GM mustard on hold

The Union environment ministry today deferred a decision on whether to release a genetically modified (GM) mustard plant for commercial cultivation amid overwhelming protests from activists and farmers’ organisations opposing GM crops. 

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 6.02.16
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A woman works in a mustard field in Allahabad. (Reuters)

New Delhi, Feb. 5: The Union environment ministry today deferred a decision on whether to release a genetically modified (GM) mustard plant for commercial cultivation amid overwhelming protests from activists and farmers’ organisations opposing GM crops. 

The genetic engineering appraisal committee (GEAC), an advisory panel of the ministry, was to decide today whether to approve for cultivation by farmers a version of GM mustard that promises 25 to 30 per cent increase in yields. 

If the GM mustard, developed by scientists at Delhi University, was approved today for cultivation, it would have become India’s first edible GM crop released for farms. India had approved GM cotton in 2002 and over 90 per cent of cotton cultivated in India is now genetically modified. 

But Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar today met protesters opposing GM crops and assured them that the government would not approve the GM mustard “without due processes,” and that he would call a meeting to hear all issues. 

A crowd of anti-GM activists and farmers opposing GM crops had congregated at the environment ministry here where the GEAC was to evaluate safety and efficacy research data on the mustard and decide whether to release it for farm cultivation. 

Opponents say government policies and regulations over GM crops should begin with a “needs assessment” and an evaluation of whether alternatives to GM crops are available. 

Members of the delegation that met the minister say they have also pointed out the regulatory body that assesses the safety and efficacy data does not have adequate representation from the health ministry and that “unacceptable conflict of interest” exists in the regulatory body. 

The Coalition for GM-free India, a body of activists, rejected an invitation from the GEAC last night to attend its scheduled meeting today, saying a meaningful dialogue would be possible only after all safety and efficacy data is placed in the public domain. 

“We find it outrageous that the GEAC meetings are held in secrecy, that the GEAC minutes are not being made public, and its members sworn to strict confidentiality,” Sridhar Radhakrishnan, co-convenor of the Coalition for GM-free India, said in letter sent today to the GEAC. 

The coalition has repeatedly in the past called on the GEAC to release bio-safety data, pointing out that the Supreme Court has also issued directions for making such data public. “It is shocking that the GEAC is blatantly flouting Supreme Court orders,” Radhakrishnan said in the letter. 

Scientists involved in developing GM crops have long argued that fears over GM crops are baseless, pointing out the economic gains from GM cotton and the large-scale cultivation of edible GM maize, canola and papaya in other countries. 

The GEAC had over five years ago approved a GM brinjal, engineered to resist a common insect pest. But former environment minister Jairam Ramesh, after consultations with scientists as well as activists and opponents of edible GM crops, had in February 2010 ordered a moratorium on GM brinjal.