Rajasthan probes GM mustard trial

Crop trial centres say steps were taken to avoid contamination

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Sunday 15 April 2012

THE Rajasthan government has initiated an inquiry into the field trials of transgenic mustard conducted without due supervision. The state’s Department of Environment has called a meeting on April 2 to find out how the field trials were undertaken without the knowledge of the State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC), tasked with monitoring such field trials to check GM contamination.

The trials that began in mid-October last year were under way at three centres of Swami Keshwanand Rajasthan Agricultural University in Bikaner despite the state agriculture minister signing a moratorium on field trials of GM crops on February 13 (see ‘Rajasthan bans GM trials’, March 16-31, 2012).

While V S Singh, additional chief secretary of the Department of Environment, says SBCC was not told about the field trials, one wonders why the committee did not inspect the fields even after the trials hogged media headlines in the first week of March.

“SBCC could have started monitoring the fields from the day the media reported about the trials, but it did not,” says Alok Vyas of Cecoedecon, a non-profit in Jaipur that works on sustainable agriculture. This shows lack of commitment from the Rajasthan government and its insensitivity towards GM contamination, he adds. Field trials of the crop in Rajasthan is a major issue as the state grows half of the country’s mustard.

Agriculture scientists involved in the field trials, however, assure that necessary precautions were taken to ensure that the GM crop did not contaminate the environment. B S Sidhu of Agriculture Research Station, Sriganganagar, one of the centres where the field trials were conducted, said, “Sowing was done at our station according to the plan and layout given by Deepak Pental.”

Pental works with the Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants that has developed the transgenic mustard and is conducting field trials for the second year. “The seeds were hand-sown so that agricultural implants did not get contaminated by any leftover seed. The area was cordoned off and we took precautions like wearing head cover, shoe cover and gloves so that no pollen was carried outside the premises,” Sidhu says. He adds that the centre maintains an isolation distance of 50 metres and uses chana as refuge crop. While Sriganganagr centre plans to harvest its mustard by the end of March, the other two centres at Nuagaon and Kumher have harvested the mustard.

Clarifying its stand on GM crops, on March 13 the government issued an order that no trials of GM crops should be conducted in the state until the Centre takes a final decision on the matter.

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