Amid a raging debate over proposed introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) Mustard, government’s scientific advisor Professor Ajay Sood said it is time for the country to adopt the technology which could help tide over future challenges of food security.
“GM Mustard can no longer be ignored. The problem is that the discourse over the technology has always been driven by emotions. But the debate over GM crops must be scientific, and not driven by fear or emotions, as it is happening now,” said the principal scientific advisor (PSA) to the Prime Minister at the 108th Indian Science Congress virtually inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi on Tuesday.
Batting for the new-age technology, which involves transferring new genes into an existing plant species to provide additional qualities, Dr Sood said it is time that the country looks at its long-term benefits. The GM crops could also help address the future challenges of food security, he added.
“Some have made emphatic remarks, without proof, about how these modified crops will impact the third or the fourth generation. The fears are well taken. But we do not realise that a lot of imported oil which we consume is derived from GM crops. We are okay, and healthy even after that. So, the problem is that the debate is running on fear,” said the senior scientist.
Several NGO and environmental groups have fiercely opposed the introduction of GM crops, terming the crops ‘hazardous and unsafe for humans’. The debate gathered steam after India’s biotechnology regulatory body under the environment ministry recommended the environmental release of GM mustard – DMH-11 for its seed production last October. This paved the way for its commercial cultivation under the supervision of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
The hybrid Mustard – DMH-11 — was developed using two genes – barstar and barnase, which were isolated from a soil bacterium and used to genetically modify the indigenous variety to increase its yield. According to the government, its commercial cultivation could help India reduce its dependency on costly edible oil imports.
While scientists engaged in the process continue to assure that technology involved in producing the hybrid is “safe and effective”, the NGO groups have continued to rally again its cultivation. Concerns are rife over its biosafety and long-term impact on environment, human and the natural biodiversity. The technology adoption is also riddled with moral and ethical issues. There are also strong concerns over its herbicide-tolerant nature leading farmers to believe that they would still be required to spray harmful herbicides.
In 2007, India had placed Bt Brinjal under indefinite moratorium after similar opposition.
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