Leading agricultural scientists, including Deepak Pental who had developed the high-yielding genetically modified (GM) mustard variety, on Monday urged the government to give the nod for commercial cultivation of the oilseed variety so the next year’s rabi or winter season is utilised for seed production. “The Centre and state government should immediately endorse the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) so that the coming growing season can be fully utilised for the multiplication of parental lines and production of hybrid seed,” a resolution adopted by National Academy of Agricultural Science (NASC) stated.
NASC, a body comprising leading scientists also stated that commercial release of GM mustard variety — Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH) 11 would allow farmers to access the variety at low cost and would ensure that breeders develop better hybrid in the future.
Deepak Pental of Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, Delhi University, has developed DMH 11, which in the field trials had given an yield of 20% to 30% more than existing varieties. “As we developed the GM mustard variety through funding from National Dairy Development Board and Department of Biotechnology, it could be used by any public or private agencies for multiplication of seeds which would be a cheaper proposition,” Pental told FE.
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He said GM mustard variety cleared by GEAC last month had met the regulatory, biosafety and performance requirements, a biotech product must not be denied to farmers, who should have options to make informed choices.
On May 11, GEAC had recommended the commercial release of DMH 11.
This was 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 then environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
With the GEAC giving its nod, the new environment minister Harsh Vardhan would now have to take a final call on the commercial release of the GM mustard seed as earlier environment minister Anil Madhav Dave passed away recently.
Although GEAC has approved field trials of several GM crops, there has not been much headway because of lack of No-Objection Certification by states. Meanwhile, Supreme Court is also hearing a petition on commercial release of GM crops.
In September last year, a technical sub-committee, which was formed in early 2016 by GEAC to re-evaluate the biosafety data of DMH-11 had said that the GM mustard variety ‘doesn’t raise any public health or safety concerns for human beings or animals with respect to overall nutritional characteristics’.
According to industry body Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group, the GM mustard variety has the potential to increase the yield by more than 25%, and thereby reduce the country’s edible oil import bill.
The country’s rapeseed-mustard seed production was reported at 7.9 million tonnes in the 2016-17 crop year (July-June).