GM Mustard: Farm scientists from NAAS thrash the critic's arguments

GM Mustard: Farm scientists from NAAS thrash the critic's arguments
The National Academy of Agriculture Sciences on Wednesday torpedoed the arguments of the anti-GM lobby on the indigenous genetically modified mustard and offered support for the commercial release of the GM oil seed, created by Delhi University scientists.

The academy with more than 600 members came out with a report countering eight arguments that are mostly used by the activists while opposing the GM mustard that was approved by the Indian regulatory body for the market but held back by the government.

The report was based on an analysis made by R B Singh, a former director of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, and some of his colleagues on the arguments put-forth by GM-bashers purely from a scientific perspective.

“The broad conclusion is that almost all the negative reports on GM mustard appearing on websites, newspapers and letters to the Ministers and PMO are fallacious, willfully distort scientific data and have been made with the sole intention of scuttling the use of a technology which could be of great interest and value to the country,” said the NAAS report.

The counter from NAAS touches on issues related to the yield of GM and non-GM versions of rapeseed (a sister crop of mustard); the performance of the indigenous genetically engineered mustard (DMH-11) against the national checks in the trial phase and how new varieties are outperforming the DMH-11. The farm scientists claim, the activists are wrong on these points.

“The biggest misrepresentation being carried out is that the hybrid contains a herbicide resistance conferring trans-gene; therefore, farmers will use the herbicide and lakhs of landless workers will lose their livelihoods. Yes, DHM-11 contains a gene that confers resistance to herbicide glufosinate, but the hard fact is that herbicide use is required only for hybrid seed production and permission is being sought from the Ministry of Agriculture only for this limited use,” said the NAAS report.

Productivity of oilseed crops is stagnating in India for more than ten years in the absence of better yielding hybrids.

“India imported Rs 68,000 crore worth of edible oils in the last financial year. Falsehood of GM-bashers will not help Indian agriculture, proper use of science and technology will,” said the report.

The scientists favour the GM variety as it opens up the scope for creating better mustard hybrids with higher yield.

“A robust hybrid seed production system is a one-time breakthrough – finding and breeding parental lines for developing hybrids with higher yields is an ongoing exercise. This is text book knowledge in plant breeding,” it said.

“The first rapeseed hybrid released in Canada using a GM technology similar to what has been used in mustard yielded only around 13% more than the Canadian mega variety Westar. In 2008, a hybrid was released with close to 46% yield advantage over Westar,” the report added.

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