New Delhi: Amid public pressure to disallow commercialization of genetically modified (GM) mustard in the country, environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday assured that the government will not impose GM mustard on the people and a final decision will be taken only after due deliberations.

He, however, said the progress of science could not be stopped and that India’s population of 1.25 billion people could not be allowed to starve.

The minister also met activists who held a silent protest outside the environment ministry in New Delhi on Friday morning while a meeting of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) was on inside.

GEAC is the environment ministry’s regulator for genetically modified organisms (GMO) and products.

“Today, the application for commercialization of GM mustard was there for consideration and some more information has been sought from those who had sought permission. We are doing all due deliberations. We are not rushing through with any decision. A decision will not be taken at the cost of people’s health," Javadekar said after the meeting.

While the minister assured GM mustard will not be approved without due process, the activists called for regulatory changes to the whole approval process. They also drew the minister’s attention to the fact that the minutes of GEAC meetings are not put out in public domain.

GEAC had invited members of the Coalition for GM-Free India, an organization of activists against GM crops, to listen to their concerns, but they had declined the invitation stating that a meaningful dialogue is possible only after all data is put out in public domain.

While Javadekar stressed that they don’t want to impose GM mustard without consensus, he pointed to the need to feed 1.25 billion people. “We cannot stop science from progressing. We cannot starve our population. We need to give emphasis on science, development, productivity and increase production; but at the same time, we have to be scientific and not risk the lives of our people. Therefore, we will take a decision only after due deliberations and considerations," Javadekar said.

This particular GM mustard hybrid—DMH11—has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) of Delhi University. If it gets the go-ahead for commercialization, it will be the first GM food crop to be commercially cultivated in India.

A few years ago, the then environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, had imposed a moratorium on allowing genetically modified brinjal.

Javadekar also said that the Supreme Court had on 1 February sought information regarding GM mustard, giving the government 15 days’ time.

Earlier this week, in separate letters to Javadekar, a group of farmer unions and a one comprising 86 scientists from across the country had urged him not to proceed with GEAC’s meeting on GM mustard and put all bio-safety data regarding GM mustard in public domain for scientific scrutiny.

“It is indeed unacceptable that despite so many objections from citizens and even state governments, GEAC is going ahead with its secretive processes in a business-as-usual manner. This is all the more surprising given that the government talks about transparency, accountability, good governance and federal polity constantly. Our point is that this technology is a risky, irreversible, living technology," said Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), which is a nationwide informal network of more than 400 organizations drawn from 20 states in India.

“On top of that, our regulators have proven themselves to be untrustworthy of protecting citizens from the risks of modern biotechnology. Given a combination of both, should we not have a policy directive on the subject that ensures that we don’t adopt such risky technologies when we have other alternatives," she added.

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