Is GM Mustard 'safe'? Activists allege that govt did a U-turn on safety concerns
India's environment ministry is considering approving the cultivation of Genetically Modified or GM Mustard, which was developed by Delhi University.
But the ministry's committee responsible for evaluating the GM crop's biosafety has taken a U-turn on safety questions raised by its own members just a few months ago, anti-GM activists allege.
The ministry's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, which has the power to recommend GM crops for release, recently put out a technical report that concluded that GM Mustard is safe for human and animal consumption. The report is up for public comments.
But the report does not address several concerns that the GEAC itself had raised in February 2016, Coalition for GM Free India said in a press briefing on 15 September. The Coalition cited minutes of a GEAC meeting on 5 February, and of its technical sub-committee on 2 February, where it raised several safety concerns with the DU team that developed GM Mustard.
The sub-committee eventually produced the 133-page report that said that GM Mustard is safe.
The Coalition has claimed although many concerns could not be addressed in the February meeting, they also do not appear to have been addressed in the final report, meaning that they have been brushed under the carpet.
Some of these concerns include:
1. What are the toxic and allergic tendencies of proteins that were used in developing the GM variety? The DU team had said that it did not test the toxicity of different combinations of these proteins as it was not a part of the guidelines. 2. The GEAC had said this response is untenable. But the issue is not reflected in the final report.
3. Why is there no assessment of the effects of GM Mustard on agriculturally important microorganisms?
4. Why did rats fed on GM Mustard gain weight at a faster rate than otherwise?
5. Confusion regarding yield numbers: The average yield of dry matter (what remains after seeds are taken out) does not correlate with the total of seed yield and other components. The GEAC it requires a reasonable explanation.
No satisfactory responses
Kavitha Kuruganti, of the Coalition for GM-Free India said that despite raising serious questions, the GEAC has "walked away meekly from those very questions without any scientific or satisfactory responses."
The GEAC met thrice afterwards: on 4 March, 20 June and finally on 11 August when the sub-committee's report was submitted. GEAC meeting minutes are not released in the public domain (a matter for which the environment ministry was pulled up by the Central Information Commission). The Coalition has based its claims on the final safety report, which they say does not address the issues.
Queries sent to GEAC chairperson Amita Prasad remained unanswered.
GM Mustard has been developed by DU's Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants in a project led by Prof Deepak Pental, a former vice chancellor of DU. The project was partly funded by the National Dairy Development Board.
The introduction of GM Mustard has been strongly opposed by most farmer groups in the country, including those affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ruling party's ideological mentor. It will be the first genetically engineered edible crop to be introduced in India.
It has been attacked on concerns about its safety as well as yield, which activists claim isn't much higher than recently introduced non-GM seeds.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu
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