Weekly Current Affairs

GM mustard moves closer to approval [Agriculture, Governance]

  • Genetically-modified (GM) mustard may have moved closer to being cleared for commercial cultivation in India after a key committee, tasked with assessing all the available evidence so far on the plant’s suitability for Indian soil and risks posed to health and ecology, is learnt to have given a favourable assessment on the tests done so far on GM mustard.
  • However there are multiple approvals still required for any likely clearance.
  • DMH-11, the genetically modified (GM) mustard hybrid is developed by researchers at the Delhi University.
  • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is an Environment Ministry body whose clearance is mandatory for testing GM crops in farmer fields.
  • For DMH-11 it had consulted with plant biologists, ecologists and environmentalists before tasking a sub-committee with compiling all evidence — and addressing key questions — on DMH-11.
  • Earlier too in 2010, the GEAC had cleared Bt brinjal but it’s decision over-ruled by the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
  • A GEAC approval doesn’t mean the States — who have the final says on agriculture seeds — are compelled to clear it their fields.
  • The imperative to make public bio-safety data around DMH-11 follows a reprimand by the Central Information Commissioner earlier this month to the government for not making bio-safety data around genetically-modified organisms and mustard public.
  • The GM mustard uses a system of genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard — generally a self pollinating plant — better suited to hybridisation than current methods.
  • A similar sequence of genes has been used in imported canola oil. This means local crop developers can more easily develop different varieties of hybrid mustard, like in say GM cotton, and confer traits like pest resistance and potentially improving yield.
  • Proponents of the technology said that India’s dependence on edible oil imports made it necessary to harness GM-mustard. Annually, India spends about $12 billion on imported edible oil. The edible oil deficit will continue to widen with the increase in population and per capita income.
  • To address this challenge, India needs to increase productivity of oilseed crops. DMH-11 is one of the promising technologies to improve mustard yield in India, which is almost stagnant since the last two decades.