Even as a designated regulatory panel has got a favourable opinion on genetically-modified (GM) mustard from its bio-safety committee, several states, including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the two top producers of the oilseed, have come out against it. The development could thwart the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s (GEAC) reported plan to allow commercial cultivation of a GM mustard variety developed by scientists at Delhi University. If allowed, GM mustard will be the first genetically-engineered food crop to be cultivated in India; the previous UPA government had put a moratorium on commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal in 2010.
Madhya Pradesh has refused to undertake field trails of GM mustard, taking a cue from Rajasthan, which had denied conducting of field trial for the DMH 11 variety. The Bihar and Delhi governments too have written to the Centre against GM mustard and many others states, including Punjab and West Bengal, have announced that they will not allow cultivation of GM mustard variety. Recently, Kerala passed a resolution opposing GM mustard approval.
According to Rajesh Rajora, principal secretary-agriculture, horticulture and food processing, the state has been consistently opposing field trials of GM crops because of its possible adverse impact on human health over the long term. Besides, he said, GM crops would lead to the creation of a monopoly in the seed sector. Earlier, Madhya Pradesh had refused field trials for GM chana.
The field trials of GM mustard were conducted at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) campus in Delhi and at a location in Bhatinda district of Punjab. The GM mustard variety — Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH–11) was found to be safe for human consumption by a committee under GEAC.
Experts say that this variety could increase mustard yield by around 25% and help reduce India’s edible oil imports. India imports about 50% of its annual edible oil consumption of 22 million tonne (mt). Other edible oils imported are groundnut, soybean and coconut.
The sub-committee under the GEAC, which was formed earlier this year to re-evaluate the biosafety data of the DMH-11 variety, has said that the GM variety did not “raise any public health or safety concerns for human beings or animals with respect to overall nutritional characteristics”. The sub-committee also has found that the DMH-11 has ‘nil’ or ‘negligible’ risk on all the criteria it examined, and its impacts were very similar to the non-GM mustard already being grown in India.
The environment ministry has put the report in its website for one month for the purpose of seeking public response. The deadline for submitting responses to the committee’s report ends on Wednesday. Environment minister Anil Madhav Dave said, “We are not going to take a decision on allowing commercial cultivation of GM mustard in a hurry.”