GM Mustard Current Affairs

More tests required for release of GM mustard: GEAC

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has demanded more tests for genetically modified mustard- Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH -11) for “commercial cultivation. It has called for ‘field demonstrations’ of GM mustard in an area of 5 acres at two or three different locations across the country to study possible impact transgenic crop could have on honey bees and seeks additional data on these and other pollinators and also on soil microbial diversity.

Background

The demand for renewed field demonstrations comes year after GEAC had given final clearance for GM mustard (in May 2017). This clearance was mired in confusion after government held it as inadvertent error. It was put on hold after Environment Minister, who has the final say on matter, held that wider consultations and further tests were needed on the release transgenic mustard to settle the issue.

There has been strong opposition from various organisations and also from within government to the approval given to GM mustard. Even high-powered panel on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI) in recently released report said Genetic Engineering is ‘powerful’ tool for developing future crop, but for now it should be adopted only for non-food crops. For transgenic food crops, questions on its safety must be addressed and settled first before their accepting commercial cultivation.

Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH -11)

DMH -11 is transgenic mustard had been developed by a team of scientists Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University led by former Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental under Government sponsored project. It is genetically modified variety of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) mustard. It was created by using “barnase/barstar” technology for genetic modification by adding genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard self-pollinating plant. DMH -11 contains three genes viz. Bar gene, Barnase and Barstar sourced from soil bacterium. The bar gene had made plant resistant to herbicide named Basta.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

GEAC is apex body under Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for regulating manufacturing, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms or genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and cells in the country. It is also responsible for giving technical approval of proposals relating to release of GMOs and products including experimental field trials. However, Environment Minister gives final approval for GMOs.

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SC stays commercial release of GM mustard

The Supreme Court has stayed the commercial release of Genetically Modified (GM) mustard crop till October 17, 2016.

It has asked the Central Government to seek public opinion before releasing the variety for cultivation purpose.

Order in this regard was issued by SC Bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar on petition filed by Aruna Rodrigues.

What petition says?

  • The petition had alleged that sowing of the GM Mustard seeds will be undertaken without relevant tests and without entire bio-safety dossier for commercial launch GM mustard.
  • It also had urged the SC to prohibit open field trials and the commercial release of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops, including HT Mustard DMH 11 and its parent lines/variants.

GM Mustard DMH-11

  • Mustard is one of India’s most important winter crops sown between mid-October and late November. It a self-pollinating crop difficult to hybridise naturally as it cross-pollinate. It is largest edible oil yielding crop of India.
  • DMH (Dhara Mustard Hybrid)-11 is genetically modified variety of mustard developed by Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University. It was Government sponsored project.
  • But researchers at Delhi University have created hybridised mustard DMH-11 using “barnase / barstar” technology for genetic modification. It is Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crop.
  • In February 2016, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GMEC) had allowed the commercial production of another GM crop viz. Mustard DMH-11.

Arguments in Favour GM Mustard

  • DMH-11 yields about 30% more than a traditional reference mustard variety.
  • Help in boosting edible mustard oil production thus, reduce huge import bill for edible oil.
  • Help to boost government-led scientific researches in Agriculture.

Arguments against GM Mustard

  • Approval to GM mustard would open a gate to several genetically modified food crops.
  • Environmentalists are raising biosafety concern with GM crops as their introduction may adversely affect environment, human and animal health.
  • As DMH-11 has external gene that makes the plant resistant to herbicide. Thus  it will force farmers to use only select brands of agro-chemicals.
  • Technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court in this regard earlier had found that HT crops completely unsuitable in the Indian context.
  • The herbicide-resistant crops may adversely impact the manual labourers, for whom weeding provides livelihood.

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