Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Indian farmers harvesting mustard seed – a symbol of spring and abundance. (Photo: Daniel Bachhuber/flickr/cc)

Get the GMO Out of My Mustard

Sarson Satyagraha to stop terminator technology

Vandana Shiva

India is the home of oilseed diversity—coconut, groundnut, linseed, niger, mustard and rapeseed, safflor, sesame. Our food cultures have evolved with our biodiversity of oilseeds. Sarson is called “Sarsapa” and “Rajika” in Sanskrit. Diverse Varieties of Sarson are are grown and used in India, including Krsna Sarsapa (Banarsi Rai), Sita Sarsapa (Pila Sarson), Rakta Sarsapa (Brown Sarson), Toria, and Taramira.

On August 27th, 1998, the government announced a policy of free import of soyabean, while simultaneously banning sale of mustard oil  using the tragedy of adulteration of mustard oil in Delhi with argemone, diesel, waste oil. While it was referred to as the dropsy epidemic, our visits to hospitals showed multiple symptoms because of the multiple sources of adulteration. The interesting thing about the mustard tragedy was that ALL brands were affected, and only in Delhi. . A typical adulteration is in one brand , across the supply chain.

It was women from the slums of Delhi who called us at Navdanya and said “our children are going to bed hungry because they cannot eat food cooked in soya oil”; “Bring our mustard back.”

Women prefer natural oils such as mustard to hydrogenated fats such as Dalda both for health reasons and taste . Hyrogenated fats contain trans fats which  contribute to heart problems and strokes. Soya oil too is an industrial oil which uses benzene, a known carcinogen. Food should give us health, not disease, and the poorest of women are aware of this fundamental fact.

Navdanya with the National Women’s Alliance for Food Sovereignty (Mahila Anna Swaraj) started the Sarson Satyagraha to bring back our pure mustard oil. The sound of “Sarson Bacao, Soyabean Bhagao” rang on the streets of Delhi in 1998.  The first bottle of the Satyagraha Mustard Oil was gifted to the then Chief Minister of Delhi, Sahib Singh Varma. Today we are able to enjoy our mustard oil because of the Sarson Satyagraha of 1998.

Our mustard is once again under threat, this time, from genetic engineering of mustard for sterility and herbicide tolerance by Dr. Deepak Pental of Delhi University.

Not only do we not need genetically engineered mustard, the traits being introduced in the GM mustard are known to be hazardous and are illegal under international and national law. Dr Pental, has spent time in Tihar jail for stealing a colleague’s Mustard work, but blatantly violating national and international laws, that have been put in place to protect our biodiversity and farmers rights, is a far more serious crime.

The GMO mustard is based on what has been called the “Terminator Technology” to make the harvested seed sterile. The UN convention on Biodiversity has banned the use of the Terminator Technology. It is also illegal under India’s Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act. The patent for this technology is held by the US Department of Agriculture and Delta and Pine Land (now owned by Monsanto).

Dr. Pental has used the Terminator Technology based on the barnase gene which is lethal to cells.

In addition to the terminator trait, the GMO mustard has been engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Glufosinate, which halts photosynthesis, resulting in plant death. When Glufosinate is sprayed on fields, all other plants die except the herbicide resistant GMO.

These are technologies for killing life, not technologies for growing food. They must be banned.

In India, on our small farms, we grow mustard with wheat. Such mixtures increase productivity as well as farmers incomes. A herbicide resistant GMO mustard will kill the wheat, lowering farm productivity and undermining our food security. Herbicide resistant crops also put evolutionary pressure on weeds, contributing to the emergence of super-weeds. In the US, due to increased herbicide use, 50% of farm lands are over run by super-weeds.

Additionally, GM mustard contaminates non-GMO mustard through pollination. Percy Scmeiser, a seed breeder in Canada lost his canola line (canola is derived from mustard and gets its name for the breeding done in Canada) to contamination by Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready Canola. Steve Marsh, an Australian Organic farmer, lost his Organic Certification because of Monsanto’s GM canola.

The demand for pure organic mustard oil is growing in India, since most edible oils are “blended” with GMO soya oil or GMO Bt Cotton seed oil. The introduction of GMO mustard with Terminator traits will deny Indian citizens the right to safe and pure mustard oil because of the risk of contamination.

The GM DNA, can enter cells of unrelated species and be incorporated into the cell’s genome through horizontal gene transfer. The genes involved are fatal.

Barnase is known to be harmful, if not lethal, to all cells, animals and humans included. When perfused into rat kidneys, barnase causes kidney damage. When the recombinases used for gene splicing are expressed at high levels in the sperm cells of transgenic mice, the males became 100% sterile. Sterility is caused directly by the recombinase enzyme scrambling the genome, essentially by breaking and rejoining DNA at inappropriate sites on the same or different chromosomes.

It is because we need independent assessment of these far reaching Biosafety impacts that the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) of the Supreme Court  has recommended that we need a ten year moratorium on GMO trials to create a robust system for Biosafety Regulation. Such regulation cannot be left to those involved in risky experiments who are also trying to push hazardous GMOs onto our farms and into our food.

In addition, the TEC has recommended that no herbicide resistant crops be introduced in India because our farmers are small and herbicides will destroy our biodiverse food crops, which are the basis of India’s food and nutritional security. The TEC had also recommended that we do not genetically engineer crops of which we are a ‘centre of diversity’. India is the home of genetic diversity of mustard.

Every law, every scientific principle of Biosafety is thus being undermined to push Terminator Mustard  on India’s farmers and thalis. The GMO mustard is being justified on grounds that we are importing edible oils and GMO mustard will reduce imports by increasing production. The claim that this Terminator Mustard will increase yields by 30% is scientifically false and a blatant lie.

Compared to the non GMO hybrid, the GMO hybrid cannot have higher yields.

India is importing edible oils because imports were forced on us. When Soya oil started to flood India’s market in 1998, the International price was $150/ton, while the subsidy from the US government to its soya producers was $190/ton. In effect, this was dumping.

The Indian government further subsidized soya oil for the PDS by Rs 15,000/ton, making imported soya oil artificially cheaper than domestically produced mustard oil.

We need to get rid of these distorting subsidies and unjust trade rules to defend our food sovereignty and ensure Indian’s can have healthy and safe food Made in India by Indian farmers.

We need to stop the insanity of transforming mustard - the symbol of spring and abundance in our culture - into a toxic crop with terminator genes, sprayed with lethal herbicides that kill everything green, including the rich diversity of our crops and directly damage our health.

On July 31, 2015 we renewed the Sarson Satyagraha by taking a pledge at Gandhi Ji’s memorial at Rajghat to protect the diversity, purity and safety of our mustard.

Join the Sarson Satyagraha. Commit yourself to boycotting chemical and GM food, and eating organic and local. Food Freedom (Anna Swaraj) is our birthright.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Press Freedom Champions Renew Call for DOJ to Drop Charges Against Assange

"It is time for the Biden administration to break from the Trump administration's decision to indict Assange—a move that was hostile to the media and democracy itself."

Jessica Corbett ·

Oral Arguments Boost Fears of SCOTUS Buying Theory That Would 'Sow Elections Chaos'

"This reckless case out of North Carolina could explode the unifying understanding that power ultimately rests with the people of this country," one campaigner said of Moore v. Harper.

Jessica Corbett ·

War Industry 'Celebrating Christmas Early' as House Passes $858 Billion NDAA

"There is no justification to throw... $858 billion at the Pentagon when we're told we can't afford child tax credit expansion, universal paid leave, or other basic human necessities," said the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. "End of story."

Brett Wilkins ·

GOP Florida Lawmaker Behind 'Don't Say Gay' Law Charged with Covid Relief Fraud

"It does not surprise me that someone who exploits queer kids for political gain would be charged with exploiting taxpayers for personal gain," said one Democratic state lawmaker.

Julia Conley ·

'Historic Victory': House Passes Bill to Protect Same-Sex and Interracial Marriage

President Joe Biden is expected to promptly sign the Respect for Marriage Act, which Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Jerry Nadler described as "an essential step to guard against the increasingly extremist, right-wing Supreme Court."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo