The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) that functions under the Union Environment Ministry has yet again cleared the proposal for the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard. The recommendation will now again go for the approval of the Environment Ministry. Though the GEAC had cleared the proposal in 2017, the Ministry had vetoed it and suggested that the GEAC hold more studies on the GM crop.
A GEAC meeting held on October 18 allowed the environmental release of two varieties of genetically engineered mustard, so that it can be used for developing new parental lines and hybrids under the supervision of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR). “The environmental release of mustard hybrid Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11) for its seed production and testing as per existing ICAR guidelines and other extant rules/regulations prior to commercial release,” the minutes of the meeting said. The field demonstration studies on the effect of GE mustard on honey bees and other pollinators was also allowed to be conducted.
Considering the application of the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, the GEAC also set certain conditions for the clearance. It includes that the approval is for a limited period of four years and is renewable for two years at a time based on compliance report. External experts will visit the growing sites of the crop at least once during each season. “Applicant shall deposit 100 grams each of approved hybrids as well as their parental lines with the ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources and communicate the same to GEAC within 30 days of issue of this clearance letter for purposes of future reference in case of trade, traceability and dispute on account of ownership,” the minutes said.
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The applicant should also develop and deposit the DNA fingerprints of the approved varieties to the ICAR. “Usage of any formulation of herbicide is recommended only under controlled and specified conditions exclusively for hybrid seed production after obtaining label claim and approval from Central Insecticide Board & Registration Committee,” it said and added that usage of any formulation of herbicide is not permitted for cultivation in the farmer’s field under any situation. Commercial use of DMH-11 will be subject to the Seed Act and related rules and regulations.
Activists questioned the decision of the GEAC. Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India warned the Centre against any such approval. She reminded Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav that he himself had written against GM crops earlier. “What has happened is shocking in its lack of scientific approach or responsible regulation. Nothing has changed from 2017 when GEAC gave its approval to GM mustard commercial cultivation, when the regulator gave a green signal but the decision was not cleared by the ‘competent authority’ ie., Minister/Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change’.
Only two additional tests have been prescribed by GEAC in a perfunctory and irresponsible fashion since then as though the debate about GM mustard was about these two aspects alone. What is worse, the crop developer did not do these studies and pleaded with the regulators against such studies. GM mustard got to this stage in the first instance by the regulatory body colluding with the crop developer in circumventing biosafety assessment in numerous ways,” she said.