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Does GM mustard harm honey bees? GEAC orders more field trials of crop

Sanjeeb Mukherjee/New Delhi 14 May 18 | 10:19 PM

File photo of a farmer in mustard field

Breaking a near year-long deadlock, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has called for ‘field demonstrations’ of GM mustard in an area of 5 acres at two or three different locations. The panel is concerned about the possible impact the crop could have on honey bees and seeks additional data on these and other pollinators, and also on soil microbial diversity.

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The applicants have also been directed to submit a detailed protocol for conducting the demonstrations, steps which have been roundly questioned by civil society activists on the grounds that data generated from improper tests would be ‘inadequate’ and ‘objectionable’. 

The GEAC had received several representations in favour and against GM mustard  in its 133rd meeting. Therefore, in the subsequent meeting held in March, it directed the applicants of GM mustard, which in this case is the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants under Delhi University, headed by Deepak Pental to conduct more ‘field demonstrations’.

The minutes of GEAC's March meeting were recently made public. 

Meanwhile, civil society activists have strongly condemned the move to seek further ‘field demonstrations’.

“What is 'field demonstration' in regulatory parlance? Where is it present in the guidelines? Why is GEAC yet again asking the applicant to submit a detailed protocol for consideration and approval? Doesn’t GEAC have the expertise and guidelines for these tests? Will the tests be conducted with herbicide usage as is going to the reality if GM mustard does get approved or not," questioned Kavitha Kuruganti, Co-Convenor of Coalition for a GM-Free India asked in letter addressed to the GEAC Chairperson.

“You are not addressing critical issues being raised, and therefore, just asking the applicant to undertake a field demonstration for data generation is inadequate and objectionable," Kavitha said.

The GEAC had last year approved the Commercial Release of GM mustard. 

The approval was put on hold pending formal clearance from the minister who wanted further tests to settle the issue.

There has been strong opposition from RSS-backed organisations and from within the government to the approval given to GM mustard. 

A high-powered panel on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI) in a recently released report said Genetic Engineering is an ‘powerful’ tool for developing future crop, but for now it could be adopted only for non-food crops. For food crops, questions on its safety should be addressed and settled at the earliest before accepting it. 

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