The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the environment ministry on Friday deferred a decision on whether to allow commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard.
“We don’t want to impose anything on the people without wider consultations. After further deliberations, we will take call on whether to give nod to GM mustard or not,” environment minister Prakash Javadekar said after the GEAC meeting.
This is the first proposal that has come up before the Modi government after the previous UPA government had put a moratorium on commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal in 2010. Currently, Bt cotton is the only GM crop allowed for commercial cultivation. GM mustard seed, developed by Delhi University, is a herbicide-tolerant variety that claims to increase yield.
The minister said his ministry had sought more information on certain aspects of the bio-safety data from the field trials of GM mustard.
He, however, said that the progress of science could not be stalled as the productivity of various agricultural crops has to be increased to ensure the country is able to meet the rising requirement of food. “There are other good alternatives of increasing our productivity like organic farming and using biotechnology for farming but at the same time, the scientific methods are also important,” Javadekar said.
Delhi University has already submitted the bio-safety data following field trials of GM mustard to GEAC.
According to industry body Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group, GM mustard has the potential of increasing the yield by more than 25%, which could reduce the country’s import of edible oil. The country’s rapeseed-mustard seed production was reported at 6.3 million tonnes in the 2014-15 crop year (July-June).
Meanwhile, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh also supported research work in transgenic crops as per regulatory norms. He said the government was willing to promote best technologies and scientific inputs from all available sources to achieve the goal of food security.
“Genetic engineering is one tool to break the yield barrier in many crops. The department of agriculture supports research on transgenic crops if it is conducted as per approved procedure and guidelines and various bio- and environmental safety measures are followed and prescribed approvals from the GEAC, the duly-constituted authority in the environment ministry, are obtained,” Singh said at the Biotechnology Summit here.
Former union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss and several farmer groups such as Bharatiya Kisan Union, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Right to Food Campaign have protested against allowing commercial cultivation of GM mustard.
“Our government should not be imposing on its citizens unneeded, unwanted and unsafe GMOs. GM mustard is certainly one such GMO with serious adverse implications for various stakeholders,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture, an NGO.