17/07/2017 RSTV, Videos 0 comment

GM Mustard – Pros & Cons | RSTV

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has given the green signal for commercial cultivation of GM mustard in the country with certain conditions. Developed by Delhi University, the GM Mustard will be the first edible GM crop of India. Several groups have been opposing the GEAC’s decision as it might affect allied agricultural activities and health of the people as per the protesters.

Pros

  • India’s dependence on edible oil imports makes it necessary to harness GM-mustard. About $12 billion is spent by India annually on import of edible oil.
  • Local crop developers can more easily develop different varieties of hybrid mustard, like GM cotton, and confer traits like pest resistance and potentially improving yield.
  • A system of genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard have been used by the scientists. This is generally a self-pollinating plant and is better suited to hybridization than current methods.
  • DMH-11 is claimed to be one of the promising technologies to improve mustard yield in India, which has been almost stagnant since the last two decades.
  • As the population will increase, India will have to increase its productivity of oilseed crops.

Cons

  • There are social and economic concerns attached to any technology as well. In this case, farmers especially in Punjab and other mustard growing areas have said that they don’t need new varieties. They need better policy, pricing and to rationalize the input costs against the cost which they get after selling it in the markets. If these problems cannot be solved, bringing in another technology might not solve the problem.
  • Its impact on health of the people, environment, soil, groundwater or food chain is not known yet. The glufosinate-based herbicide to which the proposed GM mustard is tolerant will also have adverse impacts on health. An herbicide-tolerant crop promotes constant exposure to a single herbicide which eventually results in weeds becoming resistant.
  • GEAC needs to be transparent about this decision and put it in the public domain that on what grounds it has approved GM mustard for citizens to analyse and stay aware whether it is good for them or not. If there is a lack of trust on the part of people who are to use it, it will be like forcing something upon them. India is a signatory to Cartagena Protocol on biosafety where it has committed to public participation in decision making.
  • Allowing the cultivation of GM mustard would lead to a direct attack on women involved in the mustard crop weeding.
  • There has to be strong liability laws if there are any environmental hazards or if something goes wrong in future. These laws are not there in India at present.
  • The pesticide industry’s efforts to influence policymakers and regulators have obstructed reforms globally. Their business model aims only at making profit.

Conclusion

Agriculture is a state subject therefore; it is important for the Centre to take into consideration the views of State Governments as well. It is expected that the Supreme Court will ensure protection of Indian consumers and farmers as giving a nod to GM mustard will pave the way for clearance to other GM crops as well whether the impact is good or bad. The issue is sensitive to society as it involves the health of large population, therefore adequate arrangements must be made to ensure thorough discussion and exchange of views between the scientific community before a formal launch of the product.

Raj Malhotra IAS Study Group.