Scientists against ICAR ‘gag order’ on GM mustard
Science & Technology
20th Jan, 2023
The Scientists, public representatives and environmentalists have joined hands to condemn a “gag order” by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare on genetically modified (GM) mustard crop, Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11).
- Let us see the case and analyse the stance on GM Mustard.
- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee had recommended the environmental release of GM mustard seeds for trials, demonstrations and seed productions October 18, 2022.
- The order denies scientists the right to practise science by presenting evidence-based analysis.
- The scientist cited Article 51 (A) in the Constitution of India; “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism, the spirit of inquiry and reform.”
About GM Mustard:
- The hybrid mustard DMH-11 has been produced which contains two alien genes isolated from a soil bacterium called Bacillus ‘amyloliquefaciens’.
DMH-11 is claimed to have shown an average 28% yield increase over Varuna in contained field trials carried out by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
- The first gene (‘barnase’) codes for a protein that impairs pollen production and renders the plant into which it is incorporated male-sterile.
- This plant is then crossed with a fertile parental line containing, in turn, the second ‘barstar’ gene that blocks the action of the barnase gene.
- The resultant F1 progeny is both high-yielding and also capable of producing seed/ grain.
- This system was used to develop DMH-11 by crossing a popular Indian mustard variety ‘Varuna’ (the barnase line) with an East European ‘Early Heera-2’ mutant (barstar).
Role of GEAC:
- GEAC is a body responsible for appraisal of proposals relating to the release of GM organismsand products (ordinarily considered hazardous) into the environment.
- The GEAC is the apex biotech regulatory body in India. It is a statutory body.
The functions of the GEAC are:
- It is responsible for the appraisal of activities that involve the large scale use of hazardous microbes and recombinants in research and industrial production from the point of view of the environment.
- The GEAC also assesses proposals regarding the release of genetically engineered products and organisms into the environment, and this includes experimental field trials as well.
- The body also looks into proposals regarding the use of living modified organism that comes in the risk category III and above in the import/manufacture of recombinant pharma products, or where the end-product of the recombinant pharma product is a modified living organism.
- The Committee has the power to take punitive action against people/body under the Environment (Protection) Act.
- The approval of the GEAC is mandatory before genetically modified organisms and products derived from them can be used commercially.
- The presence of a third ‘bar’ gene, which makes GM mustard plants tolerant to the spraying of glufosinate ammonium, a chemical used for killing weeds. This will cause displacement of manual labour engaged in weeding by promoting use of chemical herbicides.
- The GM mustard can threaten the population of honey bees as the Mustard flowers are a source of nectar for honey bees and many other pollinator insects.