GM mustard safe for ecology, consumption: panel

GM mustard safe for ecology, consumption: panel

Experts rule out risks, activists refute report's reliability

GM mustard safe for ecology, consumption: panel
The Genetically Modified (GM) mustard will not cause any ecological damage and is superior to the conventional mustard varieties being cultivated in India, says a panel of experts who reviewed the trial data on the GM oil seeds.

“The (GM mustard) technology is safe for food/feed and environment,” a committee of scientists opined in a report released by the Union Environment Ministry for public comments.

The panel was set up by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — India’s highest regulatory body to decide on GM products. However, GEAC’s decisions can always be negated by the Union Environment minister as was done in the case of Bt brinjal around six years ago.

After the Bt eggplant, the genetically engineered mustard, which claims to have higher yield than conventional varieties is the second GM food crop under the government’s consideration for commercial release. Currently the only GM crop allowed for cultivation is Bt cotton.

“Based on the history of safe use of the host and donor organisms, transgene expression analysis, composition analysis, acute and subchronic toxicity assays of purified proteins and whole leaf and seed respectively, it can be concluded that the use of leaves, seed and oil derived from GE mustard line is not likely to pose any risk to humans and animals,” says the report on the assessment of food and environment safety for environmental release of genetically engineered mustard (DMH-11).

The GM oil seed is based on three genes — bar, barnase and barstar — which were used in rapeseed for 20 years with no adverse effects. The mustard oil does not contain any proteins, which are expressed in either negligible or non-detectable quantities in the edible parts of the plant.

The report also made it clear that how the GM mustard experienced a large number of regulatory tests since 2003 when the first field trial took place. The last two rounds of biosafety trials took place between 2010-12 at three locations (BRL-1) and 2014-15 at three sites (BRL-2). None of them showed any adverse effects.

Anti-GM groups, however, continue to oppose the GM mustard, which it said will harm agriculture. The activists claim the report does not carry raw data and details of the protocol for any independent scrutiny. The ministry said that detailed biosafety data is available  for anyone to examine.
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