science and technology, Indian agriculture cannot prosper

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), at its meeting on October 18, had given the ‘environmental release’ of the genetically modified (GM) mustard DMH-11 its all-clear. Deepak Pental, former vice chancellor of Delhi University (DU) and one of the brains behind DMH-11, in conversation with Sanjeeb Mukherjee, says the approval should pave the way for more such useful GM events in India. DU’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants and the National Dairy Development Board are the joint applicants of GM mustard. Edited excerpts:

Does it mean we need more ‘field trials’?

No, we do not need any more field trials, now that the hybrids have been approved for general release, subject to certain conditions. I think the approvals mean they can be commercialised, diversified, and used in any which way one wishes to.

But GEAC – the biotech regulator – needs to be informed about these. ICAR has a national trial system and we have no hesitation in putting all the material out there. For me, hybrid seeds are always made by companies.

If we take today as a starting date, when can we expect GM mustard hybrids to finally reach farmers? Do you foresee a situation similar to 2017 when approvals were withdrawn?

I don’t think a situation similar to 2017 will happen since all clearances seem to be in place. If we start today and there are no further hiccups, Indian farmers can hope to have GM-based mustard hybrids in two years.

How big is this development of GEAC giving environmental sanction to DMH-11?

This development is significant for me because we have spent so many years trying to convince the government and the country to adopt new technologies. Without science and technology, Indian agriculture cannot prosper. Also, it is good for the crop (mustard) as it will pave the way for more such decisions. I hope to use useful GM technologies.

Do you feel somewhat relieved, now that there’s traction on GM mustard?

I don’t know whether I should feel relieved, but this approval gives one more opportunity to do something in mustard and make more and more productive hybrids of the crop and increase its per-hectare yields, so that every farmer of this country benefits from it. It will also help reduce edible oil imports.

Do you think we have dragged our feet on GM technology and its adoption?

We started this journey in 2002 when the hybrid was first developed. Ideally, it should have been approved by 2005-06. Due to strong opposition from anti-GM lobbyists who have European-type sensibilities, the necessary approvals were held back. In fact, if you see the world over, Japan has opened up to genome editing in a big way. In the European Union, too, it is fast catching up, particularly in Britain. Many countries are accepting these technological innovations that are so vital to farming.

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