GEAC clears environmental release of GM mustard

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has recommended the environmental release of the genetically modified (GM) mustard variety DMH (Dhara Mustard Hybrid)-11, paving the way for the commercialisation of the country’s first GM food crop.

The GEAC said the recommendation was valid for four years from the date the approval letter was issued.

Further studies and coordinated trials will have to be conducted jointly with the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) within two years, according to the minutes of the GEAC meeting held on October 18, which was released on Wednesday.

The move is expected to face stiff opposition from environmental activists and groups like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

According to the minutes, field demonstration studies on the impact of the mustard variety on honey bees and other pollinators should also be conducted after the environmental release by the applicant within two years under the ICAR’s supervision, and a report on this should be submitted to the GEAC.

The GEAC said the commercial use of DMH-11 hybrids will be subject to the Seed Act, 1966, and related rules and regulations.

“If all the steps from here fall in place, then it would mean that farmers can get a hold of GM-based mustard hybrids in the next two years,” Deepak Pental, former vice-chancellor of Delhi University, and one of the main scientists behind DMH-11, told Business Standard.

Delhi University and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) are joint applicants for DMH-11.

However, activists say there could be many more hurdles before it receives final approval, because it is unclear if a formal ministerial nod is required.

Mustard cultivation

Mustard is cultivated by around 6 million farmers in around 6.5-7 million hectares of land across the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.

DMH-11 has been shown to deliver 30 per cent higher yields than existing varieties.

The average yield of existing mustard varieties is around 1,000-1,200 kilograms per hectare, while the global average is over 2,000-2,200 kgs.

In 2017, a similar approval had to be recalled in the face of opposition from activists across the political spectrum.

However, pro-GM groups are hopeful that the publication of the minutes of the GEAC’s meeting will prove a big step towards the commercialisation of the variety.

Bhagirath Choudhary, founder director of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), wrote on Facebook that this will address several problems related to low production and yield that arise from the narrow variability of Indian mustard germplasm, lack of hybridisation, and infestation of biotic and abiotic stresses.

Welcoming the approval, Shivendra Bajaj, executive director of the Federation of Seed Industry of India, said the technology would enable efficient breeding of better hybrids of mustard that could increase yields and boost resistance to diseases.

“We hope this approval ushers in an era of technology use in seed improvement and agriculture,” he said.

Opposing views

The SJM said it was hopeful that the competent authority for final approval, the minister of environment and forest in this case, wouldn’t give the final nod.

“This GM mustard variety is not swadeshi as was claimed in 2017 (when the first GEAC nod came), nor is it safe.

“The facts that were there in 2017 haven’t changed a bit,” Ashwini Mahajan, co-convener of Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), told Business Standard.

Terming the variety extremely dangerous to public health and farmers, Mahajan said the SJM would continue to oppose it, and urged the government to not “fall into such a trap and give heed to such recommendations of the GEAC”.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for GM-Free India said that the approval was shocking.

It said GM mustard got to this stage because of collusion between the regulatory body and crop developers in circumventing biosafety assessment in numerous ways.

Recent developments…

The GEAC has also approved field trials and NOC of GM potato, rubber and cotton.

But, none of the events are related to GM mustard and are part of different agenda items.

There is no connection between the two approvals

Source: Read Full Article