GEAC approved GM mustard for commercial cultivation


Approval of GM Mustard

India’s biotech regulator, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has approved genetically modified (GM) mustard for commercial cultivation, paving the way for the country’s first transgenic food crop, nearly 15 years after its inventor, a public-sector scientist, first worked on it in his Delhi University lab and fields near the national capital.

The decision is “great for the country” because GM mustard would bring “better yields and lower costs for farmers”, said Deepak Pental, former Delhi University vice-chancellor and the scientist behind GM mustard, and technically called Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11). The partially state-funded project cost ₹70 crore in all, from lab to field trials.

Activists opposed to transgenic crops slammed the approval. The Coalition for a GM-free India called the clearance “shocking”, alleging that the “regulator colluded with the developer” to push it through.

GEAC’s approval clears the path for commercial seed production of GM mustard and use of the technology to further produce more GM-based mustard hybrid varieties. The commercial clearances were given in an October 18 meeting of GEAC, details of which were uploaded on the body’s website on Wednesday.

GM Mustard

Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11) is indigenously developed transgenic mustard. It is a genetically modified variant of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) mustard.

It contains two alien genes (‘barnase’ and ‘barstar’) isolated from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens that enable breeding of high-yielding commercial mustard hybrids.

It has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) at Delhi University.

In 2017, the GEAC recommended the commercial approval of the HT Mustard crop. However, the Supreme Court stayed its release and asked the central government to seek public opinion.

Significance: India produces only 8.5-9 million tonnes (mt) of edible oil annually while it imports 14-14.5 mt which entailed a record foreign exchange outgo of USD 18.99 billion in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022. Further, GM mustard would make India self-reliant in oil production and help in saving forex.

Mustard varieties in India have a narrow genetic base. The barnase-barstar system enables breeding of hybrids from a wider range of mustards, including those of East European origin such as ‘Heera’ and ‘Donskaja’.

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