Times of India: GM ‘skeletons’ continue to fall out of the cupboard

A reader has drawn our attention to an article by Snehlata Shrivastav about GM mustard in the Times of India, which follows up this site’s reference last month. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union’s ministry of environment, forests and climate change has put on hold the commercialisation of genetically modified mustard, of the Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 or DMH-11 developed by Delhi University’s former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), working with Dr Pental, is said to have conducted the open field trials at ten locations in country in 2005-06 without approval from the GEAC and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) – a practice which is also against environmental norms.

Scientists and experts alleged that in the entire development of the DMH-11 technology, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the RCGM, GEAC, The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), NIN, and DU have been working with Pental in DU since 1992 – NDDB directing crores of rupees, 50% of funding, but now considering withdrawal. The scientific community regards all of them as being equally responsible with Pental and expressed shock over the manner in which the facts appear to have been manipulated.

S E Pawar, a BARC scientist from city who was associated as a consultant in the NDDB funded project at NU revealed that he was involved in conducting multi-location trials of DMH-1, DMH-2 and DMH-11. But DMH-11 never out-yielded the national checks. There also appeared to be no need for a GM hybrid in mustard as the existing hybrids (DMH-1 developed by Pental himself with support from NDDB), NRCHB 506, Coral 432 and Coral 437 commercialised by both public and private sector are much cheaper.

It is alleged that unfavourable data while preparing the DMH-11 hybrid was deliberately omitted in the reports submitted to GEAC and Power is demanding that everyone involved in withholding the actual data and not giving proper information to the GEAC should be taken to task. He congratulated the MOE and government of India for not accepting the proposal for commercialisation of DMH-11 at this stage.

These facts are not given in some other accounts – see the Indian Express. Like other sections of the media, it stresses the need for a high-yielding mustard to reduce India’s import bill for edible oil, but as campaigner Aruna Rodrigues, points out the reduction was due to regulatory reasons: until about two decades ago India was self-sufficient in mustard but the introduction of low import tariffs on edible oil led to a great rise in imports. Read more about Ms Rodrigues’ work here.

The deputy director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, J S Sandhu, agreed that experts from bodies like the ICAR, RCGM and national institutes working in GM technology should have been consulted or involved in the experiments and that DU worked in isolation, which was not good science, adding: “The experiment should have used appropriate checks which I gather were not done”.

The verdict of Colin Todhunter, a prolific writer on GM issues, in his informative article in the Ecologist: “Global oilseed, agribusiness and biotech corporations are engaged in a long term attack on India’s local cooking oil producers. In just 20 years they have reduced India from self-sufficiency in cooking oil to importing half its needs. Now the government’s attempts to impose GM mustard seed threaten to wipe out a crop at the root of Indian food and farming traditions”.

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