GM mustard, not a good idea

Proponents of GM crops are jubilant at the green signal given to genetically modified herbicide-tolerant mustard (GM HT mustard). The government acted quickly and sent several kilograms of GM mustard seeds that are with crop developers to eight locations.

In its oral orders, the Supreme Court bench, which heard the case on Nov. 2, reportedly ordered the government not to rush the case and not to plant any GM mustard seeds until the case is over. not been heard. However, it seems that GM mustard has been planted near Bharatpur and Kanpur.

This push for GM mustard is happening mainly on two claims – that it will yield 25-30% more; and that it is not a crop tolerant to herbicides. Interestingly, the reality underlying these two assertions led the three environment ministers before Bhupender Yadav to be cautious.

The current Minister of the Environment, however, ignores caution. The consequences would be major and irreversible, given that it is indeed a herbicide-tolerant crop (which is not affected by heavy use of herbicides) and that GM technology is a living and irreversible technology when is released into the environment.

Handling of Tests and Data: It was in 2016 that public sector breeders, independent conservationists and others presented evidence to the Genetic Engineering Assessment Committee (GEAC) that GM HT mustard yield data is manipulated and that the tests themselves were not scientific. In its testing, the GM mustard hybrid DMH-11 was not compared to non-GM hybrids.

For hybrid trials, hybrid checks are essential, especially in the case of the GM mustard hybrid, since it claims to be a better hybridization technology than the non-GM hybridization options that already exist for breeders/seed growers. It has not even been tested on varieties designated as zonal and national controls in the ICAR testing system, but has been compared to varieties released long ago in India.

The comparators used for the GM mustard tests violated the ICAR protocols as well as the conditions under which authorization was granted by the gene technology regulator GEAC. Despite all of this, the ICAR as well as the GEAC allowed the crop developer to move forward through the regulatory pipeline.

Public-minded citizens have also argued that the yield data of the already poor tests was boosted by around 7.5% by the Center for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) at Delhi University in what he submitted to regulators, compared to the results actually obtained from a few testing centers.

Compromising Scientist Integrity: DMH-11 outperformed older strains it was tested with, as testing was done in a limited and unscientific way.

In the ICAR system, pre-release testing of a variety or hybrid is carried out in at least three locations in each zone, for at least three years. This was also not followed, in the case of the DMH-11. However, in 2002 and 2003, the GEAC put a firm lid on another GM mustard hybrid (Bayer’s subsidiary, ProAgro) that had requested release into the environment. The GEAC recorded that the tests were inadequate (in only four locations) and that the yield data showed too much variance, in addition to learning that it was a TH crop and an edible crop. requires careful decision making.

Yield reductions are a distinct possibility: rather than increasing yields, environmental release and widespread adoption of GM mustard may lead to lower yields. In a situation where India is already planting high-yielding varieties (45% of its mustard land is used by hybrids, offered by the private and public sectors), it is likely that DMH-11 will actually cause a decline country’s returns. In addition, the spread of the sterility trait will lead to losses for farmers. Herbicide spray drift will also destroy neighboring non-GM mustard, in small Indian farms, and cause more losses. GM mustard has nothing new to offer farmers other than the risks of transgenic HT technology.

Does GM mustard a crop tolerant to herbicides? : No scientist worth their salt can deny that the bar gene that exists in both parent lines, in DMH-11 and any other new hybrids that will be created by ICAR using these parent lines, confers tolerance to herbicides. It makes no sense to say that the herbicide tolerance trait will only be useful during seed production and therefore only seed growers can spray glufosinate on the GM HT mustard crop, and that farmers are not allowed to do the same. In thousands of hectares, illegal HT Bt cotton has been planted, and sales of unapproved GM seeds and unapproved glyphosate are taking place. Regulators of genetic technologies as well as pesticides are doing nothing worthwhile to curb this. In a bizarre twist, instead of admitting its regulatory failures to stop the spread of illegal cultivation of TH plants and stop the irresponsible approval of GM mustard, the GEAC actually turned a blind eye to these aspects in its letter. of GM approval. After first approving a herbicide-tolerant crop that has never been tested as a TH crop, he expects farmers to not use deadly weedkiller on it.

The fact that GM mustard was researched to be camouflaged as a hybridization technology and not as a TH crop (which it absolutely is) implies that the tests were never done as a crop TH. The Supreme Court should hear these irregularities. The independent experts of its Technical Expert Committee on GMOs have recommended banning HT crops. They proposed banning GMOs in crops where India is the center of origin or diversity.

The author is with Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)

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