New Delhi: The government has told the Supreme Court that genetically modified (GM) mustard crop is not herbicide tolerant and has a “proven history of safe use" for more than 20 years.

India’s regulator for GM products—the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)—on 11 May recommended approval for commercial production of GM mustard.

Though the GEAC approval is currently awaiting nod from environment minister Harsh Vardhan, activists have already approached the Supreme Court. They are arguing that proper procedures were not followed by GEAC while giving its go-ahead and that GM mustard will be harmful to health.

Cotton is the only GM crop allowed in India and if the environment ministry grants permission, GM mustard will become the first GM food crop in India.

Last Monday, the apex court asked the government to file an affidavit about its final decision on GM mustard by Friday. The case is now scheduled to be heard on Monday.

The affidavit, filed by the environment ministry on Friday—reviewed by Mint— stresses that GEAC followed all norms and the risk assessment studies showed no harmful effect to humans or animals.

The ministry argued that petitioners are repeatedly making misleading claims that GM mustard is a herbicide tolerant (HT) crop. “The GE mustard is not a HT crop," the affidavit said.

“ … rapeseed /canola (sister crop of mustard) hybrids based on same technology have been a major success in Canada, USA and Australia … the technology has a proven history of safe use for more than 20 years. There is no report of any proven ill effects whatsoever in the use of this technology," said the environment ministry in its affidavit.

The ministry also argued that mustard production in India has been stagnant at around 7-8 MT (million tonnes) per year for the last 20 years and with hybrids like GM mustard, production would be “substantially enhanced".

It said that contrary to allegations of anti-GM activists, “no multinationals or private Indian company" is involved in the development of GM mustard.

Defending GEAC’s decision, the affidavit said that they followed “international best practices and law of land". The ministry also said that the regulatory process followed was transparent and took into account views of civil society as well.

The environment ministry said “the decision against which stay is sought for has not yet been taken", and even if the decision is taken, the production of GM mustard would be monitored for the first two years after approval.

It also said that the clearance given could be revoked anytime if there was any new information regarding the harmful effects of GM organisms.

“It is submitted that even if a decision is taken by the central government which may aggrieve the petitioner, there would be substantial time for petitioner to approach this court for redressal …" the affidavit added.

Meanwhile, led by Sudarshan Iyengar, former vice- chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith (Ahmedabad) and former president of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics (INSEE), a group of economists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday seeking rejection of GM mustard’s commercialisation.

Similar letters to Modi were sent by scientists and the medical fraternity in July, seeking rejection of GM mustard’s commercialisation.

The project is also facing resistance from the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

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