Centre’s response on GM mustard proves regulatory violations, claim activists

Environment ministry releases response to Coalition of GM-free India’s allegations over environmental approval to GM crop

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Monday 09 January 2023
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

The Coalition for a GM-free India, a pan-Indian citizen’s platform, has claimed the Union environment ministry’s response to allegations over violating statutory regulations to approve genetically modified (GM) mustard were evidence that due procedures were not followed. 

The coalition, a group of farmers, activists, researchers and scientists, has locked horns with the Union government, demanding adequate information on the grounds for the approval of the controversial Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11), which received the nod October 18, 2022. 

There were 15 instances where the Union government compromised on appraising and approving the GM mustard, the coalition claimed January 6, 2023. 

Read more: No GM Mustard for now; Centre puts commercial release on hold following protests

A response by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on GM mustard was released on a plain document without letterhead and authorised signatures January 7, 2023, the coalition claimed in a press statement. 

“MoEF&CC is digging itself deeper into the regulatory muck and obfuscation surrounding GM mustard with its unscientific and disingenuous responses,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, a coalition member. 

The safety studies listed in the ministry response indicated the presence of three proteins, Kuruganti cited as an example. It said the parental lines with independent proteins were not tested separately like the GM hybrid crops.

“The ministry response also admits to many other points made by the coalition through evasive and unconnected responses. It is clear that the public response to our report on the Indian government’s falsehoods has provided accurate information to the citizens of India. We hope the government will not mislead the court in the next hearing at least,” she said.

Tests during Bt brinjal trials were not performed while clearing approvals for GM mustard, said the MoEF&CC response, the press statement by the coalition further claimed. 

Tests like acute oral toxicity study in rats, mucous membrane irritation test in female rabbits, primary skin irritation test in rabbits, assessment of allergenicity of protein extract using brown Norway rats and response on growth performance of common carp with Bt brinjal as a dietary feed ingredient were conducted for Bt brinjal but not for GM mustard, the coalition said. 

Chemical fingerprinting of alkaloids, subchronic feeding studies using New Zealand white rabbit, effect on performance and health of broiler chickens, sub-chronic feeding studies in goats and feeding studies in lactating crossbred dairy cows were also left out, it claimed.

The health expert was also absent while appraising GM mustard, the coalition said. “MoEF&CC admitted that Dr B Sesikeran was not present in the three sub-committee meetings held in 2016. Moreover, no health expert was nominated for the same,” the coalition alleged.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) representative was not present even on October 18, the day when environmental clearance for GM mustard was granted, it added. 

The ministry response further admits the absence of herbicide-tolerant (HT) crop testing guidelines and protocols in India, in addition to the fact that parental lines had been passed without undergoing the tests for GM crops, the activists further said. 

Read more: Ahead of SC hearing on GM mustard, activists accuse Centre of misleading apex court

“MoEF&CC response shied away from stating the tests undertaken only on parental lines and gave a list of tests done on parental lines and DMH-11. The list also shows that tests were with three proteins, which means the hybrid offspring were tested. Parental lines have two proteins each, different from each other,” the statement alleged. 

This itself is an avoidance of the response needed on this point and admits to the accuracy of the coalition’s evidence on the matter, the statement by the group added.

The ministry response stated the conditional environmental release is primarily for producing new lines, seed production and testing, which is to be done under the guidelines of the confined field trials. This violates the regulations for the environmental release, the statement further said. 

“Any planting of GMOs in any state requires a state government no-objection certificate, which has not been procured by the respective state governments. In the case of Bt brinjal, MoEF&CC then wrote to the chief ministers of all states to elicit their views and analysis. The coalition was right in pointing out that the approval of GM mustard is against the letter and spirit of India’s constitution,” Kuruganti said. 

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