‘Will we be doomed if we don’t release GM mustard?’ SC asks Center

New Delhi, Dec 1: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Central government if there is a compelling reason to make genetically modified (GM) mustard available now, emphasizing that Indian farmers are not like the western farmers, and this reality should be understood.

Attorney General for India R. Venkataramani, representing the Centre, cited decisions taken in several Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) meetings and the process of granting approval for the environmental release of the GM mustard. He contended that experts carefully examined the details in connection with the release of the transgenic food crop and added that the environmental release of the genetically modified mustard is the next logical step.

A bench comprising justices Dinesh Maheshwari and BV Nagarathna queried the Centre’s counsel, is there a compelling reason for the environmental release of the GM mustard at this stage, and will such release have an irreversible adverse effect on the environment? Justice Nagarathna asked: “Will we be doomed if we do not release GM mustard now?” She further added is it possible to postpone the release till we develop a better understanding of its impacts?

The bench further added that Indian farmers are not like western farmers and the reality in India should be understood.

It sought more clarity on the controversy surrounding the government’s claim that DMH11 was not a herbicide-tolerant variety of mustard crop. After hearing AG’s submissions, the bench scheduled the matter for further hearing on December 7.

Earlier, advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing activist Aruna Rodrigues, had submitted that no one knows about the effect of GM mustard environmental release, which has the potential of contaminating all mustard seeds in the country.

Bhushan said that at present the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) says GM mustard will be used for creating more hybrids.

He argued that hybridisation is not a new technology and there are non-GM hybrids that outperform GM crops.

“There are over 4,000 varieties of mustard being cultivated in India and almost every household in the country consumes it,” said Bhushan, adding that all these varieties will be contaminated if environmental release is not stopped.

Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing Gene Campaign, cited TEC reports and added that major gaps exist in the regulatory system which need to be addressed first, and till then, it is not recommended to conduct field trials of GM crops.

Parikh said the GEAC is an appraisal committee and not an approval committee, yet it is giving approvals for field trials. The top court is hearing applications challenging the environmental release of GM mustard.

On October 25, the GEAC allowed the environmental release of GM mustard for seed production and testing.

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