New Delhi: In a counter to the intense opposition to GM mustard from civil society, a forum representing India’s biotechnology sector has now written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling anti-genetically modified crops activists “anti-national" and accusing them of fear mongering to derail “indigenous scientific research". The forum requested the prime minister to take action against the activists.
The letter sent by the Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) on Thursday adds fuel to the controversy over GM mustard. It is the latest in a series of letters written by anti-GM and pro-GM groups in past few months.
Last week, 34 medical experts wrote to the prime minister requesting him to reject the “environmental release" of GM mustard, stating that the country should not be forced to face the risks and dangers associated with the crop.
Reacting to that, ABLE-AG, in its letter, said: “This is extremely unfortunate that medical professionals of their stature are misguiding the public by fear mongering about GM mustard under the influence of anti-national activists who are keen to derail indigenous scientific research for agriculture biotechnology".
ABLE-AG, a not-for-profit pan-India forum that represents the Indian biotechnology sector, was formed after industry leaders felt the need for an exclusive forum to represent the Indian biotechnology sector. The forum requested the prime minister to ask anti-GM activists to submit evidences of their claims.
Controversy around GM mustard started earlier this year when India’s regulator for GM products—the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)—on 11 May recommended approval for commercial production of GM mustard developed by the Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants.
Though the GEAC approval is currently awaiting nod from environment minister Harsh Vardhan, activists have already approached the Supreme Court. They are arguing that proper procedures were not followed by GEAC while giving its go-ahead and that GM mustard will be harmful to health.
On Tuesday, the central government told the Supreme Court that it was likely to take a final decision on the commercial roll out of GM mustard by September.
Cotton is the only GM crop allowed in India. And if the environment ministry grants permission, GM mustard will become the first GM food crop in India. In 2010, GEAC had cleared GM brinjal, but the ministry did not clear it in the wake of protests from civil society groups.
ABLE-AG in its letter to the prime minister stressed that GM mustard has been tested extensively and has undergone all checks by GEAC, which found it safe for human consumption and the environment.
They also emphasised that claims made by medical experts that GM mustard is a herbicide-tolerant organism is “completely unfounded".
“We further like to highlight that the claim made by these ill-informed people that ample evidence is available that GM foods have adverse effects is false… we would like to urge you to take disciplinary action against these people for generating false propaganda," the letter said.
Anti-GM activists called the letter ridiculous.
“It is ridiculous that any scientist who speaks against GM mustard is immediately branded anti-national. This trick of biotech industry needs to stop. We need a genuine scientific debate in India on GM crops," said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, or ASHA, a nationwide informal network of more than 400 organizations drawn from 20 states.