The statements made in Parliament and the deposition before the Supreme Court on the approval of the genetically modified (GM) mustard hybrid, DMH-11, seem to indicate a welcome shift in the government’s overall policy concerning GM crops.
- Interestingly, the DMH-11 is the same GM mustard that had earlier been approved by the GEAC in 2017 but vetoed by the environment ministry.
- The same ministry now says extensive studies on the toxicity, allergenicity, and environmental safety have found this GM hybrid to be harmless in every respect.
- The government’s response to the apex court’s query as to what the “compelling reason” is for granting environmental approval to DMH-11 is another indication of a policy transformation.
- The affidavit filed by the government asserts that agricultural reforms, such as growing GM crops, are useful in increasing the domestic availability of edible oils to reduce their imports and keep their prices under check to manage inflation.
- The DMH-11, developed by Delhi University’s biotechnology centre, reportedly gives about a 28 per cent higher yield than the popular mustard variety Varuna.
- Globally, too, the rapeseed-mustard yields have gone up with the introduction of GM hybrids. India meets about 60 per cent of its edible oil requirements through imports, which are anticipated to shrink considerably with the use of GM seeds.
What is the shift in policy?
- Rather than being ambivalent about permitting the commercial cultivation of transgenic crops, the government now appears to have become their avid exponent.
- Defending the approval of GM mustard by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the government has not only acknowledged it to be safe for cultivating for food and feed use but has gone a step further to assert that GM technology is important for food security and import reduction.
- This is a clear endorsement of agricultural scientists’ opinion that genetic engineering technology is essential to meet the growing demand for farm products, boost farmers’ income by reducing their production costs, and face the challenges posed by pests, diseases, and climate change.
Learning from the Bt-brinjal policy fiasco –
- Significantly, GM mustard is not the only food crop that had to wait for over a decade for clearance. The fate of gene-tweaked Bt-brinjal was even worse.
- This mass-consumed GM vegetable never reached the farmers’ fields even after getting the GEAC’s nod way back in 2009 due to stiff opposition from the highly vocal anti-GM lobby.
- In fact, it prompted the government then to impose a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM seeds. Indian Bt-brinjal is now being grown extensively in Bangladesh and the Philippines.
- Such retrograde moves have cost the country dear. Some key multinational companies involved in developing genetically engineered crops, including Bt-cotton, which had brought about the cotton revolution, chose to wind up their operations in India and shifted their bases to other countries.
- Besides, the moves also put on hold the approval of the GM varieties and hybrids of many other crops that were in different stages of development, thereby denying farmers the opportunity to make commercial gains.
The perceived positive twist in the policy now can be expected to re-open the door for introducing genetically superior variants of food and commercial crops to usher in another technology-driven green revolution.
Source – Business Standard
QUESTION – The change in policy over genetically modified crops has been welcomed by the experts. What is a ‘genetically-modified’ crop? Explain the recent example of GM-Mustard and its significance for the producers and consumers?