Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India’s Genetically Modified Crops regulator has recommended the commercial use of genetically modified mustard in a submission to the Ministry of Environment in the middle of opposition by anti-GM groups, including RSS-affiliated bodies.
In its submission, GEAC, the nodal regulator for Genetically Modified (GM) crops, has given a positive recommendation with certain conditions. With its green signal, the GEAC has pushed the hybrid plant developed by scientists at the University of Delhi closer to becoming the country’s first edible GM crop. However, the Environment Ministry has to now take a final call on this.
Meanwhile, RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) criticised the move saying allowing the commercial use of GM mustard would impact allied agri-activities. Some anti-GM activists asserted that in okaying the commercial use of GM mustard, the GEAC has “yet again proven” to be “unscientific and uncaring” to the health of citizens.
They said, Environment Minister Anil Madhav should uphold BJP’s manifesto promise that GM foods will not be allowed and reject the GM mustard “just like the Bt brinjal variety was rejected seven years ago”.
The GEAC, which function under the Ministry, reviewed a report of a sub-committee constituted to look into the safety angle of the commercial roll-out of GM mustard. It has also put a number of conditions while recommending its commercial use.
“The agenda of GM mustard came up in a meeting of the GEAC. It has given a positive recommendation. It has recommended the approval of GM Mustard for commercial release,” a senior official at the Ministry said.
The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) of Delhi University South Campus, had submitted an application to the GEAC for the environmental release of GM mustard (Brassica juncea) hybrid DMH-11 and the use of parental events (varuna bn 3.6 and EH2 mod bs 2.99) for the development of a new generation of hybrids.
The Environment Ministry had received over 700 comments from various stakeholders, including farmers and researchers, on the Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety (AFES) report on GM Mustard, which it had earlier posted on the Ministry website.
The application was submitted in 2015 after which several rounds of meeting were held by the GEAC. The sub-committee also convened meetings with experts. The GEAC also heard the views of various NGOs not in favour of giving an approval to GM crops.
An anti-GM group had earlier alleged that sub committee, did not have any health expert and three of its members have conflict of interest. Coalition for a GM-Free India had questioned whether the risk assessment report given by the sub-committee, which has claimed that the hybrid does not pose any risk to biodiversity or agro-ecosystem, was even “reliable and scientific” as it had no health experts in it.
Today’s decision, which many of the anti-GM activists were unaware of, got sharp reactions from Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM).
“We are against the commercial use of any genetically modified crops, including the GM mustard. And we will request that the government should not allow its commercial cultivation,” SJM co-convener Ashwani Mahajan said.
The productivity of existing desi varieties are higher than this newly developed GM mustard, Mahajan claimed. He added that the GM mustard variety would impact allied sectors such as beekeepers, orchards and ayurvedic medicine makers and practitioners.
It is claimed by the pro GM Mustard group that the transgenic mustard would increase yield by 25-30 percent. India annually imports edible oil worth Rs 60,000 crore annually.