Green shoots for GM crops trials, Modi govt gets backing of right-wing group

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 22, 2015 09:28 IST

Right-wing opposition to genetically modified (GM) technologies has softened following promising results from a public-sector GM mustard trial.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch, a group associated with the BJP, has for the first time said it could “review” its stand on GM technology if there was “concrete evidence” of their safety.

The GM mustard is in final stages of trial and represents the country’s best chance at launching a GM food crop since the 2010 moratorium clamped on BT brinjal, the country’s first GM food, scientists linked to the project said. In about a year, the Modi government may have to take a call on whether to approve it for commercial cultivation.

The plant — DMH-11 — is being developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants and is funded by the department of biotechnology and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), which sells cooking oil under the brand Dhara. “GM mustard is a government product and it has shown to be 28-30% higher yielding than the best mustard varieties,” professor Deepak Pental, the main developer, said.

Proponents of hybrid mustard say it is a far more relevant GM food crop than BT brinjal given India’s chronic shortage of cooking oil which partly stokes food inflation. India is the world’s largest importer of edible oil. About 60% of the country’s annual demand of 18-19 million tonnes is met through imports, costing up to Rs 62,000 crore —nearly three times the spending on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

“We are opposed to open field trials, not to confined trials. There is no rigidity. We can review our stand if there is authentic and concrete evidence that there is no adverse impact of GM crops,” Deepak Sharma Pradeep, national media head of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, told HT.

BT cotton, approved in Gujarat in 2002 under then chief minister Narendra Modi’s watch, is the only genetically modified crop approved for commercial cultivation in India after the UPA government placed a moratorium on BT brinjal — the country’s first GM food crop — following opposition from anti-GM NGOs who cited safety and environmental concerns. One of the reasons cited for the moratorium was that brinjal is not critical to India’s food security.

After being cagey initially, the Prakash Javadekar-headed environment ministry — with backing from PM Modi — lifted a ban on field trials of GM crops last August. Since then, some states where the BJP either is in or shares power, such as Punjab and Maharashtra, have opened their doors for GM crop trials, including GM mustard.
The decision has set the regulatory process in motion again which means the government will soon have to take a call on whether to approve GM crops for commercial cultivation.

“We were ready with the technology in 2002. It would have taken four years for all bio-safety trials to conclude had our policy been clearer. By 2007, farmers would have had the technology,” Pental said.

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