The central biotech regulator on Thursday cleared a genetically-modified (GM) variety of mustard for commercial cultivation, according to reports. The transgenic mustard called DMH-11 now only needs the approval of the environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s (GEAC) decision comes on a long-pending application by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University (DU), which had developed the crop. The committee functions under the environment ministry.
However, the ministry might have to wait until the Supreme Court’s decision before deciding on the matter, since a petition is pending before the Supreme Court. Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi had assured the apex court in October last year that it will not approve the crop for commercial use until the court approves of it first.
The GM variety of mustard was developed in India by a team headed by former DU Vice Chancellor, Deepak Pental. Pental claims that this hybrid gives 25% greater yield than the varieties currently popular in India. This, he has previously said, will reduce India’s import of edible oil.
A petition filed by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues, last year, also asked for a stay on the commercial release of the crop. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, arguing for Rodrigues, had said in October last year that a technical expert committee (TEC) found the regulatory system in shambles and therefore sought a 10-year moratorium.
The crop’s tolerance to herbicides is also a reason why activists are opposed to it.
DHM-11 mustard, if approved by the environment minister, will be the first food-crop to be approved for commercialisation – provided Bt cotton is not considered to be a food crop.
The GM variety mustard will also be the second food crop which has been sent to the environment minister for clearance. The first GM crop to have reached the environment minister for clearance was Bt brinjal. However, the then environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, had put an indefinite moratorium on the decision.