Union Minister for Environment Harsh Vardhan will have a fresh consultation with environmental groups, scientists, and farmers’ bodies before taking a call on the release of genetically modified (GM) mustard.
“There have been representations from various quarters. Over the next month, he is likely to hear them out, especially groups that are opposed to the introduction of GM mustard,” a senior official of the Ministry told The Hindu . The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India’s regulator for genetically modified seeds, had on May 12, 2017 cleared GM mustard for environmental release and use in fields.
Though it was cleared by scientists, the Environment Minister’s approval is required. Before his death on May 18, Anil Dave, the then Minister, was deliberating on the GEAC’s report and the future course of action.
‘No time line’
Dr. Vardhan, it is learnt, has been briefed of the technical aspects of the making of GM mustard, the commercial necessity and the objections raised so far to it. “There is no timeline for the final decision. But it is likely to be announced next month,” the official said.
Should the Minister’s consent be obtained, GM mustard would be the first transgenic food crop to be allowed for commercial cultivation in India. It could pave the way for several other GM food crops in the country.
However, this isn’t the first time the GEAC has cleared a transgenic food crop for release. It had cleared Bt Brinjal in 2010, but its decision was blocked by the then Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, who had cited, among other things, a paucity of safety tests. Mr. Ramesh had arrived at his decision after a national consultation on the pros-and-cons of the genetically modified vegetable.
The GEAC has cleared GM mustard for four years, subject to certain field conditions. The decision was reportedly unanimous, with no dissent among the 18-member panel.
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 two genes from the soil bacterium bacillus amyloliquefaciens to make mustard — a self-pollinating plant — better suited to hybridisation than it is under the existing methods of breeding.