GEAC minutes say it is put on hold due to various protests
Though the government had taken a very tough stance in favour of GM Mustard and had told the Rajya Sabha that this had been cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)—as per a PIB press release in July—recently uploaded minutes of the GEAC’s meeting in May says “subsequent to receipt of various representations from different stakeholders, matters related to environmental release of transgenic Mustard are kept pending for further review”. If that isn’t confusing enough, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) continues to bat in favour of GM mustard. The FAQs on its website answer several of the fears raised over GM mustard and say there is nothing to worry about.
After saying the research was funded by the department of biotechnology and National Dairy Development Board, details are provided of the various safety tests—so, one answer to a question reads, “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved”. The protein introduced in GE mustard, another reply says, “do not have any toxicity” and “it is assessed to be safe for animal grazing on it”. No, another FAQ reads, “the transgenes would not get transferred to humans or animals through consumption”; “these proteins would not alter anyone’s genome after consumption of this GE mustard”.
And prior to this, in October last year, an MoEFCC affidavit submitted to court blasted various activists opposing GM mustard. After talking of the need to rapidly increase India’s yields since it imported Rs 68,000 crore of edible oils in FY16, the affidavit points out that though public responses had been called for, the petitioners had not responded to this, choosing instead to approach the court and use various public fora to influence the debate. The affidavit accuses the petitioners of “blatant” lies and “willfully making confusing statements”, some of which are “a surreptitious attempt to seek moratorium on field development of hybrid seed development technology in mustard and is completely malafide”. After saying none of the petitioners examined the bio-safety dossier available and preferred instead to lobby politicians, it concludes, “it is an avowed goal of the petitioners to derail and hijack the regulatory processes on GE crops in the country which is based on best international practices of risk assessment, monitoring and management”. The government’s policies on GM cotton developed by Monsanto, as this newspaper has chronicled, have already dealt a big blow to that sector; lack of quick clearances here and continuing to pander to those opposing it will do the same for both GM mustard as well as indigenous research. Given the need to raise productivity, especially in the face of global-warming-induced intense changes in temperature, it would be tragic if India is not able to harness GM technology.