Section of experts, farmers not in favour of genetically modified mustard


Even as the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the Union environment ministry has cleared the proposal for the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard, a section of experts and farmers say that the GM mustard is not a solution to deal with the issue of poor yield.

Also, they fear that the decision to allow the cultivation of GM mustard will boost the dominance of private seed manufacturers in the country.

They said the higher yield claims made on GM mustard variety DMH-11, which has been recently granted ‘environmental approval’ by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), is still unproven. They demanded that agriculture universities and research institutions in the country should conduct more field demos and trials of GM mustard hybrid DMH-11 before making it available for commercial use.

“The higher seed yield of GM crops hybrids, including GM mustard, seems a hoax scientifically which is being promoted to monopolise the Indian seed market without giving a thought to the interests of the farmers,” said Virender Lather, a retired scientist from the ICAR, New Delhi.

“As of now there is not enough research in the field in different climate conditions and areas to prove the claims of higher yields and herbicide tolerance qualities in the GM mustard as a lot of research is required to prove the claims,” he added.

“The GM seed may have a bad impact on the traditional seeds as at the time GM–BT cotton was launched in 2002, there were around 500 varieties available but now over 90 percent farmers sowing BT cotton as the traditional seed were not in the market,” he said, adding that then farmers will be compelled to purchases the costly seed annually produced by MNCs just like GM Bt-cotton farmers.

Food and agriculture policy expert Devinder Sharma terms the GM mustard as a reflection of the manipulation of science saying that the tall claims were made at the time of the launch of BT-Cotton but there is no major difference yet. He said that research institutes and scientists should work to improve traditional seeds instead of working under the pressure of international companies.

“The GM mustard is dangerous for Indian agriculture and now the government should not allow its cultivation until the proper field research by different organisation is done,” said Ratan Mann, president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Tikait), Haryana.

“Even the matter is pending with the Supreme Court but we will not allow GM mustard cultivation in our area at any cost as this is not a solution,” he said.

In October 2022, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) recommended the environmental release of the genetically-modified (GM) mustard (Brassica juncea) variety DMH (Dhara Mustard Hybrid)-11 for the development of new generation hybrids, paving the way for the commercialisation of the country’s first GM food crop.

On the other hand, in a statement last month, the ICAR has claimed that the GM mustard hybrid will boost production and productivity. The average mustard yield in India is 1.0 to 1.3 tonnes per hectare but this is stagnant for almost two decades, while globally, yields of rapeseed have considerably increased with the introduction of hybrids, it claimed.

The hybrid DMH-11 could safely be grown in the farmers’ fields and urgent efforts are needed to test DMH-11 hybrid at different locations in mustard belt by ICAR and state agricultural universities, using the available seed, reads the statement.

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