The scientific community is appreciative of the approval for the “environmental release” of genetically modified (GM) mustard, granted by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), and says it won’t need any more clearance.
However, some sound cautious owing to the 2010 Bt brinjal episode, when final approval was stalled at the last moment.
However, sources said a repeat of the 2010 and 2017 events when GEAC approval for GM crops was vetted at the highest level might not happen this time around because the publication of the minutes of the GEAC meeting was a “good enough” indication that all approvals had been obtained.
The GEAC has sent a letter to scientist Deepak Pental, saying that based on his application it had granted approval for the “environmental release” of Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH)-11 for undertaking seed production and testing in accordance with the guidelines of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR).
This, several experts said, is a firm indication that the matter has been cleared at the highest echelons.
NITI Aayog Member Ramesh Chand said on Thursday the approval met the two criteria of significant yield advantage and that it was made by a local institution.
“There are two main parameters by which we in NITI judge a GM event — one is whether it is breakthrough in yield and next if it developed by an indigenous body. In both these the GM mustard fits the bill and hence approval is welcome,” Chand told Business Standard.
The ICAR, in a series of tweets last night, welcomed the move, saying that the approval had opened the door for deploying high-yielding mustard hybrids harnessed through a successful combination of genetic gains of popular mustard varieties in India.
The ICAR said DMH-11 had the potential to improve yields, stagnant at a tonne per hectare, to a global benchmark of around 3 tonnes per hectare.
“(The deregulation) of barnase-barstar technology will spur a new era of GM mustard hybridization,” the ICAR said in the tweets. It said the approval and subsequent steps would lead to reduction in edible oil import. It said severe weed infestation caused nearly 30 per cent losses and the GM mustard hybrid would resolve these issues.
The National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute, an institute that functions under the Department of Biotechnology, said this would boost the GM technology sector and benefit farmers.
Scientists such R S Paroda, former director general of the ICAR; K VijayRaghavan; and the current director of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), A K Singh, termed it a landmark in the journey of GM crops in India.
Next week senior scientists of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), ICAR, and Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS) are holding a press conference to throw further light on the approval and its nuances.
The environment minister, sources said, could meet the media on the issue.
“Heartening to see that GMO seeds will finally have the approval of the government. I had fought hard for it when at NITI Aayog, came close to approval but only to lose in the end. Hoping it will be different this time,” former NITI Aayog vice-chairman and macro-economist Arvind Panagariya wrote in a Twitter post.