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Makes sense for Centre to clear GM Mustard, the first Swadeshi GM crop

Jun 10, 2017

Swadeshi

At the outset, we should congratulate Deepak Pental, for developing GM mustard. It is the first major breakthrough in GM research in India. We should also congratulate GEAC for taking a step forward and recommending the commercialisation of GM mustard after a thorough scientific evaluation. This is the result of twenty years of painstaking scientific experiments and regulatory scrutiny. We are hopeful that the minister of environment and forests will approve its commercialisation based on GEAC’s recommendation. The GM mustard project was funded entirely by the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB)—the largest producer and supplier of Dhara brand edible oil in the country—and the government’s department of biotechnology (DBT).

Mustard is a self-pollinated crop and is difficult to breed for hybrid vigour, thereby, leading to a trap of low yields. This technical difficulty was overcome by Pental and his team of scientists in collaboration with other Brassica research groups of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The technology, called barnase-barstar, is aimed at enhancing heterosis in mustard (Brassica juncea), which will lead to increased yields. In the past, the conventional mustard hybrid production system using Cytoplasmic Male Sterility (CMS), a non-GM method for pollination control, has been used to produce mustard hybrids.

The conventional hybrid system suffers from some limitations, including low purity of hybrid seed, pollen shattering, limitation in different combination and temperature sensitivity. The biotech barnase-barstar system of mustard hybridisation is very versatile and will accelerate the mustard breeding programme in India. The GM mustard hybrid Dhara-11 (DMH-11) significantly out-yields popular mustard varieties. Given how the current yields of 1,000 kg/ha are lower than other countries like Canada and Australia and about 60 lakh mustard farmers in India suffer from lower incomes, the GM technology will help in doubling their incomes and enhancing their livelihoods.

It is important to note that mustard contributes a quarter of total edible oil production in India. The demand-supply gap in edible oils has widened so much that India spends almost Rs 80,000 crore annually on import of edible oils. We currently import more than 50% of our edible requirements. Our imports include GM soybean oil and GM canola oil (a sister crop of mustard—Brassica napus) which we have been consuming for almost two decades. With growing population, this problem of edible oil shortage is expected to go up.