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GM mustard approval after long, exhaustive process: Centre to SC

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The government has told the that approval for the “environmental” release of transgenic mustard hybrid DMH-11 has been given to the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) after a long and exhaustive review process, which started in 2010.


This comes after the court told the Centre on November 3 not to allow the planting of genetically modified (GM) mustard until the next hearing.


The Centre had told the court it needed time to put the latest facts on record.


The affidavit is perhaps the first official acknowledgement by the government of the processes followed in the environmental release of DMH-11 granted last month.


In its 67-page affidavit, the Centre submitted the background of the application given by the CGMCP, the decision-making process of the government, the regulatory framework under which permission was granted to DMH-11, and its scientific and socio-economic importance to the country.


It said conditional approval (of DMH-11) pertained to an environmental release prior to its commercial release and was subject to regulatory and technical oversight.


The Bench of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia had said in the last hearing the petitioners had pointed out the crop was hazardous.


The government suggested the inquiry of the apex court be limited to finding whether there was an adequate regulatory mechanism governing this field and whether there had been material compliance with it.


“The approval for environmental release before the commercial release is to test hybrid DMH-11 and develop new hybrids under the supervision of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). The approval is subject to technical and regulatory oversight,” the Centre said.


According to the Centre, 50-60 per cent of the edible oil in India is imported and hence the use of new genetic technology is pertinent in reducing dependence on import.


“Hybrids give (higher yields than) traditional varieties (do). has not been developed as Herbicide Tolerant (HT) technology,” it said.


The Centre said the term HT, or herbicide-tolerant, would be appropriate only when the trait in the hybrid was the commercial trait, which was the sole reason for permitting from the environmental angle.


In this case, the HT trait is a selection marker (identifying the GM plants) for experimental use during the developmental phase of the event, followed by limited use of herbicide in the seed production phase under genetic isolation from other mustard varieties.


The Centre said mustard was grown on 8-9 million hectares and the seed replacement (farmers buying fresh seeds) rate was 63 per cent.


Moreover, the area under irrigation has reached 83 per cent of the total under mustard. Despite this, yields of mustard are stagnating, the affidavit read.


“As India is importing and consuming oil derived from GM crops, opposition to such (technologies) based on unfounded fears will only hurt the farmers, consumers, and the industry,” the Centre said.


Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Aruna Rodrigues, had said the court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) had advised against using any herbicide-tolerant crop.


“It also said the regulatory system in India was in a shambles and needed to be revamped,” he said.


Bhushan said the shoring up of the system needed at least 10 years.


The next date of hearing on the case has been scheduled for November 17.

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