60 Lakh Mustard Farmers Need Your Help!
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Indian farmers suffer from very low yields in mustard that are as low as 1000 kg per hectare – one third of that in Canada, China and Australia. Around 60 lakh (6 million) farmers grow mustard over 65-70 lakh hectares in Rabi (winter) season in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Ironically, mustard production and yields have remain stagnant for past 20 years. The scientific community attributes two reasons for low mustard production and yield; first, a narrow variability in Indian mustard germplasm and second biotic and abiotic stresses like white rust, alternaria blight, sclerotinia rot and orobanche etc. Farmers continue to suffer from low yield, meagre farm income and loss of opportunity cost due to denial of farm technologies.
India is a major importer of GE canola (Canadian mustard) oil and GE soybean oil. India has been consuming GE cotton oil produced domestically by our cotton farmers for past 14 years. We consume approx. 50 lakh tons of GE edible oil as cooking oil every year. GE Indian mustard oil is no different from imported GE canola (Canadian mustard) and GE soybean oils. Globally, a quarter of Brassica (mustard/canola) area equivalent to 85 lakh hectares or 24% of total Brassica area of 360 lakh hectares was under genetically engineered varieties in 2015. In a nutshell, GE canola is commercially cultivated over an area equivalent to one and half times the area under mustard in India. Farmers in Australia, Canada and USA have been benefiting from GE canola since 1996. GE technology in Brassica has transformed canola production in Canada, and now constitutes a major export farm produce from Canada.
Countries growing GE canola dominate the global trade in Brassica grain, edible oil and animal feed. GE technologies are helping their farmers produce more canola grain, oil and feed. Noticeably, GE soybean and GE canola account approx. 104 million tons or 94 % of 110 million tons of global oilseeds trade in soybean and canola; 15 million tons or 22 % of 70 million tons of global edible oil trade and 64 million tons or 80% of 80 million tons of global animal feed trade. Therefore, it is evident that GE soybean and GE canola contribute a major portion of the global trade in edible oilseeds, edible oil and animal feed.
These countries have approved multiple trait GE canola allowing their farmers to harness the yield potential through hybridization and deploying an efficient weed control system by adopting multiple mode of action weed control system of glyphosate and glufosiante tolerance. More than 90% of their farmers grow multiple trait GE canola and reap a bountiful harvest season after season.
GE mustard developed by Delhi University South Campus is India’s first state-of-the-art farm innovation that will allow Indian mustard farmers to produce more mustard per unit area. The barnase-barstar technology of GE mustard will accelerate mustard breeding program by both public and private sector resulting in introduction of high-yielding and superior mustard hybrids capable of revolutionizing mustard farming and edible oil production in the country.
The development of GE mustard is a classic example of India’s scientific capability to harness the science of biotechnology and farm innovation in agriculture. More so, India faces a huge deficit in edible oil production and annually imports approx. 14.5 million tons of edible oil including oil extracted from GE soybean and GE canola. The imported edible oil accounts for over 70% of total edible oil consumption pegged at 20 million tons. Annually, India spends approx. Rupee 78,000 crores (over US$12 billion) on edible oil imports that is growing at double digits to meet the burgeoning domestic requirement. Edible oil import is the third largest Indian import after petroleum and gold. Ironically, we have noticed an increased dependence on imported food such as edible oil, pulses and maize in the recent years. The edible oil deficit will continue to widen with the increase in the population, dietary changes and per capita income. To address this insurmountable challenge, India needs to critically look into ways and means to increase productivity of oilseed crops including mustard, soybean and other important edible oil crops. GE mustard hybrid DMH-11 (Dhara Mustard Hybrid -11) is one of the promising technologies to improve mustard yields in India.
Those opposing GE mustard are conspiring to stop Indian mustard farmers to become competitive, they are conspiring to keep our farmers poor and they are conspiring to increase India’s dependence on imported GE canola and GE soybean oil. They mislead general people by attacking our scientific community and by demeaning Indian regulatory system of GE crop safety assessment. The truth is India has robust multi-tier and multi-disciplinary regulatory system involving more than 100 external experts drawn mainly from Indian public sector institutions through statutory regulatory committees such as Review Committee for Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) with representatives of AYUSH, ICAR, ICMR and CSIR and Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) comprising of independent external experts and representatives of inter-ministerial departments and institutions. The food and environment safety assessments follow the best practices and parameters similar to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Australian Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), USFDA, USEPA and that of Brazil and South Africa.
The mustard scientific research community in India has addressed some fallacies propagated by activists and highlighted below some of the important scientific arguments that underpin innovation and reasoning in support of the barnase-barstar technology and GE mustard hybrid DMH-11 that are summarized:
- INCREASING MUSTARD YIELD: the barnase-barstar technology is an important innovation that can improve yield of Indian mustard significantly higher than the present level.
- EFFICIENT HYBRIDIZATION OF MUSTARD: the barnase-barstar system provides opportunity to produce fully fertile hybrids with enhanced yield levels, reduce hybrid seed production cost and increased farmers’ income.
- MUSTARD CROSSABILITY: The issue of crossability of GE mustard with the conventional mustard or wild relatives has been overstated and exaggerated to stall the commercial cultivation of this powerful hybridization technology.
- HERBICIDE TOLERANCE IN MUSTARD: the herbicide tolerance is not a prime target for the barnase-barstar GE mustard hybrid DMH-11. However, all efforts should be directed to develop mustard seeds tolerant to popular herbicides including glyphosate and glufosinate to allow farmers to increase mustard productivity and production in India.
- NON-TERMINATOR TECHNOLOGY & MALE STERLITY TRAIT IN MUSTARD: the system of male sterility in one of the parents is a fundamental necessity for efficient hybrid seed production irrespective of use of methodologies such as the cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) or the barnase-barstar system. Efforts should be made to ensure that the general public should not be confused with the system of male sterility induced by the barnase-barstar technology with the GURT or terminator technology.
The barnase-barstar technology and GE mustard hybrid DMH-11, rigorously assessed for biosafety over last decade under the Indian regulatory system is “as safe as conventional mustard” and "does not raise any public health or safety concerns for human beings or animal or environment”. The technical sub-committee of India's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) thoroughly evaluated the safety of GE mustard and released the Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety (AFES) report published in the MOEF&CC website for public comment from September 5 to October 5, 2016. Your supportive comments are critical for 60 lakh mustard farmers to access GE mustard hybrid technology and for Indian Brassica breeding research groups to use barnase-barstar technology to develop superior mustard hybrids. Let us have respect for science and our scientists, let us help our farmers overcome production constraints and make them competitive and let us help our country reduce dependence on imported edible oil. Download a word format Proforma for Comments and send your comments to the MOEF&CC at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional resources on the barnase-barstar technology and GE mustard for your information and reference:
Please circulate "GE Mustard Campaign" extensively to your network, students, colleagues and friends and invite them to submit their supportive comments to MOEF&CC at email@example.com before 5th October 2016. Let us know how we can help you to timely submit your comments.
Thank you for your time in submitting your supportive comments on GE mustard technology.
Founder Director, South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC)