New Delhi: The country's first genetically modified food crop, GM Mustard, gets the green light from the Ministry of Environment and Forests' Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). The committee has given a positive recommendation calling it "safe" and fit for commercial release.
The genetically modified oil-seed now awaits final approval from the Centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will consult Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave before making a decision, sources said.
The transgenic crop, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) has been developed by the Delhi University's Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants. If it gets the central government's nod, it will still take at least 4-5 years for GM Mustard to actually reach the fields. Right now, GM cotton is the only transgenic crop commercially available in fields.
India spends around $12 billion annually on vegetable oil imports. GM Mustard with yields up to 30 per cent higher than normal varieties will help the government to cut down on its expenditure. However, opposition to lab-altered food remains fierce. While the pro-GM Mustard lobby says it will boost farmers' earnings -- minimum cost of production and higher yields -- environmentalists said besides being unsafe for human beings as well as animals, it will also pave the way for other GM food crops.
Anti-GM activists and farmers had last year approached PM Modi demanding rejection of GM Mustard. Molecular biologist Pushpa M Bhargava had called the introduction of GM Mustard to be "disastrous" saying it would eventually open the doors for multinational corporations to control India's agriculture.
The RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), which has also criticised the GEAC approval, said the commercial use of GM mustard would impact allied agricultural activities.
"We are against the commercial use of any genetically modified crops, including the GM Mustard. We will request that the government should not allow its commercial cultivation," said SJM co-convener Ashwani Mahajan.
Experts are expecting the centre to allow the sale of only locally developed varieties to prevent the monopolisation of India's GM seed industry by foreign firms.
Sarson Satyagraha that represents numerous farmer organisations, consumers and scientists alleges the GEAC has "failed to protect citizens from risks of GMOs".
"Earlier in the case of BT Brinjal, they behaved irresponsibly and unscientifically. In this case, it is a hazardous herbicide tolerant food crop, which has direct implications for a large number of Indian farmers, agricultural workers and consumers," the body said.
(With inputs from agencies)