While the world is going after organic and indigenous food crops, India is well on its way to use the controversial genetically modified (GM) mustard. It will be the first of its kind food item which will be cultivated commercially after it was cleared by the regulatory authority.
The biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), on Thursday cleared the commercial cultivation of GM mustard in the country. The commercial cultivation of the GM seed can begin once the regulator’s clearance gets the nod from Union Environment Minister, Mr Anil Dave.
The GM mustard was developed by Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) under the leadership of Deepak Pental, a former vice-chancellor of the university.
According to the developers, the GM mustard uses a system of genes from soil bacterium that makes the plant better suited to hybridisation than current methods.
An estimated 5.05 million hectares of land, in mostly in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat and Assam is used to cultivate mustard. Advocates of GM mustard claim the 5.07 million tonne annual production of the seed could drastically increase by the use of the modified seeds.
But the GM mustard has its fare share of opponents too, including the RSS-linked think-tank Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM).
The ‘Sarson Satyagraha’, a broad platform of hundreds of NGOs representing farmers, consumers, scientists and others that have been at the forefront of resisting the approval of GM mustard in India’ too condemned the green signal to the herbicide tolerant GM Mustard.
Mustard is not the first genetically modified food crop that was introduced in India. Earlier, the clearance for commercial cultivation of BT Brinjal which had also been cleared by GEAC was rejected by the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
Other GM crops waiting in the pipeline include BT tomato containing an insect-resistant gene that can control crop damage due to the onslaught of fruit-borer insects.
Currently, the only GM crop which is being commercially cultivated in India is BT cotton.
According to some estimates, 96 per cent of the cotton cultivation in the country uses BT cotton seeds, by US company Monsanto which charges a ‘royalty fee’ from the farmers.