The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has approved commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) Mustard. The biotech regulator too has recommended it to the environment ministry. The proposal now needs to be cleared by the Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave’s team.
If approved, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) will become the first GM food crop to be cultivated in Indian farms. In 2010, GEAC had cleared Bt Brinjal, but the proposal was rejected by the then environment ministry.
Currently, only Bt cotton is cultivated commercially.
“We have cleared it (GM mustard) for four years subject to certain field conditions,” GEAC Chairperson Amita Prasad told The Hindu.
“Other than bio-safety concerns, transgenic technology was necessary for India to be scientifically relevant as well as have better seeds to address threats from climate change,” Prasad said.
The GM mustard has been developed by a team of scientists at the Delhi University, led by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental.
Is GM food safe?
Despite the approvals, many analysts still believe that yield of GM mustard is no better than existing varieties. Analysts have based their decision on the publicly available data of GM mustard.
RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has slammed the GEAC for recommending commercial use of GM mustard. According to PTI, SJM does not believed GM mustard could lead to higher productivity.
The issue of genetically modified crops is widely debated across the world. Thirty eight countries, including European Union and Africa, have banned cultivation of GM crops while only twenty eight actually grow these crops.
While many have listed benefits of GM crops like higher yields and reduction in pest attacks, many experts have also argued against it. Here is a frequently used pros and cons in GM debate:
> The GM crops give higher yields in comparison to normal crops. With shrinking land, GM crops will generate more crops.
> With GM, experts can provide strong built-in resistance, which can reduce use of pesticides. Many studies show that GMO soyabean and corn in United States led to a 13 milllion kilo reduction in pesticides in last 12 years upto 2009.
> Crops can be modified for better flavor and quality. The crop can also get longer shelf life if modification is allowed.
> Also, the health quotient in crops can be raised in GM crops.
But, there are many who argue against GM crops. They claim:
>GM crops often create “super weeds” which are herbicide resistant and are a threat to other crops.
> Crops in their natural form taste much better.
> GM is like tobacco ‘tobacco’ and could harm allergy sufferers. They could increase resistance to antibiotics causing more damage than benefit.
> Patent holders will prefer big farmers to cultivate these crops, hurting the smaller farmers
Many organizations such as Greenpeace and Navdanya have blocked introduction of GM crops around the world citing the cons. In 2016, Greenpeace had lobbied against these crops saying that the impact will not only be biological on crops, but it will also have socio-economic impact.
However, nearly 100 Nobel Laureates had written a letter to Greenpeace terming their claim as “unscientific” and “misleading”.