of how to deal with sucking pests, you must think of staple quality, of how you are going to make more productive hybrids. And find alternatives to cotton for crop rotation. Nobody is thinking about it (see ‘Scientists, activists locked in’ on www.downtoearth.org.in).

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Now take mustard. The crop is attacked by blight, aphids and white rust. We have found two sources of resistance to white rust to which the entire mustard crop is susceptible. There is another disease, stem rot, which has increased in the past six years. And the reason is that there is no crop rotation; every farmer is growing only mustard.

Isn’t this barnase-barstar technology you are using harmful?

About 80 per cent of rapeseed in Canada is already under this technology. This rapeseed oil is being imported by India. The Japanese who do not want anything transgenic in their country are feeding their chicken with rapeseed meal from Canada. Why are they using so much of canola—as both oil and meal? As for safety, barstar resistance gene is deregulated in Europe.

Studies have shown that GM canola has contaminated all wild species in Canada.

We have no wild relatives of mustard growing in India so there is no question of Brassica juncea crossing with wild relatives. There are two other varieties in India grown by farmers and used for adulteration with mustard oil. These are drought-hardy plants but their oil quality is inferior. The only crop which can receive these genes is Brassica juncea non-transgenic hybrids and Brassica rapa that is grown in eastern India. So do not take the hybrid to eastern India.

You are saying that GM brassica juncea will cross with its non-GM counterparts?

It cannot be stopped anywhere in the world but it is not a threat. To claim that transgenes won’t move to non-transgenic material is wrong. If you have a selection over it like a herbicide then they spread very quickly. If you don’t use any selection, it will die over there. But GM Brassica juncea can cross with non-GM juncea.

In which case we will have only GM mustard in the country?

Why not? But that would occur only if everyone subscribes to GM mustard. No hybrid ever reaches the full area. The hybrids are going to be location specific. So it cannot be that one hybrid is grown in six million hectares. It will never happen.

How do you stop it from spreading to eastern India? Mustard pollen flows far and is very sticky.

The pollen does flow but not that far. In any case, it is not conducive to that climatic condition. Eastern farmers are getting yields of 800 kg per hectare and suppose they get an additional 1.5 kg or 2 kg per hectare. So they will realise that these varieties are not giving enough yields. They grow traditional varieties for their yellow coloured oil, and for their special qualities such as for frying fish. These varieties will, therefore, start getting a premium.

There is no way you can stop farmers in the east from trying these hybrids.

Being a responsible organisation we are not going to allow this seed to be sold in eastern India. Labels are always given that a hybrid is fit for only specific regions. Now despite that warning if farmers grow it what can we do?

But our farmers as you know very well do not read labels. Look what happened with Bt cotton.

The only solution is to organise our seed sector in a much better way. You have to keep spurious material out; you have to have control. Why is Indian Council of Agricultural Research not testing the 400 plus Bt cotton hybrids and reporting back to the farmers? I’m not willing to buy this argument that because we have a primitive system we should stay primitive.
 

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  • Wolfs should shed tears as

    Wolfs should shed tears as the sheep are getting wet.why all these scientists were and are silent when the Great Indian Suicides are happening that too those who had given cloths to cover themselves.

    What a farmer like me wants is not GM or Hi breed or something else but pray leave us and do not force us to grow this and that and grow more to feed all. Your increased productivity had not helped us to live decently.
    You send your children to take up the farming as a profession then preach what to do and what is good and what is anti farmer.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • This scientist is very narrow

    This scientist is very narrow minded in assessing gain and value in only in monetary terms.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Narrow minded, the yardstick

    Narrow minded, the yardstick of measurement is money only. Rare are scientists with heart and caring nature for mother earth.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Namaskar, At the outset, the

    Namaskar,

    At the outset, the GM scientists & farmer federations are serving the greed of MNCs by creating monopolization of seed market. In this the governments are also providing helping hand. Even this year budget proposals presented by Finance Minister reveal this. On this I sent my observations to HonÔÇÖble Prime Minister with a copy to Finance Minister ÔÇô published in Merinews with the title ÔÇ£Election-oriented budget with free access to funds for bigwigsÔÇØ dated 18th March 2012 --. This is given below:
    ÔÇ£In general the budget appears to be election oriented with free access to funds by political big wigs. Though substantially large sums are allocated to agriculture, most of it goes to irrigated agriculture sector only ÔÇô fertilizer subsidy, loans, etc. India around 65% of the cultivated area is at the mercy of Rain God is completely neglected in the past as well now though its importance was highlighted in the budget document. Such biased allocations indirectly help politicians and businessmen only for export of food grains ÔÇô this is also clear from the meager allocations towards building of storage facilities.

    Sir, in line with your interview few days back on GM crops/nuclear power vs NGOs [my letter sent to you on this on 25th February 2012], the finance minister was too liberal to Multinational Company MonsantoÔÇÖs Project over Indian Research Institutes research as well pulse and coarse cereal production programmes in rainfed areas.

    Finance minister in his 2012-13 budget allocated only Rs. 200 crores for research and development in agriculture in Indian institutions but at the same time supported MonsantoÔÇÖs project on green revolution component extending to northeast India is five times higher, Rs. 1000 crores, to destroy the bio-diversity of northeastern parts of India. Though India is planning in a big way organizing bio-diversity meet in Hyderabad in October 2012 ÔÇô even in 2011-12 budget the finance minister allocated Rs. 400 crores. The 60,000 pulses villages in rainfed areas allocation is meager Rs. 300 crores & increase the coarse cereal production is also a meager Rs. 300 crores ÔÇô It is clear all these allocations were not based on scientific assessment. Budget allocations must be based on scientific assessment and not from the air.

    Items 60 & 61 of Budget on ÔÇ£National Mission for Sustainable AgricultureÔÇØ , though emphasized the traditional farming but not mentioned any allocations for this as well under fertilizer subsidy it was not stated whether subsidy apply to organic inputs or not? The allocations for rainfed agriculture and organic inputs should have been on par with irrigated chemical input agriculture but budget do not show this.

    We appeal you Sir, look into these disparities and rectify the same. Also, we appeal you, Sir gives more emphasis to baseline data studies under climate change programme rather than wasting money on computer based model studies.ÔÇØ
    Deepak Pental says ÔÇ£Even those countries that have not released a single GM crop have carried out open field trials using proper levels of isolation and biosafety precautions. Therefore, the decision of the Rajasthan government to withdraw NOC for biosafety trials is based on total misinformation and has nothing to do with any perceived threats from transgenic mustard. Unfortunately, he was not aware of USA, when Bt Cotton was allowed for field trials were prohibited in areas where native cotton is in wild. But in India, they bought for a price and conducting trails indiscriminately blaming others.
    The Hindu [3rd May 2012] report by M. J. Prabhu titled ÔÇ£Urban people may not know the real problems of farmersÔÇØ says: ÔÇ£It is an accepted fact that importing food cannot solve the problem of food shortage. ÔÇ£Modern technologies do offer vast prospects for crop improvement, but that alone need not make it popular among small and marginal farmers,ÔÇØ says farmer Mr. Mahavir Singh Arya, from Churu district, Rajasthan. Despite facing acute problem of water shortage, Mr. Mahavir, an advocate of organic farming, developed numerous varieties of wheat and mustard, and claims that he never used chemical inputs. Inspite of all odds the farmer developed more than 10 varieties of mustard by crossing the varieties available in Delhi region. The maturity period of all these varieties ranges from 130 to 150 days and the yield from about 1.8 tons to 2.4 tons per hectare. All the varieties are disease resistant and high yielding, according to him. He selected plants possessing characteristics like height of the plant, resistance to disease, etc., every year and developed the variety ÔÇÿMahavir Kisan Mahan.' In the same way, he kept on crossing varieties obtained from different regions with other local varieties and successfully developed more than 15 varieties of wheat. The yield of these varieties varies from 4-8 tons for a hectare. ÔÇ£For a farmer every available area of space needs to be utilized so that some sort of income can be generated.
    In this context one important point to be noted is that government after our long efforts initiated a system to collect innovative technologies used by farmers all over India and develop them to supply packages to farmers. Unfortunately our scientists are not interested in such a system but interested in systems that help monopolize the seed market and chemical input markets to meet their greed.
    Let us look at another issue of Pental -- calculation of GM technology for Mustard: ÔÇ£Last yearÔÇÖs trials show that this hybrid gives 25 per cent higher yield than the best varieties in the fields. We calculated that if hybrid is grown in just one million hectares of the total six million hectares on which mustard is grown, farmers will earn Rs 500 crore in one year.ÔÇØ I myself calculated the increase in paddy yield ÔÇô this was published in a chapter of a book ÔÇ£Current Environmental IssuesÔÇØ published in 2003 by Kapoor et al. The average traditional paddy yields were around 1300 kg/ha. Under high yielding rice varieties yield increased to 1800 kg/ha ÔÇô that is the yield increase by high yielding varieties is only 500 kg/ha. This makes the farmer dependent upon the seed company [with the high risk of adulterated seed] instead the traditional practice of good grain of his or other farmers used as seed. The yield increase under irrigation plus chemical inputs is 2000 kg/ha. The impact of such use is the destruction of soil & water ÔÇô pollution & health hazards ÔÇô and at the same time the fodder is not used to feed the animal as animal didnÔÇÖt like this fodder resulting reduction in animal husbandry hither to major income to farmers. In GM the same green revolution technology is followed. Though they argued that pesticide use has reduced with GM seed. This is a false propaganda. Look at the Bt-cotton. This led to farmersÔÇÖ suicides in Andhra Pradesh & Maharashtra, with the abnormal increase in area under cotton. The input cost gone up by unimaginative level but the yield fluctuations under variable weather gone up. This led to farmersÔÇÖ suicides. Monsanto himself has openly agreed on the high pesticide use in Bt-Cotton. Because of this the 1st generation has changed to second generation and now entered in to third generation ÔÇô which means high toxic level.
    With regard to yield doubling from 190 kg/ha in 2000-01 to 512 kg/ha in 2010-11 is not due to Bt technology. This is due to scientists [private & public sector organization] developed high yielding varieties ÔÇô because of this in 2010-11 the Bt-cotton yield and non-Bt-cotton yields are of the same level ÔÇô Presented earlier in the Down To Earth. The increase in yield in both Bt and non-Bt cotton are due to high yielding varieties, chemical inputs ÔÇô highly subsidized ÔÇô irrigated water ÔÇô in AP due to free power under well irrigation. If we deduct subsidy part, the yield increase is negative. In other words the yield is zero and the farmer is getting what the government is giving as subsidy. Here the main beneficiary is businessmen who join hands with politicians and get export permission ÔÇô few days back in parliament MPs demanded export permission, PM granted it. Poor farmers are nowhere.
    Mr. Pental has finally come in to traditional agriculture. See his observation ÔÇ£Now take mustard. The crop is attacked by blight, aphids and white rust. We have found two sources of resistance to white rust to which the entire mustard crop is susceptible. There is another disease, stem rot, which has increased in the past six years. And the reason is that there is no crop rotation; every farmer is growing only mustard.ÔÇØ This is true with every crop after green revolution technology. We are advocating crop rotation & multiple cropping pattern; but governments are not bothered on such issues. Also the scientists work for MNCs. Tobacco is one crop where crop rotation is made a must; otherwise the company wonÔÇÖt buy tobacco from such farmer from such lands. The same could be implemented in cotton and thereby controlling the area under cotton. This clearly reflects that we have got good technologies ÔÇ£traditionalÔÇØ with green revolution mono-crop we got bad technologies, which our politicians & scientists support to get a job with MNCs after their retirement. Many of these issues we have dealt in our PIL filed in 2003 in Andhra Pradesh High Court on Bt-Cotton. Our advocate was purchaged by seed company. Case is still in the court. Let us hope our politicians and scientists change their mindset!!!

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Which farmers is Paintal

    Which farmers is Paintal talking about? Wish he was clear about this issue. The outsourced field trial agencies carrying out Paintal's research have a different take on this whole issue and that is opaqueness and arrognace. The dominant question however is what safeguard mechanism are available to the farmers. Well did I hear Paintal suggesting something like "safe refuge' recommendation of this "revered scientists"?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • This is an extremely

    This is an extremely interesting interview. Deepak Pental literally says - GM crops have to be adopted. Problems are there. Contamination can happen. Farmers will do what they want to do. We are not responsible. But we will have to continue this risky trials. This does not mean we will put it in the field for commercial cultivation. We will label. But we will be helpless if farmers violate it.

    Alas ! Scientists like labrats belong to the labs not to the society !

    After reading this interview, one gets a creepy feeling that its such scientists who have compromised their own souls that are more dangerous than GM crops...

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • when mis-guided youths become

    when mis-guided youths become adults, this is how they behave n work .... this, when coupled with personal ambition, is a deadly combination.... workplace is replete with people like him... who have their own definition of development which they mugged up at school / college. The funniest part is they think they are actually doing good for the entire HUMANITY....

    and just imagine a person like him at the helm of affairs at a premier univ like delhi univ... i have been a student at DU.... and know how it works.... and the credit is ... that despite people like him.... it still works....

    i m sharing this becoz we face ppl like him almost every other day. For us, in our organic farming activities, the most difficult people are the agricultural graduates and scientists to work with. They behave like horses around whose eyes, flaps have been put. They cannot see, listen or believe other than what has been taught to them in classroom.... specially organic.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Mr Deepak Pental seems to

    Mr Deepak Pental seems to think that stopping GM field trials is anti farmer. How is that justified? The GM technology is one that is fraught with controversy and puts the farmer's most important resource the SEED under the control of multi national corporates. In fact GM technology is anti farmer.

    If we take the example of Bt cotton, which has been around for 10 years. A close look at government data will reveal that there has been a stagnation of production and there has also been an increase in pesticide usage due to development of secondary pests.There is a monopoly of Bt in the market and traditional varieties of cotton are un heard of. So if Mr Pental decides to bring in Bt cotton into this debate, he is not helping his argument.

    In this interview there has also been an agreement from the scientist on the issue of contamination of non GM varieties by pollen from GM plants. This is alarming as our biodiversity is at a great risk.

    Given the scenario it is only wise for policy makers to take a precautionary approach and I think that the Rajasthan government has done the right thing in stopping the GM mustard trials.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Just imagine, the amount of

    Just imagine, the amount of money that is being poured into GM research. Just one GM crop - Mustard and the NDDB ( which we always thought was a great model institution) is actually trying to genetically modify this in the name of increasing yield, and in the bargain risking a possible health disaster, as the gene is from a bacteria which ecologically speaking is foreign to the crop, and could be hence toxic.

    And worst still, its Deepak Pental like scientists minimalistic approach that has led to such ends to the research. You conceive a prepostrous, scientifically wrong proposition, spend crores, convince some foolish administrators, and eventually spend 16 years in the process, thinking that the foolishness will always thrive. Sorry, thanks to the vibrancy and sense in the civil society, farmers organisations as well as State Governments, these trials are being rejected not just in Rajasthan but nationally in all states...

    So whom should Deepak Pental complain about - about democracy, about politics, about the whole concept of sovereignty, food safety, health and environmental safety...he should complain that if not for all such funny concepts, his project would have gone ahead.

    I sometimes believe that such scientists, like LabRats, are suitable only for labs not for the Society at large.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • phew! what extent these

    phew! what extent these scientists go mindlessly! In a country where we are unfit to even gate keep/ man a gate and police simple crimes, what are we talking of such unsafe and unproven and questioned-across-the-world technology?
    here he goes to say 'even countries that have not released a single GM crop have carried out open field trials' - Iam afraid if it is any sane way of arguing a case! for one we know our capabilities and culpabilities; two- why should we copy a suspected wrong model from any another country?

    oh man! this man really is giving so much ammunition to the 'activists' whom he refers as being wrong- how many factual errors he makes! even on the average yield in earlier years. between 2001-05 the cotton yield increase was by 69% and to credit Bt which saw increase only from 2005 is smacking of ignorance. in the years of major shift to Bt in India the increase of yield has been very minimal or even negative!

    yeah, such blinded scientists are the ones who lose it out! their color shows, isnt?
    thanks to Latha and Jyotika for bringing this to fore! actually exposing these scientists, in a way!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Nothing can be compromised

    Nothing can be compromised for safety. But if one does not even allow to do research by stopping their field trials abruptly, after spending so much of tax payers money, what Rajasthan government tells the nation? Don't they know about all these consequences when they gave NOC? Our nation needs Scientific independence and politicians should have wisdom for country's progress in research and development. It is the government's role,only to regulate if it is getting commercialized (Like what they did for bt brinjal). There are other bodies(under MoEF and DoBiotech) which regulate the research activities and it is more meaningful regulation as they have experts in the panel. If you think, for scientific research we need consensus among society in whatever issue (safety, necessity etc.,)we cannot do any research. It is our scientists who made it possible to have self sufficiency in cereals. By simply burning the field and cancelling the NOC, nothing can be achieved. Even to address the apprehensions, they need to have data from research.
    So,
    If at all there is problem like safety, monopolization, yield and all which are discussed in various comments and scientists could not address it, we can stop the product getting commercialized. But stopping their research sends wrong signal to the scientific community and people as well.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • going against nature now

    going against nature now seems to becoming the norm.

    i feel that science is now a much hated word, and wish my children don't get fooled in the name of science.

    science in agriculture , science in medicine, science in technology....phew.....sadly i don't see science in most of these places anymore.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • science is now a much hated

    science is now a much hated word.

    science in agriculture, science in medicene, science in nuclear technology, phew.. fed up with all this junk science.

    there hardly seems to be any science at all, but greed and corporate profits are in abundance.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • This is with reference to

    This is with reference to your article ÔÇÿStopping GM trials is anti-farmerÔÇÖ. I reply to this interview with Dr Paintal in my capacity as the lead Petitioner in the Supreme Court (with regard to GM crops and their moratorium because there is virtual deregulation of GM crops in India), where these same trials of DMH 11 of mustard (Brassica Juncea ) were challenged in 2007. This particular case was not pursued for various reasons including the need to concentrate on Bt brinjal, which was the immediate threat to India as large-scale field trials were on the anvil as a prelude to its commercialisation. What I say below is taken from the expert evidence submitted to the Supreme Court by me in 2007 drawing from documents for the Court by 3 leading international scientists, specialists in their own fields, namely Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Prof. Jack Heinemann, Director, the Centre for Integrated Research in Bio-safety, University of Canterbury and Prof. Joe Cummins Prof. Emeritus of Genetics, University of Western Ontario, Canada, and the Institute of Science and Society, UK. There are a number of important points that Dr Paintal makes that need to be clarified and it must be added, refuted.

    The first matter that has not received due attention is that this mustard event of barnase-barstar or DMH-11, also codes for BayerÔÇÖs herbicide, glufosinate, which makes it a herbicide tolerant (HT) crop. HT crops are a perverse and failed technology particularly unsuited to India with our small-sized farms; and the impacts of herbicide drift on these farms. The empirical evidence of greater herbicide use as a result of the use of HT crops cannot be refuted. Their use has spawned even triple herbicide resistant weeds in Canada where a similar formulation with rape seed was introduced several years ago. Apart from the serious environmental impacts of this herbicide, glufosinate has significant health hazards. But, let me get back to the focus of this system, which is called ÔÇÿBarnase- BarstarÔÇÖ. This is a way to make male-sterile plants. The barnase breaks down RNA in pollen making it sterile; crossing barstar into plants restores fertility. Male sterility makes it easier to make hybrids, which is why the system is used. There is no direct yield gain that results from the use of the barnase gene. Any yield gain is due to the hybrids that result from the use of barnase. Perhaps this is what Dr Paintal meant when talking about the significant yield gains that his results show for DMH11, but it sure comes across differently! I am reminded of the strident claims by Monsanto and the Indian regulators who for years have said that GM crops give high yields and are required for food security. The science was finally quoted back to them that there are no intrinsic yield gains from the current types of GM crops, like Bt cotton (which as expert crop technologists they knew all along). Their ÔÇÿtuneÔÇÖ now, at ear-splitting decibels, is of huge performance yield gains as a result of lower pest attacks on Bt cotton. In part this is correct, but it is by no means the whole story and it is timebound. These claims after 10 years of Bt cotton in India are challenged by no less that Dr. Keshav Kranthi, Director, CICR (Central Institute of Cotton Research), IndiaÔÇÖs apex cotton research institute. He examines various contributory reasons for higher yield in Bt cotton like the use of hybrids and the expansion of the irrigated crop area in Gujarat and some other States but significantly not Vidharba where we have a record number of suicides now definitely correlated with Bt cotton because it is official: Bt cotton is unsuited to rain-fed conditions that exist here (Maharashtra Agriculture Ministry). He also examines the current emerging signs for declining Bt cotton productivity to virtually pre Bt cotton levels in 2004-05, due to the onset of resistance, which was always a reality and predicted, insect shifts like the mealy bug never before seen in India (thank you Monsanto and Bt cotton) and other factors too.

    But let me get back to male sterility (in plants) in the barnase barstar system.

    This mustard is a GURT (Genetic Use Restriction Technology/terminator crops), banned in India and banned internationally. Everyone recognises that the barnase/barstar system is a sterilisation technology. It is nobodyÔÇÖs case that Dr Paintal and his team intend it to prevent seed saving, but it is nevertheless capable of causing sporadic crop losses, for the reason of its potentially ÔÇÿleaky expressionÔÇÖ because plants may be fertilised by a significant proportion of pollen that has only the barnase (sterilising gene) and not the barstar (restorer of fertility). In this case then, it is causing the same harm as a ÔÇ£GURTÔÇØ. That is why the US National Academy report did not distinguish between seed and pollen sterility as GURT/non-GURT. The effects of this may be felt by other farmers of similar crops or populations of wild sexually compatible species, (which needs to be verified). It surely is no-bodyÔÇÖs case either that any technology is infallible, or 100% secure, designed to function in the way intended?

    Finally, mustard field trials carry significantly higher risks than other crops because of their ÔÇÿpromiscuousÔÇÖ potential for contamination. The case of rape seed in Canada is an indication of what lies in store for us if GM mustard is adopted, because Canada has lost her local and export markets in Non-GM rape for all time; she is thoroughly and irreversibly contaminated. Canada has no Non-GM rape. It is worrying, though it must be said, not surprising that Dr Paintal accepts ÔÇÿcontaminationÔÇÖ as par for the course, that it will happen and so what? He was a member of the regulatorÔÇÖs expert committee for Bt brinjal. We are the worldÔÇÖs centre of diversity for brinjal with 2500 species and several wild species. This germplasm would get contaminated if ever Bt brinjal were approved. Dr PaintalÔÇÿs ÔÇÿwaywardÔÇÖ remarks lend credence to the growing belief that our Regulators are not concerned about GM contamination. Bio-safety is heavily compromised by the consistent history in India of routine and basic violations by crop developers during field trials, knowing they will get away with it. Dr Paintal of course as stated above has simultaneously been both a regulator and crop developer. This, the very serious and ignored conflict of interest in our regulatory bodies is the pernicious malaise of regulation in India, which risks unimaginable impacts on more than one dimension. Contamination is a serious concern and is regarded so by leading experts in GM environmental risk assessment, Dr PaintalÔÇÖs views notwithstanding. Gene flow from GE field trials in India is of particular concern because these trials contain experimental genes that have undergone little or no risk assessment like mustard DMH-11. ÔÇ£Gene flow, can perpetuate whatever harm may be caused by transgenes, because once they escape into wild relatives, some will become a permanent part of the environment ---(because wild relatives can survive in the environment without human intervention). Transgenes could harm the environment by increasing the weediness of wild relatives, or by harming plants, animals, or environmental processes. Many wild relatives are also serious crop weeds, and therefore gene flow may also harm agriculture. The possibility of irrevocable impact on the environment should serve as a warning to prevent gene flow ÔÇôÔÇ£ (Gurian-sherman in Contaminating the Wild).

    Kudos to the Rajasthan Government; it is fortunate for India that they showed wise judgment in stopping these mustard trials, (which were in any case illegal), since mustard is such an important crop in Rajasthan. It would be interesting to know now for the record, what the Rajasthan Government feels about the full disclosure of what mustard DMH -11 is all about. This case well typifies the situation with untested and unsafe field trials that the GEAC approves in our country and has been doing for two decades. All States must ban open field trials in their territories with immediate effect and legislate accordingly. An informal ban wonÔÇÖt do.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply