Contrary to submissions and suggestions of Anti Genetically-Modified (GM) groups, a sub-committee of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has given its approval to GM Mustard and termed it as ‘safe for human and animal health’. This paves the way for not only Mustard but to several GM food crops being tested by public and private research institutes and companies.
So ground is set for GM Mustard. Though a ‘ final call’ will be taken by the Environment Ministry on whether GM mustard should be declared safe for commercial cultivation, it is widely agreed that since the GEAC is a government body, therefore the report of the subcommittee is perfectly aligned with the government’s favour to GM crops. The Ministry has asked comments till October 5 and it is believed that after that date, GM Mustard would be allowed for commercial cultivation.
Apart from Mustard, genetically-modified rice, brinjal, wheat, tomato among others are at various stages of the approval process. For Mustard the GEAC had consulted with plant biologists, ecologists and environmentalists before tasking a sub-committee with compiling all evidence and addressing key questions. In 2010, the GEAC had cleared Bt brinjal but it’s decision was over-ruled by the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
For Mustard Dhara Modified Hybrid (DMH-11) has been developed by a team of scientists at Delhi University led by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental under a government-funded project. The technology used in DMH-11 allows local crop developers to easily develop different varieties of hybrid mustard, like in say GM cotton, and confer traits like pest resistance and potentially improving yield.
The 133-page report is an abridged version of the full biosafety dossier that generally accompanies applications by crop developers to the GEAC. The GEAC subcommittee hasn’t conducted tests over and above those already done as part of the biosafety-testing process that GM crops currently undergo.
The GEAC’s recommendations are likely to upset environmental activists, gene scientist who advocate traditional and conventional seeds. They feel that the GM mustard in question, is a threat to farmer livelihoods, ecology and consumer health. Gene Campaign, an NGO working for farmers has opposed GM crops/food right from the very beginning.
Talking to Rural Marketing, Suman Sahai, Chairperson, Gene Campaign had said, “ So many years after Bt cotton, we are still contemplating whether or not adopt GM technology which is highly regulated worldwide. For GM, there are several issues such as no comprehensive and no coherent policy is in place.”
“Regulatory mechanism is highly questionable and if bio safety measures are not adequate you are asking for troubles. GM is regulated by scientists and they know it can produce high yield on one hand and cause major damage on the other if not regulated carefully. Lot of damage has already been done and it is high time to resolve this issue,” she added..
Recently, Environment Minister Anil Madhav, in a press statement said that no final decision has been taken yet. Those who are supposed to GM can seek solace in the fact that a GEAC approval doesn’t mean the States — who have the final says on agriculture seeds — are compelled to clear it in their fields.