New Delhi: Moving closer to a final decision on commercialization of genetically modified (GM) mustard, the environment ministry on Thursday said it would soon make public safety details gleaned from trials on the controversial crop.
The move comes after the Central Information Commission (CIC) on 12 August rebuked the ministry for not releasing the data, saying “any attempt to postpone or delay the disclosure will block the public discussion” on GM mustard.
In April, too, the CIC had pulled up the environment ministry over a lack of transparency on trials of GM crops and directed it to make public all information, including bio-safety data, related to the field trials of GM mustard.
The GM mustard in question—DMH-11—has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, Delhi University. If it gets the green light from the environment ministry’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), it will become the first GM food crop to be commercially cultivated in India. Right now, only GM cotton is cultivated in India.
The environment ministry put out a statement in response to news reports that the GEAC had cleared GM mustard’s commercialization.
“A section of the media has carried inaccurate reports that GEAC in the ministry has granted approval to GM Mustard. No final decision has been taken as yet on the issue. The GEAC, in a meeting held on 11 August, 2016, has examined the safety document prepared by the sub-committee of the GEAC,” the statement said.
“The GEAC has appraised the safety document prepared by the sub-committee and the safety document will be put up on the website of GEAC inviting comments from the public,” the statement added.
The issue is now expected to be discussed at a GEAC meeting in September.
The GEAC is the environment ministry’s regulator for GM and transgenic products. If GEAC gives GM mustard the go-ahead, the environment ministry will take the final call.
Organizations opposed to GM organisms, like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), are resisting the commercialization of GM mustard, citing safety concerns and other reasons. SJM is an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Advocates of GM mustard say it gives a 30% higher yield, but opponents dismiss the claim, saying there is no scientific basis for it.
In July, a group of agriculture scientists, ecologists, farmers and consumer rights activists made detailed presentations to the GEAC on suspected safety hazards posed by GM mustard.
“I only hope when they put out the data for public to formally respond, they disclose the complete and raw data and give adequate time for people to give feedback,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, an activist with the Coalition for a GM-Free India, an alliance of 400 non-governmental groups resisting the commercialization of GM mustard.
“In fact, we have come across instances where GEAC does not verify the data and goes by information that an applicant submits to them,” she said.
Environment minister Anil Madhav Dave, meanwhile, said the government would look at agriculture in a holistic fashion and do whatever benefits farmers, reduces their input costs and increases produce, the Press Trust of India reported. Interests of both farmers and consumers must be safeguarded, he was quoted as saying.
Commercialization of GM crops, especially food crops such as brinjal and mustard, has been a contentious one in India.
During the tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, then environment minister Jairam Ramesh placed a moratorium on the commercialization of Bt Brinjal under pressure from activists.