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The government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that genetically modified (GM) mustard was not developed as herbicide-tolerant (HT).
“It is neither necessary nor desirable for a farmer to use herbicides in the cultivation of GM mustard. A crop is referred to as an HT variety if its commercial trait is HT. DMH-11(Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11) is not such a crop since the HT trait in DMH-11 is of no commercial utility,” Attorney General R Venkataramani said in court.
The court has asked all the parties in the case to finish their arguments next week.
Venkataramani said the HT trait in DMH-11 was useful only at the selection event during the development phase and was of no utility during cultivation. Moreover, the use of herbicides by farmers is not permitted in cultivating GM mustard and will attract punitive action under the Environment Protection Act and Central Insecticides Act, he said.
A Bench of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice B V Nagarathna asked Venkataramani: “What are the risks involved?”
In regard to yield, the environmental release is the first step in a long process of evolution of this technology, which will lead to even better hybrids in future, the government said.
“At international level, regulatory authorities in the US, Canada, and Australia have allowed the cultivation of GE rapeseed containing the bar, barnase, and barstar genes. Parental lines and hybrids were released for cultivation in Canada in 1996, the US in 2002, and Australia in 2003,” Venkataramani submitted.
Talking about the conditional approval that pertains to an environmental release before the commercial release and is subject to necessary regulatory and technical oversight, the Centre said the approval had been granted after following detailed and exhaustive procedures in law and after considering biosafety data and rigorous scrutiny over 12 years.
The Centre added the environmental release of GM mustard was granted for limited purposes such as developing new parental lines and hybrids under the supervision of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and for undertaking seed production of GM mustard and its testing in accordance with guidelines of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research.
The Centre has objected to the alleged opposing final reports submitted by the Technical Committee of Experts formed under directions of the Supreme Court in 2012.
Lastly, the Centre said India imported and consumed oil derived from GM crops, and opposition to such technology based on unfounded fears was hurting farmers, consumers and industry.
On October 25 last year, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Union environment ministry approved the environmental release of transgenic mustard hybrid DMH-11 and the parental lines containing barnase, barstar and bar genes so they can be used for developing new hybrids.
The apex court is hearing separate pleas by activist Aruna Rodrigues and NGO Gene Campaign. They are seeking a moratorium on the release of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until there is a comprehensive, transparent and rigorous bio-safety protocol in the public domain, conducted by independent expert bodies.
The results must be made public, according to them.
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First Published: Tue, January 24 2023. 20:38 IST