Panel for action against farmers using herbicides on GM mustard

Anti-GM activists question efficacy of such regulation

Updated - July 26, 2017 10:02 pm IST

Published - July 26, 2017 10:01 pm IST - Chennai

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s (GEAC) sub-committee has drafted several recommendations on GM mustard before it approved the crop for commercial release in May this year. These included a proposal for legal action on farmers using the glufosinate-based herbicide (Basta) on the crop unless otherwise approved by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee.

In response to an RTI query, the GEAC has provided minutes of the sub-committee’s May 11, 2017 meeting. The minutes, accessed by The Hindu, reflect an apprehension that farmers may use herbicides to kill weeds that grow in crops of herbicide-tolerant GM Mustard. Glufosinate-based herbicides act as a neurotoxin and have adverse impacts on humans, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health.

Post-release monitoring

Further, to address concerns regarding the environmental impact of GM mustard on honeybee populations, pollen flow and soil microbial activity, the sub-committee recommended that monitoring studies be undertaken as a post-release measure. The sub-committee has also noted that contentions regarding the productivity claims of GM mustard compared to hybrid varieties were beyond the purview of the GEAC.

To a query on how the GEAC proposes to ensure adherence to its recommendations, GEAC sub-committee member C.R. Babu, also Director of the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems, University of Delhi, told The Hindu that the Ministry of Environment and Forests was contemplating setting up a system to monitor the planting of GM mustard seeds when commercially released.

He added that the Department of Biotechnology was well-equipped to monitor field outcomes upon commercial release. Emphasising that post-release monitoring was critical for GM mustard, he said, “There should be strict regulation that herbicides should not be used with GM Mustard.”

Bt cotton lessons

However, anti-GM activists question how effective such regulation will be, drawing attention to the experience with Bt cotton, the country’s first and only commercially released GM crop. The GEAC had recommended plant refuges wherever Bt cotton was planted to ensure pests did not develop resistance to the Bt toxin.

“In the case of Bt cotton the government’s record of ensuring adherence to recommendations has been very poor,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, activist and convenor of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture).

On Monday, the Centre submitted to the Supreme Court that it would file its affidavit on its preparedness for commercial release of GM Mustard on July 29. The Supreme Court has asked the government to stay the commercial release of GM mustard until it does so.

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