Various Issues around GM Mustard DMH-11

In February 2016, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GMEC) deferred the decision to allow the commercial production of another GM crop viz. Mustard DMH-11. The new variety was developed by Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University.

What is GM Mustard?

Hybrid variety of a crop is obtained by crossing of two genetically diverse plants of same species and it can give higher yields than their parents. But mustard cannot be naturally hybridised because it is a self-pollinating plant having both male and female reproductive parts in a single flower. But researchers have created hybridised mustard using GM technology. The GM hybridised mustard, as it is claimed, gives up to 30% more yield than the present best varieties.

Researchers have used “barnase / barstar” technology for genetic modification. A barnase gene is isolated from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. The gene can code for a protein that impairs the pollen production in a plant making it male-sterile. This male-sterile variety is crossed with a parent variety having a gene called ‘barstar’ to block the action of barnase gene. The resulting variety, having both foreign genes, is a fertile plant and it can increase yield of the crop.

Why a hybridised mustard variety is required?

Researchers and promoters of GM Mustard argue that India imports Rs.60,000 crore worth of edible oils every year. There is an urgent need to reduce dependence on imports and raise domestic crop yields of mustard, which in turn raises production of edible oils domestically. To improve yields, hybridisation is a potential technique as it is successfully demonstrated with many other crops.

Why there is an objection for its introduction?

The main reason for its objection is in use of GM technology for hybridisation involving use of alien genes. Though GM technology is already commercialised in India through Bt cotton, it is argued that cotton is not a food crop whereas mustard is largest edible oil yielding crop of India. Its introduction may adversely affect human and animal health. They also argue that the reason for increased imports of edible oils is because of reduction in import duties and that in turn discouraged domestic production by companies. It resulted in reduction of cultivation of the crop by farmers. There was similar opposition to introduction of Btbrinjal, another GM crop approved by the GEAC in 2009.

What are arguments in favour of its introduction?

The use of GM technology through Bt cotton has increased the country’s cotton production by more than 2½ times since it was first planted in 2002. There are no evidences to show the adverse impact on human and animal health. Cotton-seed yields not just fibre but also oil and oilcake that are fed to animals. That makes it no less than a food crop. And also India imports soyabean oil and rapeseed oil that are mainly GM varieties.