In the clearest enunciation of the government’s support for genetically-modified (GM) crops, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said the release of GM mustard into the open was based on sound scientific research and followed the regulatory process. If India could import edible oil from the countries planting GM crops, it could also grow them, he said at an Indian Express event on 5 November.
Never since then environment minister Jairam Ramesh did a U turn on GM brinjal in 2009 has a minister articulated so forcefully the government’s support for GM crops. This will boost the morale of all those engaged in agribiotechnology research in India. For far too long, they have been put on the defensive by anti-GM activists who have been blocking the approval of new GM crops with litigation in the Supreme Court since 2004. The activists are seeking to reverse the government’s decision on GM mustard whose open release was permitted on 18 October.
“For any country to progress, do they not need scientific research? Should new scientific research and scientific innovation be used or not? If Delhi University has done thorough scientific research (in GM mustard), then should we not even try this for two years or not? GM crops will help the country tremendously in food security. Around 55-60 percent of the cooking oil that is consumed in the country is imported — and it is imported from countries where GM foods are permitted. So, we can import from these countries but we can’t produce (GM crops of) our own?” Indian Express quoted Yadav as saying.
The Environment Minister acknowledged that there is some anxiety among people regarding GM crops and GM foods. “There have also been some issues raised about its effect on pollinators and bees — but in this case, the effect needs to be investigated. Please do scientific research on the impact on bees and present it to us and we will take it into account. Till that time, if it has been proven that the GM crops are safe, then what is the harm in commercial production? Don’t we want the country to be atmanirbhar (self-reliant)?’’ Yadav asked.
This is what ministers said in Parliament on 8 December, 2022 in response to questions, as per Business Standard:
The government said extensive studies carried out on toxicity, allergenicity, compositional analyses, field trials, and environmental safety of GM mustard lines versus their non-transgenic comparators had provided evidence that DMH-11 was safe for cultivation, food, and feed use. It also said farming technologies like genetically modified (GM) crops were important to ensure food security and cut the reliance on imports. It said it had found no evidence of any decline in honey production in the country due to GM cotton that has been cultivated for the last 10 years.
In two separate statements made in Parliament, Minister of State for Environment Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Minister of State for Science and Technology Jitendra Singh said that while strengthening plant breeding programmes, including the use of new genetic technologies such as GE is important for meeting emerging challenges in Indian agriculture, studies conducted on DMH-11 (the hybrid GM mustard granted environmental okay) had shown 28 percent more yield than the national check and 37 percent more yield in zonal checks during confined field trials.
“Variation of bees to the transgenic lines is similar to the non-transgenic counterparts as per data recorded during BRL (Biosafety Research Level) 1 and 2 trials conducted over three growing seasons at multiple locations as per GEAC protocols,” Singh said in his reply, while Choubey said the environmental release would help scientists study any effect of GM mustard on bees and other pollinators.
(Top photo of Bhupender Yadav courtesy of PIB)