What’s the compelling reason for release of GM mustard, the Supreme Court asked the Attorney General during a hearing on 2 December. In response, C D Mayee, President, South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC) and Bhagirath Choudhary, its founder director have put together a press release. Mayee is former director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research and former chairman of the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board.
The Supreme Court should not be indifferent to the “most obvious and compelling reasons” for release of GM mustard, Mayee says in the release. The two writ petitions that the court is hearing, filed by anti-GM activists Aruna Rodrigues, who says she is just a concerned citizen, and Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, date to 2004 and 2005 respectively. Frequent court interventions and court orders have caused public distrust in GM crops and demoralised the scientific community, impacting the advance of agri-biotechnology and the development and commecialisation of products based on the science, they say.
In 2021-22, India imported 14.1 million tonnes of edible oil – about two-thirds of its requirement. With global edible oil prices high, it imported inflation in an essential commodity as well. India spent $19.6 billion in importing the oil, money that would have gone into the pockets of Indian oilseeds farmers if their yields were high and they could produce more.
India grew 35.9 million tonnes of oilseeds on 28.8 million hectares in 2020-21, giving a yield of 1,247 kg per hectare. The edible oil recovery was about eight million tonnes. The gap between demand and domestic supply will widen in future, they say, if yields do not improve.
Globally, GM soybean and rapeseed (canola), which is related to mustard, have been grown since 1996. GM edible oilseeds are grown on 190.4 million hectares by 17 million farmers in 29 countries, they say. Of the 14.1 million tonnes of edible oil imported, GM soybean and GM canola contributed 4.1 million tonnes and 4.6 million tonnes, or 30 percent of the imported oil, they say. Since 95 percent of India’s cotton is GM, India has been consuming GM cottonseed oil since 2002. GM cotton oilseed cake also goes into animal and fish feed.
It took a decade of rigorous scientific assessment and public scrutiny before GEAC, the regulator of GM crops, recommended the environmental release of the GM hybrid DMH-11 and its parental lines. This is a new system of producing mustard hybrids. The deregulation of GM mustard and the Barnase-Barstar system of creating mustard hybrids will give impetus to mustard breeding in India and greatly enhance production of the oilseed.
The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and Delhi University, where the developer of the GM hybrid, Deepak Pental and his team of scientists work, have about 10 patents on modifications to the Barnase-Barstar pollination control system. NDDB and the Department of Biotechnology have invested about Rs 90 cr in GM mustard. The patents have been granted in Australia, Canada, the EU and USA. A number of greenhouse studies have been done, and large-scale field trials were conducted under the supervision of the Indian Council of Agricultural Researsh, the release says.
(Top photo courtesy of SABC).