Coalition for GM-Free India alleges Solicitor General of India misled court during hearing

Supreme Court recently concluded hearing on environmental release of GM mustard and reserved judgement  

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Tuesday 23 January 2024
SG's argument that consumption of GM edible oils has done no harm to the Indian population was unscientific, claimed coalition. Photo for representation from iStock

The Coalition for a GM-Free India has alleged that the claims made by the Solicitor General of India were irrelevant, misleading and incorrect during the arguments heard by the court on environmental release of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant mustard.

The coalition, which comprises experts, scientists, farmers and activists, have said the arguments made by the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on January 18, 2024 during the hearing were incorrect and no room was allowed by the court to hear counter statements from the petitioners as the bench comprising justices BV Nagarthan and Sanjay Karol reserved the judgement.

In a statement issued by the coalition it stated, “The Coalition is forced to put out this public statement urging the honourable bench of the Supreme Court to consider all aspects highlighted in the batch of petitions filed by numerous public-spirited groups and citizens, in addition to farmers and beekeepers whose livelihoods are at stake”.

The statement added that Mehta, in his arguments, mentioned aspects of illegal imports of GM edible oil and GM mustard being herbicide-tolerant. The members of the coalition said the argument that the consumption of GM edible oils has done no harm to the Indian population was unscientific, as no scientific data was presented to support the claim.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has not yet issued regulations under Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 concerning GM oil.

Sharing a few irrefutable facts in the matter, members said India imports some quantities of GM soybean oil. However, some details remain irrefutable, they added.

The members of the coalition pointed out that India imports small quantities (7-25,000 tonnes) of GM canola,  compared to the overall edible oil import of 14.5 million tonnes.

India’s contribution to mustard oil is about 3.9 million tonnes, with a domestic requirement of 3.95 million tonnes. They claimed that based on the numbers, India is self-sufficient in terms of mustard oil needs. 

The cost of edible oil is not a concern for consumers as India currently imports palmolein oil at a cheaper cost due to anti-farmer export-import policy of the central government. 

“The vast majority of imported edible oil is cheap, non-GM palmolein oil (9 million tonnes, or 62 per cent), while the SG went on and on about how access to cheap oil has to be kept in mind by the Supreme Court while weighing the risks and benefits of GM HT mustard. Soybean oil import is 3.2 million tonnes (only 22 per cent) and not all of this is GM soybean oil,” the statement said.

The members highlighted the illegal trials of GM HT mustard undertaken by the government during Rabi season 2022-23 but the results did not show higher yield against the non-GM hybrids. They said that earlier data shared on increase of yield was unscientific and rigged as pointed out by petitioners. 

The coalition reiterated that the bar gene present in both the parent lines enhances the expression by special genetic change built from the GM mustard hybrid. 

“Bar gene is tolerant of glufosinate, which has several health risks, as can be seen in published scientific literature. Both bar-bargene-barstar (originally taken from Bayer) and glufosinate were patented technologies and the terms and conditions related to the use of the technology have never been made public so far,” they said.

The coalition emphasised that research showed India is a centre of diversity for mustard and that the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court advised against gene technologies in crops, for which India is a centre of origin or diversity.

They said that multiple illegal and unscientific procedures were followed to clear biosafety assessment and seek approval of environmental release of GM mustard. Some of the aspects include absence of health experts during health safety assessment meetings and shying away to test GM mustard as HT crop.

“There are no protocols for the testing of HT crops in India’s regulatory regime,” they said.

Through the statement, the coalition has urged the Supreme Court to recognise irreversible risks linked to the GM crop cultivation and the health hazards of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crop as it concerns the environment health risking Indian soils, country’s mustard germplasm, honeybees, farmer livelihoods, trade security and others as implementation of the technology will be irreversible and uncontrollable.

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