Field trials of the transgenic mustard variety, DMH-11, revealed them to be higher yielding and they did not deter the pollination habits of honey bees. This was informed by the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences Dr Jitendra Singh in Rajya Sabha.

 

Details

  • In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Dr Jitendra Singh said, GM mustard has been tested for three years (2010-11, 2011-12, 2014-15) against national check Varuna and zonal check RL1359 during confined field trials at multiple locations.
    • Checks refer to reference varieties of mustard in a region.
      • In this case, DMH-11 was tested against Varuna variety of mustard at national level and against RL1359 variety at zonal level.
    • Usually, new varieties must prove themselves superior to be considered for commercial release.

 

About the GM-Crops

  • Conventional plant breeding involves crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents.
  • Genetic engineering aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects.
    • The alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.
    • Example, Bt cotton has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
      • It allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.
    • In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.
  • Seeds produced using genetic engineering are called Genetically Modified Seeds.

 

Legal position of genetically modified crops in India

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for commercial release of GM crops.
    • In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton.
  • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Rules, 1989 (notified under Environmental Protection Act ,1986).

 

Background

  • Earlier, in 2017, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had cleared the proposal for commercial cultivation of GM mustard.
  • However, the Union Environment Ministry vetoed it and suggested that the panel hold more studies on the GM crop.
  • In October 2022, GEAC again cleared the proposal for commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard – also known as Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11).

 

Key highlights

  • Higher yielding variety —
      • DMH-11 has showed approximately 28 per cent more yield than the national check and 37 per cent more than the zonal checks.
  • DMH-11 was safe for cultivation, food, and feed use —
      • Extensive studies were carried out on toxicity, allergenicity, compositional analyses, field trials, and environmental safety of GM mustard lines versus their non-transgenic comparators.
      • It had provided evidence that DMH-11 was safe for cultivation, food, and feed use.
      • Visitation of bees to the transgenic lines is similar to the non-transgenic counterparts.
  • Why DMH-11 was not classified as a ‘herbicide-tolerant’ seed?
      • GM Mustard not been classified as an Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crop variety despite the presence of the ‘bar’ gene.
        • The ‘bar’ gene in the plant makes it resistant to a family of herbicides.
        • The question of herbicide tolerance in DMH-11 is one of the most contentious issues.
        • Activists are claiming that this will encourage farmers to more widely use a weedicide called glyphosate to protect mustard.
        • Though largely used in tea plantations to save on labour costs, glyphosate has been indicted globally as a ‘probable carcinogen’ with the Union agricultural ministry this year issuing rules to limit its use.
      • While replying to this question, the minister said the use of bar gene has been claimed and approved by the GEAC during hybrid seed production phase only.
        • This is to maintain the genetic purity of hybrid seed by killing male fertile plants in female rows in seed production plot.
      • It will not be used during commercial cultivation by the farmers
  • Transgenics were safe for bees and pollination —
      • As per studies conducted on Bt cotton, it was found that transgenics were safe for bees and pollination.
      • There is no negative impact of Bt transgenic cotton cultivars on bees, brood rearing, pollen and nectar hoarding of Apis mellifera colonies as compared to non -transgenic cotton cultivars.