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Centre comes out with FAQs to allay fears on GM mustard

LiveMint logoLiveMint 21-05-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: Genetically modified (GM) mustard plants are as safe and nutritious as regular mustard, the environment ministry said, even as the country await its final word on commercial production.

In the backdrop of protests against GM mustard, the ministry on Saturday published an eight-page Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on its website.

The FAQs pointed to concerns on the possibility of genetically engineered (GE) plant getting introduced into wild populations and increased use of chemicals in agriculture. In terms of taste and nutrition, it would be similar to the traditionally grown mustard varieties in India.

On whether cattle will produce more milk if it is used as feed, the FAQs said, “GE mustard is as nutritious as the conventionally grown varieties in India. Therefore, it is not anticipated to have any effect on milk production, if cattle consume this GE mustard as feed.”

“Individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.”

“In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. So far, there is no evidence suggesting that the transgenes could be transferred to humans or animals through consumption of GE food,” it added.

On 11 May, the regulator for transgenic products, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the environment ministry, recommended approval for commercial production of GM mustard. If the ministry grants permission, it will be a first for a GM food crop in India. The GEAC cleared GM brinjal in 2010 but the ministry did not clear it following protests from civil society groups.

GM mustard was developed by the Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP). At present, cotton is the only GM crop allowed in India.

A similar note was earlier put online by the ministry soon after GEAC’s approval but was pulled down within a day for unstated reasons.

“The FAQs do not respond to questions raised over several months,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, a nationwide informal network of more than 400 organizations drawn from 20 states. “It is a completely inadequate document with continuing false statements. We are in the process of coming out with our own factsheet to correct facts to public on this subject. We will be, meanwhile, waiting to see who will become new environment minister. We also think that government will not be doing something as unwise as interim minister signing approval to GM mustard,” she said.

Kuruganti has been protesting against GM mustard and had met late environment minister Anil Madhav Dave on Wednesday. Dave, however, died on Thursday after which the government gave Union Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan additional charge of environment ministry.

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