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"Secretive" regulator may not act against plea to commercialize GM mustard, "jeoparize" environment

By Our Representative
The Coalition for Genetically Modified (GM) Free India, the apex body of tens of organizations fighting for promoting organic food, suspects that the recent application made for the approval for commercialization of GM mustard, moved with the apex regulatory body Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which is under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, may be accepted.
Pointing fingers at the manner of functioning of the GEAC, coalition convener Rajesh Krishnan said, the regulatory body of late has begun functioning "in a highly secretive fashion". He added, "While the nation does not know what is happening inside the regulatory institution with applications like this GM mustard, biosafety data is sought to be kept under the carpet."
He wondered, "Why should the regulators be trusted for their safety assessment when in the case of both Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee (SC TEC), which took up a sample biosafety analyses in 2013, showed that the regulators were wrong in concluding the safety of these GMOs?"
Suggesting that the the Narendra Modi government has taken a step forward in secrecy, Krishnan said, "In the case of Bt brinjal, the regulators sought public feedback and the Government of India took up public consultations before taking a final decision on Bt brinjal’s commercial cultivation fate in india."
But things are different with he present government: "The current Government seems to be keen to conduct regulatory processes in a secretive fashion. Our requests to meet with the Environment Minister to share our concerns met with no success. As the government gets more secretive and opaque around regulation, the public has a right to know what are they afraid of, if everything is safe and scientific?”, said Kavitha Kuruganti, Convenor of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), which is part of the coalition.
Pointing towards "serious consequences of this GMO's release", the coalition has warned the government of "serious resistance all over the country" in case the appliction is accepted. "Farmer unions and citizen groups have arlready carried out a Sarson Satyagraha urging the government not to jeopardise food, farming and environment by introducing GM mustard", it said.
"This is the first time India would be considering commercial cultivation approval of any GM food crop after an indefinite moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal five years ago in February 2010", the coalition said in a statement, adding, "GM mustard, developed by Delhi University, called Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11 (DMH11) adopted the transgenic technology to facilitate hybridization on claims of increased yields through such a hybrid."
Krishnan said, "GM mustard hybrid has been created mainly to facilitate the seed production work of seed manufacturers, whereas farmers already have a choice of non-GM mustard hybrids in the market, in addition to high yielding mustard varieties."
"More importantly", he pointed out, "there are non-GM agro-ecological options like System of Mustard Intensification yielding far higher production than the claimed yields of this GM mustard of Delhi University."
He said, “this GM mustard is also a backdoor entry for various other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline – while herbicide tolerance as a trait has been recommended against by committee after committee in the executive, legislative and judiciary-based inquiry processes in India related to GM crops, this GM mustard uses herbicide tolerance."

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