New Delhi: The government is in the process of considering GM mustard as the first genetically engineered food crop for commercial approval in India since a moratorium was imposed on Bt Brinjal in 2010, a civil society group said on Wednesday.

The Coalition for GM Free India, a group of around 400 groups spanning 23 states, said “GM mustard"—DMH 11, or Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11—has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University with support from the government’s department of biotechnology and the National Dairy Development Board.

The campaigning group said that the Delhi University has reportedly (according to media reports last month) completed bio-safety assessments on GM mustard, and the application could be brought before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency for any environmental releases of GMOs in the country, for commercialization approval.

“Delhi University’s GM mustard is essentially a backdoor entry for herbicide-tolerant crops into India, in the guise of a public sector GM crop. An attempt was made for (introducing) a very similar GM mustard by a multinational corporation into India in 2002 which the regulators firmly rejected," said Rajesh Krishnan, convenor of the coalition.

He disputed the developers’ claim that GM mustard would increase yield, saying the yield was the same as of the hybrid varieties produced through non-GM processes.

“The purported genetic modification for male sterility is only meant to ease the seed production by the seed sellers. This is nothing but a Trojan Horse for many other herbicide tolerant GM crops lined up by MNCs like Monsanto which are in the regulatory pipeline," he said.

The activists said all expert reports have spoken against herbicide-tolerant crops and called for a ban on them.

The coalition said DMH 11 was developed by introducing bacterial genes into selected mustard parental lines to create male sterile parent plants. These are used for the production of hybrids seeds which are then sold to farmers for cultivation.

“At a time when the entire nation is concerned with laxity in food safety regulation as seen in the Maggi case, it is outrageous that GM food crops are being pushed without adequate safety assessment and transparency," said Kavitha Kuruganti, convenor, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).

She said the environment ministry was not providing any information about the status of various GM crops, in violation of a Supreme Court order in 2005 that called for making all related information public.

“The entire biosafety assessment of this GM mustard is shrouded in secrecy with repeated efforts including right to information requests to seek information on the statutory safety assessments having remained unanswered from GEAC, starting from 2006. In the latest RTI effort we made, biosafety information was denied on the grounds that it was under process," said Kuruganti.

There is an increasing body of scientific evidence on the adverse effects of GM crops and herbicides, including a recent study by the World Health Organization, the group said.

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