Ministry receives 150 comments on GM mustard, decision in few weeks: Official

New Delhi: Amid speculation over its approval, support from experts and vehement opposition by activists, the deadline on comments and public feedback invited for Genetically Modified (GM) mustard by the Union Ministry of Environment ended on Wednesday with over 150 suggestions.

“The ministry has received about 150 suggestions and objections through email, faxes and letters on the GM mustard. The date for suggestions will not be extended,” Environment Ministry Additional Secretary and Chairperson, GEAC, Amita Prasad told IANS.

On being asked about the nature of suggestions, she said that while many suggestions seemed simply yes or no, the appraisal committee would forward the suggestions based on bio-safety like toxicity, bee-pollen and others to the technical sub-committee.

“About 12 researchers came to the office and read the 130 paged ministry dossier on the bio-safety. They gave written suggestions. The Ministry will take a decision considering all such suggestions,” she added.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of Ministry of Environment on September 5 had invited public remarks on the safety aspects on the DMH-11 mustard variety developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants.

If approved, GM mustard would be the first genetically engineered food crop in India. The other GM crop, non-edible, in India is Bt cotton while the central environment ministry had earlier rolled back on the Bt brinjal following resistance from the anti-GM lobby.

The activists had been demanding to publicise the details and documents related to the bio-safety of the GM mustard, developed by a team led by Deepak Pental, Professor of Genetics, Delhi University. The DMH-11 is resistant to a weed killer called Basta.

“Deepak Pental should tell us who owns the patent on the bar/basta/barnase gene system? We know it is Bayer. We should stop this charade and demand all data on the patents be made public,” said environmentalist Vandana Shiva.

While the ministry of environment had assured the bio-safety of all type of GM crops, activists had been opposing the ministry citing issues ranging from “health” to “foreign market invasion of Indian agriculture”.

“India has a robust regulatory framework for ensuring bio-safety of all types of genetically engineered organisms under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986,” Environment Ministry Additional Secretary and Chairperson, GEAC, Amita Prasad said earlier.

The most recent protesters include many bee-keepers who had been claiming that GM mustard would kill bees. The claim had been refuted by several experts who countered the accusations asserting that GM mustard, instead, would support the bee population.

Calling the claims of “anti-GM Lobby” as “fear mongering”, experts also cited the example of Australia and USA where the crop is being widely used.

“It seems the bee-keepers have been put up as a front by the anti-GM activists in a desperate attempt to derail approvals for GM mustard. This tactic has been played out by such groups in both Europe and to some extent in the US as well. There is no scientific evidence to even remotely suggest that honey bees are affected by any GM crop,” Biotechnology Regulatory affairs expert and professor, University of Maryland, Shanthu Shantharam said in a report.

The issue became controversial following the arguments and counter arguments by activists and many scientists. While activists claim it is harmful, many scientists say it is suitable and is needed to address food security in the country as agricultural area shrinks due to urbanisation. Researchers and scholars also find GM crops, specially GM mustard, suitable for its low requirement of pesticides.

“Introducing the GM crops would be like an advanced version of the Green revolution. Crops like BT brinjal, Bt cotton and GM mustard are absolutely safe and need of the hour,” Zamil Khan, a scholar based in the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru told IANS.