Challenging the narrative of GM Mustard
by Vipesh Garg on 17 Jun 2017 10 Comments
Public Law (P.L.)-480, a food-aid programme, was major part of American foreign policy during the Cold War, to liquidate communist influence. It was signed as Agricultural Trade Development and Assistant Act, 1954 by President D. Dwight Eisenhower and administered strongly under ‘Food for Peace’ during John F. Kennedy’s administration. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under President Nixon, used to say, ‘Control oil [crude] and you control nations; control food and you control people’. The ‘green revolution’ did not happen in India alone; it was pushed as a hidden design in many developing and least developed countries to support the chemical industries that became unemployed after the Second World War and the seed corporations to take control the world’s food system.


If we connect the dots, we can clearly see we in India were made deficient in pulses, edible oils and millets – in order to hijack the seeds, food system and rich biodiversity of India. 


Under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) consortium, India was provided with high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of seeds and chemicals to increase yields, like many other countries. There is no dispute; in disguise the green revolution made us rice-wheat sufficient and even a food exporter.


But we cannot sit back and eulogise the green revolution because over the years it has brought a great number of socio-economic problems which are ticking like time bombs within the Indian agriculture system. It is important to discuss how we were made deficient in pulses, edible oil and millets over the years, through false narratives and hidden designs, so that our seed, food system and diversity could be taken over by some seed giants.


The controversy of GM mustard and GM food crops again contain false narratives and hidden designs which need to be challenged to save our farmers and agriculture.


The Rajiv Gandhi government wanted to make India self-sufficient in edible oils and pulses, and cut down the huge import bill. The government launched a Technology Mission on Oilseeds and Pulses [TMOP] in 1986-87, and ushered in the Yellow Revolution with self-sufficiency in edible oils and pulses successfully. By 1993-94, India was made 97 per cent sufficient in edible oils under the oilseeds production programme [OPP]. Apart from mustard oil, the Indian oil basket has been remained very diverse, with edible oils from diverse sources - mustard, sunflower, safflower, coconut, sesame, castor, cotton etc.


After the 1991 balance of payments crisis, India opened its market and agriculture to the world. It has been observed that despite the Indian economy benefitting from globalisation, agriculture was deeply impacted, adversely, by liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The neo-colonial agenda for developing and least developed countries (LDCs) was further pushed through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after the Uruguay round.


WTO was set up to take control of the economies of developing and LDCs in the name of technology, development and free trade agreements [FTAs]. Under WTO, India was bound to raise import duties of edible food oils [except soyabean] up to 300 percent. In the 1990s, some seed companies lobbied and forced India to slash its import duties on edible oils to 45 per cent, in the name of transfer of agricultural technology (in the form of Bt cotton seed technology). Import duty was further slashed to almost zero and the whole of India was flooded with subsidised and cheap GM soya and palm oil.


Side by side, a pseudo-narrative was planted claiming that Indian mustard oil had adulteration of Argemone Mexicana (Satyanashi) which caused endemic dropsy in children. Using false science, a few seed companies destroyed the diversity of our edible oils and attacked our local mills and local cultivation of mustard seed varieties. This is similar to the manner in which the British de-industrialised India through biased trade policies and destruction of local textiles and mills.


When Bt cotton was introduced in India, it was introduced as a non-food crop to bypass bio-safety concerns. Today, a false narrative has been peddled that domestic Bt cotton oil is now the second largest indigenous edible oil after mustard oil, and that if imported (GM Canola) and indigenous edible oil can be GM, why farmers should fear GM mustard? It is pertinent that the Government of India has permitted several GM food items to be imported without labelling.


In the aftermath of the green revolution, lack of social support and market infrastructure, poor procurement and integrated value chains for pulses, edible oil and millets, has led to the current imbalance in the Indian food basket. Most R&D and extension services have been devoted to only two crops, rice and wheat. Decades of unbalanced polices, vote-bank politics, cereal-centric food system, lack of attention to pulses, mustard and millet, has brought us to the current pass.


Today we are importing Rs 80,000 worth edible oils and Rs 10,000 worth pulses annually. Most of our coarse grains have been taken out of cultivation in irrigated areas due to poor social, market and procurement infrastructure. The bottom line is that we have been made deficient in pulses, edible oils and millets over the years.


Industry promoted science is not science, it is propaganda. Further, in this age of information terrorism, these resourceful seed giants are controlling and planting the wrong information. They have manipulated information through education, media, scientific community, R&D funding, pseudo-journalism, pleasing some scientists through prizes and appreciation. These seed giants have successfully fragmented the science, sociology, economics and environment of academia.


Integration is key to examining the GM mustard case organically, which is lacking among our scientific community and policy formulators. Scientists, environmentalists, socio-economists, all are fighting in their own compartments. There is lack of inter-disciplinary cooperation and integration. This is fertile ground for the seed giants to push their agenda smoothly.


GM Mustard is a scientific fraud to hijack the food and biodiversity of the world, which needs to be challenged. In the regulatory pipeline, there are hundreds of other GM food crops waiting to get approval. Once GM Mustard gets approval, our whole food chain would be flooded with GM food crops having bio-safety dangers.


In this age of free trade and biased policies, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and trade laws, government faces huge external pressures to push Western corporate interests. There is a move to dilute and strike off the Indian sui generic system of IPRs and to follow the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants 1991 (UPOV-91), which would enable the seed companies to take patents of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and GMOs. How can life giving seeds be considered the property of these seed companies? There are lots of reports that in the name of aid, many of African countries’ farmers are handing over their rights to save, share and swap traditional seeds. Tanzanian farmers are facing heavy prison sentences and penalties if they continue their traditional seed exchanges. 


This is really a fight between David and Goliath. Agricultural scientists need to realise these false narratives and hidden designs for the overall benefit of the nation and food system. We are seeds of Mother Nature. We have equal right to live with purity and freedom. Indian farmers are most resilient and hardworking. They always have made the nation self-sufficient when called upon to produce. Green revolution, yellow revolution, operation flood, are some prime examples.


The majority of farmers do not want technology in the form of GM seeds, HYVs or chemical formulations. They want only an assured market and procurement infrastructure. In the 2016-17 rabi year, there was record area planted under pulses and edible oils despite suffering from demonetisation. But farmers were forced to sell their produce below MSP.


The on-going farmers’ protests in many states reflect the chasm between reality at the ground level and the government’s thinking. It is painful that scientists, policy makers and government are pushing farmers to the wall by making farming input-intensive and costly, without supporting them with basic infrastructure.


The author is an under graduate from Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, Hissar, Haryana, and post-graduate from Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, Punjab, and a student of natural agricultural systems and Indian agricultural policies

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top