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Eye on safety, Govt defers GM mustard decision

Will not halt research but not rushing through decision, says Javadekar.

Written by Amitabh Sinha , Harish Damodaran | New Delhi | Updated: February 6, 2016 4:18 am
Mustard crop, Mustard genetic engineering, GM Mustard crop, GM Mustard, Govt GM Mustard A protest against GM mustard outside the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Friday. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

HELPING THE government buy peace with activists protesting against granting clearance to the first transgenic food crop in the country, the biotechnology regulator on Friday deferred a decision on allowing the cultivation of a genetically-modified (GM) hybrid mustard.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), a body under the Environment Ministry that regulates the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), asked the developer of the hybrid mustard — Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants — at Delhi University, led by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental, to provide some more information on bio-safety related data.

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The GM variant, called DMH11 (Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11), is said to deliver 25-30 per cent higher mustard-seed yields compared to the best “check” varieties currently being grown in the country.

The hybrid went through Biosafety Research Level-1 (BRL-1) tests in 2011-12 and 2012-13, in Rajasthan, under the coordination of the National Research Centre for Rapeseed-Mustard at Bharatpur, and BRL-2 tests at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute in Delhi and the Punjab Agricultural University in the 2014-15 season.

“The necessary field trials have already been done and we have submitted all bio-safety related data to the regulator,” Pental said.

The institute sought a final approval from the GEAC in December for “environmental release” of the crop. But even before the application process was initiated, anti-GM NGOs and activists cutting across ideological lines — from the Left to RSS-affiliated organisations — began protests, in a recreation of the agitation against Bt brinjal, also a GM crop, in 2010.

They were joined by a number of scientists from several institutions and even Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding that the process be halted.

Incidentally, the approval for BRL-2 tests of DMH11 was given by the Delhi government in November 2014, when the capital was under President’s Rule.

On Friday, the activists gathered around the Environment Ministry building as the GEAC met in the morning. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar later assured them that no decision would be taken without “due consideration and consultation”.

In 2010, Bt brinjal had got the final approval from the GEAC but the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh put an indefinite moratorium on that decision which still holds. In the case of Mustard DMH11, the GEAC put off its decision by at least a few months.
Javadekar said that while the government would not stop scientific research, it would not take any decision in haste.

“We are not rushing through any decision. We need to increase production and productivity in agriculture. We need to give emphasis on science, development, productivity and increased production. But at the same time, we have to be scientific and not risk the lives of our people. So, every decision will be taken only after due deliberation,” he said.

He also indicated that the introduction of GM crops would happen only if other avenues of increasing production were not available. “We cannot let our people starve. But if there are other good alternatives available…our Prime Minister has repeatedly talked about organic farming, and using biotechnology in agriculture. But at the same time, scientific methods are also important,” he said.

The GEAC prepared a time-bound “roadmap” for taking a final decision on DMH11 mustard that involves holding public consultations as well. If the roadmap is followed, the hybrid would be back to the GEAC for approval by the end of May.

Pental said he would provide all the new clarifications that have been sought from him. He said he was also willing to put all the biosafety data in the public domain once the GEAC gives the final approval.

“There is no attempt to keep data secret as some people have been alleging. I will surely make all data public. But that cannot happen before the final approval,” he said.

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  1. B
    Feb 5, 2016 at 8:22 pm
    The is no alternative but to rely on biotechnology if we to improve crops further. MONSANTO was not involved in the green revolution of the 1970s. The green revolution saved millions of lives in South Asia from starvation. India is not in any grip of anybody. If GOI does not like GM seeds just reject them. Bangladesh is making solid and proven progress with GM Brinjal seeds. In India Bt cotton has been successful since no pesticide is needed to treat the crop. Thus the environment is not polluted and the higher yields are more than offset by the cost of the GM seeds. If India does not embrace biotechnology in crop improvement production will lag behind in a country with the fastest potion growth.
    1. चैतन्य एरंडे
      Feb 6, 2016 at 4:57 am
      Just amuses me to see such ready fear mongering, since when did anyone not consume GM foods? It is sad to see science thrown aside and unfound fears used The fact is all foods we eat and consume today as GM foods. Bananas have seeds in them, when did anyone consume a banana with seeds. So do a lot of seedless varieties. The process has been used to produce these genetic variation for 80 years or more called mutagenic breeding. Basmati Rice Sharbati Wheat are all examples of it. Hopefully sanity will prevail in this issue. To see how a wtermellon or Corn actually looks google how does a non gm ban
      1. S
        Feb 5, 2016 at 9:31 pm
        The indigenous variety of seeds and species of India has more agricultural output than those of GM....there is a wave of misconception among farmers and this is created by MNC like Monsanto and others for their own profit. This holds true for cow. The Indian variety gives 10-15l of milk without addional food and care. But the jersey variety gives 20-25l of milk but the cost of maintaining them is so high that farmers are forced to take loans from bank. They need special AC rooms and frequent medicines. And when they are sick the milk production is greatly reduced. The great Indian varieties are truly kamdenu in the sense that everything that it provides is a medicine in essence without any care provided to them. The Indian rice variety also has a similar story which can give good amount of crop in saline or medium drought. Its not with the case of genetically modified varieties which cannot withstand the harsh climate in India. Its high time Govt of India idenies these fact and encourage and bring back the great agricultural tradition of India back
        1. Nagar Iyer
          Feb 6, 2016 at 11:17 am
          Hang PRAKASH JAVADEKAR in public. He is an agent of Monsanto. By allowing MONSANTO in the name of FIELD TRIALS, this corrupt man is giving BACK DOOR ENTRY to GM and corrupt MNCs. GM crops are so dangerous that it contaminates the surrounding fields where GM is not cultivates and for 20 people typing..
          1. Nagar Iyer
            Feb 6, 2016 at 10:59 am
            Indian Cotton Farming has totally been destro by introduction of GM by Monsanto with the collusion of corrupt farmers. Toxic GM Cotton Farming alone has claimed more than 1 lakh farmers through suicide. ORGANIC NATURAL FARMING using the DUNG and of our Desi cows and bulls alone can bring our Agriculture back to tracks.
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