Permission for GM mustard is based on strict rules: Centre to Supreme Court
The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that its approval for the ‘environmental release’ of genetically modified (GM) mustard is subject to ‘stringent terms and conditions to ensure the country’s environmental safeguards.’
The government dismissed concerns about honey bees being harmed by genetic variation in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday (November 10) in response to writ petitions filed by Gene Campaign and Aruna Rodrigues.
In a detailed response to the writs, the Centre stated that seed production and testing will take three seasons unless otherwise decided by the ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) before the (GM mustard) seeds are made available to farmers.
Legal action for infringement
During the approval period, the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) will put together a post-release monitoring committee (PRMC) made up of two experts in the field and one nominee each from the RCGM (Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation) and GEAC.
The PRMC will visit the seed testing sites at least once per season and submit a compliance report to the GEAC. It stated that the use of any herbicide formulation is not permitted for cultivation in the farmer’s field under any circumstances.
‘Such use would necessitate permission from the Central Inseticide Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) in accordance with procedures and protocols for safety assessment of insecticides/pesticides,’ the Centre stated in its affidavit.
Any such use with CIBRC approval would be subject to legal action under the Central Insecticide Act, 1968, and Rules, 1971, as well as the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.
The ICAR will oversee the cultivation in accordance with its guidelines, rules, and regulations, after which commercial cultivation will begin. ‘(The) commercial use will be governed by the Seed Act of 1966 and related rules and regulations,’ the government told the Supreme Court.
Data on honey bees
As a precaution, data on honey bees and other pollinators will be collected during these two years under the supervision of ICAR to aid in the generation of additional data on the impact of GM mustard on these beings. ‘The approval may be revoked under Rule 13 (2) of the Rules, 1989, if any evidences of harmful effects of the approved GM mustard, such as damage to the environment, nature, or health come to the attention of GEAC, as well as any non-compliance with any conditions stipulated by GEAC,’ the statement said.
The Centre said that in Canada, the number of honey bee colonies increased from 4.73 lakh in 1974 to 7.73 lakh in 2018, with the area under canola increasing by seven times to 21.49 million acres during the period, pointing to the cultivation of GE canola, which belongs to the mustard family and contains the same genes permitted in the GM mustard trial in India.
The presence of canola pollen content in honey in Australia was well below the 1% threshold, it said, adding that there may be no negative impact on the honey bee population. As a precaution, the impact of the GM crop on honey bees and other pollinators will be studied for two years under the supervision of ICAR.
The Centre stated, in reference to the Technical Expert Committee report submitted to the Supreme Court in 2012, that ‘India has put in place a robust system based on science and involving technical experts throughout the process of research, confined trials, and environmental release of GM crops.’
The government claimed that GM mustard was allowed in the national and public interest because mustard is the most important edible oil and its yield is stagnant.
According to the Centre, the country imported a large amount of oil made from GM oilseeds. ‘We produce 9.5 million tonnes of cottonseed (from GM cotton) annually, as well as approximately 1.2 million tonnes of cotton(seed) oil consumed by humans and approximately 6.5 million tonnes of cottonseed cake consumed as animal feed,’ it said.
Annually, 55,000 tonnes of canola oil and 2.8 lakh tonnes of soyabean oil are imported, with a large portion of it produced from GM crops. ‘Because India imports and consumes oil derived from GM crops, opposition to such technology based on such unfounded fears of negative impact only harms farmers, consumers, and industry,’ according to the affidavit.
According to the Centre, the GM mustard trial will aid in the development of better varieties, increase per hectare yield by 25-30%, and combat inflation caused by rising edible oil prices.