Will back GM mustard if regulator clears it: Farm minister
Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh has said he would back a public-sector developed genetically modified (GM) mustard variety if the country’s biotech regulator clears it, comments that signal the Narendra Modi government’s willingness to push the crop through all regulatory steps, for now.Updated: Feb 08, 2016, 16:31 IST
Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh has said he would back a public-sector developed genetically modified (GM) mustard variety if the country’s biotech regulator clears it, comments that signal the Narendra Modi government’s willingness to push the crop through all regulatory steps, for now.
Spelling out his position on GM mustard for the first time, Singh struck a neutral stance to say he would go by the regulator’s decision.
The environment ministry’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has begun examining final biosafety data related to GM mustard after its developers sought necessary regulatory approvals for the product in December.
If the data square up, then the crop becomes eligible for commercial release. This possibility has sparked fresh protests from anti-GM groups.
“There is a regulatory body for GM crops (the GEAC). Whatever decision the regulatory body will take, the agriculture ministry will accept it. If it is approved, we will welcome it,” Singh told HT.
This is the first time since the UPA government halted the commercial release of Bt brinjal in February 2010 that a GM food crop has come up for regulatory approval. India currently allows only GM cotton, commercialised in 2002.
GM crops are those in which the genetic material (DNA) is altered so that there is some advantage either to the producer or consumer. Bt Brinjal, for example, has been tweaked to resist pests.
The farm minister said he trusted the regulator to take the right call. “The regulator is fully equipped to decide on GM mustard and has technical expertise to consider all issues on the agricultural side as well as health and environment. So, it is for the GEAC to decide.”
Unlike Bt brinjal, which had its roots in a gene developed by American multinational Monsanto, the GM mustard variety, technically called “DMH 11”, has been developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, led by Prof Deepak Pental.
The project, worth Rs 70 crore, was jointly funded by the biotechnology department and the National Dairy Development Board, which owns the popular food brands Mother Dairy and Dhara edible oil.
Pental said “DMH-11” mustard had demonstrated 25-30% higher yields than those currently grown. He said his product had three genes from rapeseed that had been deregulated for consumption by Canada in 1996, by US in 2002 and Australia in 2003.
On Friday, the GEAC sought more data from Delhi University on GM mustard. Slamming the regulator, Sridhar Radhakrishnan, a campaigner from the Coalition for a GM Free India, said the GEAC was acting like a “peddler of this controversial hazardous technology” and behaving in a secretive manner.
The group had rejected the GEAC’s invitation to plead their case, demanding instead that the regulator make biosafety data of GM mustard public.
Also, over 32000 signatories have endorsed a change.org petition started by anti-GM leader Vandana Siva, demanding a stop to GM Mustard.
As far as food crops go, GM mustard could be a more relevant crop than Bt brinjal. India, the world’s largest buyer of edible oil, meets 60% of its annual demand of 18-19 million tonne through imports, which cost up to Rs 62,000 crore. This amount is nearly three times what the country spends on the Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan, the flagship primary education programme.
In May 2014, soon after assuming office, Singh had told HT that GM crops would not be a priority unless “they were absolutely necessary”.
The BJP’s poll manifesto stated that its government would consider GM crops only after thoroughly assessing their safety. The NDA government has since backed research in GM technologies, although this is no sign that it is ready to allow GM mustard yet.
Whether to allow more GM crops, especially food crops, has been a deeply polarising issue, with right-wing groups linked to the ruling BJP and anti-GM NGOs vowing not to allow it.
Prime Minister Modi had, while launching a farm TV channel in May last year, called for newer technologies, including GM, to boost productivity.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday rejected claims his ministry was speeding up approval to GM mustard, but said the government would back research into GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Singh too has said his ministry supports research on transgenic crops if they are held according to regulatory procedures, a far cry from the fierce opposition by right-wing groups linked to his party.
GM technologies can help raise yields of Indian crops and improve productivity, globally among the lowest. Yet, they are bitterly opposed on grounds of biosafety and food security.
A recent paper by the NITI Aayog states: “Objections to GM technologies are based on the twin fears that they may harm humans consuming the resulting produce and they may have adverse effects on biodiversity. But no compelling evidence supporting either of these fears has emerged more than two decades after the original introduction of GM foods in 1994.”