While the environment ministry is sitting on a Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s (GEAC) approval that came in May for commercial release of a high-yielding GM mustard, a group of eminent economists have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating ‘there is no reason to deny the technology to our farmers.’ “By bringing hybrid vigour, GM mustard seed breaks the yield barrier leading to higher yields. Hybridisation is a well-known and accepted way to increase yields and has done so for diverse crops such as cotton, maize, sorghum and vegetables. “GM mustard has been successfully evaluated for food safety, environmental safety and agronomic superiority by the GEAC. Several public sector institutions conducted research trials on their safety and efficacy, apart from the fact that this technology has been in use for the last two decades in Canada, United States and Australia without any adverse consequences,” the group of economists wrote in the letter to Modi.
Some of the economists who advocated commercial release of the GM mustard variety DMH 11, developed by some Delhi university scientists, include former planning commission member Y K Alagh, S Mahendra Dev (director, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai and former chairman of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices) and Parmod Kumar (professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru). “GM mustard is an achievement of the Indian public sector. Its release will encourage and empower researchers in the public sector to bring in advanced quality traits in mustard as well as in other crops,” they wrote.
On May 11, GEAC had recommended the commercial release of DMH 11. This would be the third GM crop after Bt cotton and Bt brinjal to be approved by the regulator. While Bt cotton has been cultivated in the country since 2002, Bt brinjal, the first GM food crop okayed by GEAC, never hit the fields as an indefinite moratorium was imposed on its commercial release in early 2010 by the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Even though GEAC has given its nod, the political establishment will have to take a final call on the commercial release of the GM mustard seed. Although GEAC has approved field trials of several GM crops, there has not been much headway because of lack of no objection certification by the states. Meanwhile, Supreme Court is also hearing a petition on commercial release of GM crops.
Supporting earliest release of GM mustard variety, the economists noted that ‘the integrity of the regulatory process is paramount and it should be protected at all costs. Products that meet the benchmarks laid down by a fair, transparent and rigorous regulatory process should be approved for commercialisation.’ The letter states that ‘it is self-defeating to test indefinitely without end. That amounts to a ban on commercialisation of all GM crops.’ The letter addressed to the Prime Minister also states that foregoing yield increase is very costly, especially to the poor.
“The seed-fertiliser technologies of the 1960s reduced poverty, increased farm wages and incomes. Bt cotton, introduced in 2002, accomplished the same in many parts of the country.”