The Big Picture: GM Mustard – Pros and cons
The regulator of the genetically modified crops has given the green signal for commercial cultivation of GM mustard in the country. In a submission to the Environment Ministry, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee has given a positive recommendation but with certain conditions. With the GEAC nod, the GM mustard developed by the Delhi University gets closer to become India’s first edible GM crop. Several groups are opposing the GEAC’s decision as it might affect allied agricultural activities, health of the people etc. The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), Delhi University South Campus, had submitted an application to the GEAC for the environmental release of GM mustard (Brassica juncea) hybrid DMH-11 and the use of parental events (varuna bn 3.6 and EH2 mod bs 2.99) for the development of a new generation of hybrids.
- A system of genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard have been used by the scientists. This is generally a self pollinating plant and is better suited to hybridization than current methods.
- Local crop developers can more easily develop different varieties of hybrid mustard, like GM cotton, and confer traits like pest resistance and potentially improving yield.
- India’s dependence on edible oil imports makes it necessary to harness GM-mustard. About $12 billion is spent by India annually on import of edible oil.
- As the population will increase, India will have to increase its productivity of oilseed crops.
- DMH-11 is claimed to be one of the promising technologies to improve mustard yield in India, which has been almost stagnant since the last two decades.
- India needs technological interventions in agriculture and other fields but the issue of genetically modified crops has always been controversial. Mustard is used for edible oil, their leaves are eaten and it is also used as ayurvedic medicine. Its impact on health of the people, environment, soil, groundwater or food chain is not known yet. The glufosinate-based herbicide to which the proposed GM mustard is tolerant will also have adverse impacts on health. A herbicide-tolerant crop promotes constant exposure to a single herbicide which eventually results in weeds becoming resistant.
- There are social and economic concerns attached to any technology as well. In this case, farmers especially in Punjab and other mustard growing areas have said that they don’t need new varieties. They need better policy, pricing and to rationalize the input costs against the cost which they get after selling it in the markets. If these problems cannot be solved, bringing in another technology might not solve the problem.
- GEAC needs to be a transparent bodye. it should put it in the public domain that on what grounds it has approved GM mustard for citizens to analyze and stay aware whether it is good for them or not. If there is a lack of trust on the part of people who are to use it, it will be like forcing something upon them. India is a signatory to Cartagena Protocol on biosafety where it has committed to public participation in decision making.
- There has to be strong liability laws if there are any environmental hazards or if something goes wrong in future which are not there in India at present.
- The pesticide industry’s efforts to influence policymakers and regulators have obstructed reforms globally. Their business model aims only at making profit.
- Allowing the cultivation of GM mustard would lead to a direct attack on women involved in the mustard crop weeding.
Agriculture is a state subject therefore, it is important for the Centre to take into consideration the views of State Governments as well. It is expected that the Supreme Court will ensure protection of Indian consumers and farmers as giving a nod to GM mustard will pave the way for clearance to other GM crops as well whether the impact is good or bad.