GM mustard will obliterate honey bees: Apiculturists protest Central decision in Bharatpur

Mustard is the only natural crop that bee farmers depend on

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 04 November 2022
A farmer in front of ICAR-Mustard Research Institute in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Photo: Vikas Choudhary/ CSE
A farmer in front of ICAR-Mustard Research Institute in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Photo: Vikas Choudhary/ CSE A farmer in front of ICAR-Mustard Research Institute in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Photo: Vikas Choudhary/ CSE

Over 100 apiculturists, or beekeepers, gathered at the ICAR-Mustard Research Institute in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, to protest against the Central government’s decision on giving environmental clearance for GM Mustard. Farmers from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana raised concerns and submitted requests to the Central government November 4, 2022 demanding withdrawal of the same.

The protests happened a day after the Supreme Court granted time till November 10 to the Centre to respond to a petition challenging its decision on GM mustard. 

The Centre had given the go-ahead for GM mustard after the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee under the environment ministry approved the environmental release of Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11) seeds for trials and demonstrations October 18.

Also read: Supreme Court puts environmental release of GM mustard on hold

The beekepers expressed concern about the government decision, stating that honey production had already been impacted by earlier genetically modified products. 

“The introduction of hybrid seed varieties and Bt-cotton has already affected the honey bees and honey production. The honey bee population will collapse if GM mustard is introduced,” said Tanzeem Ansari, chairman of Natural Resource Development Multistate Co-operative Society limited (NARCO).

GM mustard has been conceived by Deepak Pental, former vice-chancellor of Delhi University.

Mustard is the only natural crop that bee farmers depend on, he added. Earlier, farmers used to harvest honey for nearly eight months in a year. 

They relied on sunflower, cotton, jowar, bajra, corn, sesame, tur and chana crops for rearing and sourcing honey. Introducing hybrid seed varieties has resulted in faster yield and fewer flowering days, he said.

The hybrid effect on the natural process directly decreased bee population and honey production. “Our honey harvesting season is now reduced to less than three months a year,” he added.

Also read: Biotech regulator approves GM mustard, now Centre to take a call

India is a major exporter of honey. It majorly depends on honey harvested from mustard. The decision will directly axe the livelihoods of farmers, he said.

Mustard honey comes from pollen and nectar of mustard flowers which is collected by bees.

“Farmers have experienced a drop in honey production with Bt-cotton, a genetically modified variety of cotton,” Praveen Sharma, director of NARCO told Down To Earth.

During the initial years, we harvested honey twice a season. But over the years, the flowers stopped yielding nectar, resulting in honey loss in bees. This may happen with GM mustard too, Sharma said.

“How can the government approve a GM crop without knowing its scientific effects on the honey bee population,” he asked.

India has the potential to have about 200 million bee colonies which will increase farm yield and help farmers generate employment, said Devvrat Sharma, president of the Confederation of Apiculture Industry, New Delhi.

The government did not issue any reports on the introduction of GM mustard on biodiversity and other environmental factors, Sharma said.

Some 2.5 million farmers directly or indirectly depend on honey bees for their livelihoods. The introduction of GM mustard will directly impact these farmers, said Om Prakash Gupta, a beekeeper from Bharatpur.

“The Prime Minister had promised a honey bee revolution in India. But the policies clearly speak otherwise,” he added. Gupta said the PM mentioned it in Mann ki Baat and other public forums.

India’s 100 per cent honey export consists of honey harvested from mustard, said Sunil Kumar Gupta, an exporter of honey. Mustard honey crystallises quicker and makes exporting to the United States of America and the European Union feasible.

“These countries also demand GM-free certification,” he added. The future of apiculture export will be threatened if GM mustard is commercially approved. It will not alone affect mustard, but other crops, he added.

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