The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Union Environment Ministry on October 18 gave a green signal for the use of transgenic hybrid mustard DMH 11 in the country. In other words, it has given the green signal for the commercial cultivation of GM Mustard by farmers, with the production of seed material being the first step.
It is believed that farmers will benefit from the use of genetically modified mustard and the production of mustard will increase in the country.
But many farmer organizations and farmers associated with the apiculture industry are opposing this decision.
Let us understand what GM Mustard is and why it is being opposed.
Protests Against GM Mustard
According to the news of Down to Earth, more than 100 apiculturists and beekeepers protested at the ICAR Mustard Research Institute in Bharatpur, Rajasthan against the decision of the central government to allow GM mustard farming.
On 4th November 2022, Farmers of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana also demanded the central government to withdraw this decision.
The bee-keeping industry’s federation ‘The Confederation of Apiculture Industry’ (CAI) has sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to put a stop to this decision, terming it as “very fatal for the honey revolution”.
Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union has said “when something is banned in the whole world, we have the reports of 400 scientists, we have the bad results of Bt cotton cultivation, so what is the need for the Government of India that It should allow cultivation of GM mustard. Is there a shortage of mustard in the country? We will not allow trials of GM mustard anywhere in the country.”
A petition has also been filed against the government’s decision in the Supreme Court, the court has asked the Center to stop the cultivation of this hybrid crop for the time being. The matter will now be heard by the Supreme Court on November 10.
Why is there opposition?
In fact, the Central Government has approved the field trial of GM mustard after the environmental clearance given by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee for the use of Dhara Mustard Hybrid DMH 11. Which is being opposed by farmers’ organizations, farmers associated with apiculture, people associated with the honey business, and environmentalists.
Farmers believe that this will take away the employment of farmers associated with beekeeping, while environmentalists say that it will cause a lot of damage to biodiversity.
What is genetically modified (GM) mustard?
GM Mustard DMH-11 is prepared by crossing the Indian variety Varuna with the Eastern European variety Early Heera-2. It has been claimed that the yield of DMH-11 is 28 percent more than Varuna.
Hybrid is developed by mixing genes of a plant of two different varieties from the same species. The first-generation offspring of such cross crops give a higher yield than both parents.
However, this hybridization was not easy to do in mustard, as its flower has both male and female parts and it is a self-pollinating plant.
Self-pollination means that eggs from one plant cannot be fertilized by pollen grains from another plant. Therefore, making a hybrid of mustard was more difficult than that of cotton, maize, and tomato.
Then how hybrid of mustard became reality?
For this ‘barnase’ (Gene) of the Indian variety, Varuna merged with the Early Hera mutant ‘barstar’ (gene) from Europe, and the F1 progeny was developed.
What are its benefits?
The genetically modified mustard will have less insect damage and higher yield, making India a major producer of edible oil in the market.
What are the disadvantages?
Bee farmers say that the production of honey has reduced due to the earlier GM crops that were allowed. Even if GM seed will be used in mustard crops, the apiculture industry would suffer more.
Mustard is such a natural crop on which most beekeepers depend. The farmers used to get honey for eight months of the first year. But the flowering time has decreased in the crops grown from GM seed, due to which less honey is being collected now.
Sunflower, cotton, jowar, bajra, corn, sesame, tur, and gram crops were also good sources of honey, but now seeds with higher yields and shorter flowering days are being used in these crops.
Hybrid crops have badly affected the natural process, due to which the number of bees is decreasing as well as honey production. Now the Honey Harvest season has been reduced from 8 months to 3 months in a year.
India is the largest exporter of honey in the world. Honey that is harvested from mustard accounts for a large part of it. The protesting farmers fear that this will put their livelihoods in jeopardy.
Let us tell you that most of India’s honey is harvested from mustard crops. Mustard Honey is in high demand in the US and Europe markets. But these countries ask for GM-free certificates. India’s exports will be directly affected by the use of GM crops in mustard.
There is another reason for opposing GM Mustard
GM Mustard contains a third-time gene that makes it weedicide glufosinate ammonium tolerant. Earlier manual labor had to be employed to remove weeds, now the work will be done by adding chemicals.
The Swadeshi Jagran Manch of the RSS says that this will end the employment of the workers and the use of chemicals will increase.
However, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee says that there is no scientific evidence that the use of GM mustard will harm bees and other insects. GEAC says that people should use GM seed, after field demonstration, comprehensive data will be available on the effect on honeybees after that.
Farmers say that without doing any research, permission is being given to GM mustard.