Friday, January 15, 2016

PM Narendra Modi Asked To Decide Fate Of GM Mustard
All India | Reuters | Updated: January 15, 2016 09:57 IST
New Delhi:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urged by India's chief scientific advisor to decide the fate of the country's first genetically modified (GM) food crop, mustard, and a recent meeting suggests authorities may support commercialisation.

While the path to a commercial launch is fraught with political opposition, allowing GM crops is critical to PM Modi's goal of attaining self sufficiency in edible oils. India spends more than $10 billion (around Rs. 67,371 crore) annually on vegetable oil imports and GM mustard - with yields 38 percent higher than normal varieties - will give the government a chance to slash this bill.

The Prime Minister has already shown he is keen to push for technology in farming  by reversing an effective ban on field trials of GM food crops soon after taking office in 2014. Earlier, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had backed the widespread adoption of GM cotton by farmers.

GM mustard is next on the country's radar. Results from safety tests conducted on the hybrid oil seed crop over the past decade were submitted to the government in September.
"I am hoping that its commercial launch happens," Deepak Pental, the main scientist behind the GM oil seed crop, told news agency Reuters. "And the very fact that the ministry called a meeting (on January 4) suggests they are serious. Also, if India's top scientist is writing to the PM then it surely is significant."

In a letter sent to PM Modi and seen by Reuters, Principal Scientific Adviser R Chidambaram said GM food crops are widely prevalent globally and their use will only rise as changing weather patterns hit farm output. India already consumes oil derived from a GM rapeseed grown in Canada.

"India, in my opinion, should not hesitate to be the first introducer of new advanced technology, after convincing itself, of course, about its value to the users and the nation, its economic viability, its safety and environment friendliness," Mr Chidambaram wrote in the letter sent in October. "GM food crops fall into this category."

The Environment and Forest Ministry that is responsible for assessing GM crop applications said the 3,100-page mustard safety report is being evaluated, and that commercialisation will be preceded by a careful analysis of risks and benefits.

Grassroots groups associated with the ruling BJP have opposed GM crops fearing the reliance on expensive seeds patented by multinationals like Monsanto. Mr Pental, however, said the mustard project was state-funded so seed prices would be reasonable.
© Thomson Reuters 2016
Story First Published: January 14, 2016 19:47 IST

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