The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India's apex regulator for genetically modified seeds, on Thursday cleared GM mustard for environmental release and use in farmer fields.
However, the approval is contingent on a final nod from Environment Minister Anil Dave.
Should the Minister’s consent be obtained, GM mustard would be the first transgenic food crop to be allowed for commercial cultivation in Indian fields and would be a gateway for several genetically-modified food crops in India.
Bt brinjal blocked
Thursday’s decision is not the first time GEAC has cleared a transgenic food crop for release.
Bt Brinjal was cleared by the Committee in 2010 but was blocked by then Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, who cited, among other things, a paucity of safety tests.
“We have cleared it [GM mustard] for four years subject to certain field conditions,” GEAC Chairperson, Amita Prasad, told The Hindu . “It was a unanimous decision with no dissent and all concerns around safety and the need for such a plant were discussed by the most eminent experts we have.“ Other than bio-safety concerns, transgenic technology was necessary for India to be scientifically relevant as well as have better seeds to address threats from climate change, Ms. Prasad argued.
Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH -11), the transgenic mustard in question, has been developed by a team of scientists at Delhi University led by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental under a government-funded project. In essence, it uses a system of genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard — generally a self pollinating plant — better suited to hybridisation than current methods.
Activists have however maintained that publicly-available data on DMH-11 shows that its yield is no better than existing varieties. “We have shown over the past several months, through rigorous analysis of available material, how this GM mustard dossier (evaluated by GEAC) was rigged,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, Convener, Coalition for GM-free India.