Activists Concerns against GM mustard

Why in News?

  • Experts express concern regarding the recent recommendation of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for approval for the environmental release of genetically engineered (GE) mustard (DMH-11 hybrid) in India. 


  • India’s rising import bill for edible oil: In the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, the country produced just 8.5-9 million tonnes (mt) of edible oil while importing 14-14.5 mt, resulting in a record foreign exchange outflow of $18.99 billion.
  • DMH-11 hybrid: It was developed by genetic modification (GM) by the DU’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) by the process of hybridisation of two alien genes (barnase + barstar) isolated from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens.
  • Hybridisation involves crossing two genetically dissimilar plant varieties that can even be from the same species to have higher yields than what either parent can individually give.
  • DMH-11 is claimed to have shown an average 28% yield increase over the Indian mustard variety ‘Varuna’ in field trials carried out by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
  • In the case of the DMH-11 hybrid, it has recommended the environmental release of DMH-11 for its seed production and testing prior to commercial release.

Concern raised by experts:

  • The potentially harmful long-term ecological and economic consequences of releasing DMH-11.
  • Details of the mandatory trials to ensure food-environmental safety – a prerequisite before environmental release have not been made public.
  • A detailed long-term assessment of the potential social and economic benefits of using DMH-11 remains to be made.
  • Will cause displacement of manual labour engaged in weeding as the GM mustard is weed tolerant.
  • The new system may threaten the population of honey bees as mustard flowers are a source of nectar for honey bees.
  • Disastrous effect of the spread of a herbicide resistance (HT) gene on the normal crop.

What are GM crops?

  • The GM plants involve transgenic technology or introducing a gene from a different species into a plant, for instance BT-cotton, where a gene from soil bacterium is used to protect a plant from pest attack.

Issues surrounding GM Crops:

  • The worry around this method is that these genes may spread to neighboring plants, where such effects are not intended and so their applications have been controversial.

What is Genome Editing?

  • Genome editing involves the use of technologies that allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome.
  • Several approaches to genome editing have been developed.
  • A well-known one is called CRISPR-Cas9, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC):

  • The GEAC functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
  • It is a statutory body notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • As per Rules, 1989, it is responsible for appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.

Overview of the ‘Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Genome Edited Plants, 2022’:

  • These guidelines are applicable to all public/private organisations involved in research, development and handling of Gene Edited Plants
  • Exemption: The researchers who use gene-editing technology to modify the genome of the plant are exempt from seeking approvals from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
  • The final call however is taken by the Environment Minister as well as States where such plants could be cultivated.
  • All requirements that researchers must adhere to develop transgenic seeds will apply to gene-edited seeds except clauses that require permission from the GEAC.

Concerns raised by Environmentalist groups:

  • Environmentalist groups have opposed this exception for gene-edited crops.
  • That say, gene editing is included in genetic engineering. Therefore, there is no question of giving exemptions to particular kinds of genome edited plants from the regulatory purview.
  • Gene editing techniques involve altering the function of genes and can cause “large and unintended consequences” that can change the “toxicity and allergenicity” of plants. “
Share Socially