Field trials complete for GM mustard, but experts sound caution

JAIPUR: Field trials of GM mustard are complete and an application from Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants is pending before the government. If approved, GM mustard will become the first genetically modified food crop to be grown commercially in the country.

Rajasthan is the country’s top mustard producing state. In 2010-11, of the 48,38,258 hectares under mustard cultivation in the country, 24,84,307 was in Rajasthan. Over 40% of the total mustard produced in India comes from Rajasthan.

The application from DU seeks to grow commercially three different varieties of GM mustard — hybrid GM mustard (DMH-11 or Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11) and its two parental lines.

Deepak Pental, former vice chancellor of Delhi University, lead researcher championing GM mustard, in a newspaper article a year ago explained that global population was around 1.6 billion in 1900, today it is 7.2 billion. Average life span at birth in India in 1900 was 23 years; today it is around 65 years. He said this swelling population could hardly be fed unless crop production too gets a scientific and technological fillip.

Activists, however, are not convinced. A petition on Change.org is seeking that the government steer clear of this modified version of mustard, so widely used in Indian kitchens.

“Many of those opposing transgenic (organism into which DNA from unrelated organism has been artificially introduced) crops have little knowledge of crop science. If you look at Canada, a big producer of rapeseed which is very close to mustard, 100% of its produce is transgenic. Japan does not grow this transgenic crop, but is a huge importer. Japan can afford to do that because it is rich. India has to make choices,” Pental told TOI.