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No Decision on GM Mustard Yet, Centre Tells Supreme Court

The matter of India's potentially first transgenic food crop, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11), is in court because of environmentalist Aruna Rodriguez's petition challenging the commercialisation and field trials because of health risks.

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Updated:September 15, 2017, 2:58 PM IST
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No Decision on GM Mustard Yet, Centre Tells Supreme Court
File photo of the Supreme Court, New Delhi.
New Delhi: The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court that it had not made a decision on the commercialisation of genetically modified mustard. It was still considering the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) and, as of now, no plantation was happening.

No step would be taken without government approval, the Centre reassured the apex court.

The matter of India's potentially first transgenic food crop, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11), is in court because of environmentalist Aruna Rodriguez's petition challenging the commercialisation and field trials because of health risks. Transgenic crops have sharply divided scientists and environmental activists into camps ever since the GEAC, India's top most bio-safety regulator, granted approval for commercialisation in May.

The GEAC’s decision caused an uproar. Union minister Harsh Vardhan, who was taking charge of the environment ministry after the sudden death of the previous minister, Anil Madhav Dave, had refused to comment on the matter.

Environmentalist have been crying themselves hoarse over the apparently flawed biosafety trials and the herbicide tolerance in DMH-11. Some scientists too expressed concern over this tolerance, fearing it will lead to excessive use of herbicide by farmers.

However, in June, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), criticised activists for spreading misinformation about GM mustard, namely that it had a wide variety in India, as the country was mustard's source of origin and diversity. The NAAS said that India had a very narrow pool of mustard varieties.

The Supreme Court repeatedly told the government to make a “well informed” and “well intentioned” decision on DMH-11’s roll out. The government on its part was supposed to make this decision by September.

It wasn't just activists alarmed by the GEAC’s decision. In August, the parliamentary panel on the environment, science and technology took note of an absence of scientific data on GM crops and asked the environment ministry to conduct detailed examinations on DMH-11’s impact on the environment and health of animals and humans. The panels asked the ministry to not roll out the crop without first gathering sufficient evidence of its safety.

The additional solicitor general P.S. Narasimha, on behalf of the centre, told the court that they were looking into the recommendations of all reports, including the parliamentary panel's, before making a decision.

The next supreme court hearing is on September 22.

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