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Critical to cut edible oil imports — Modi govt makes strong pitch for GM mustard in SC

In an affidavit filed before Supreme Court, environment ministry has said domestic production of GM Mustard will reduce India’s dependency on other countries to meet domestic demand.

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New Delhi: Defending the clearance given last month to the environmental release of Genetically Modified (GM) Mustard, the central government told the Supreme Court that the deployment of GM Mustard hybrids will contribute to India’s self-sustenance in the production of edible oil and shall go a long way in realising the vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”. To oppose it, the government added, will hurt farmers, consumers and industry.

In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) said that domestic production of GM Mustard will reduce India’s dependency on other countries from where it is importing large quantities of edible oil to meet domestic demand.

On 3 November, a bench of justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sudhanshu Dhulia had sought a response to an application seeking moratorium on the release of GM Mustard even as the Centre assured there will be no “precipitative action”. The affidavit filed Thursday is in response to this court order.

At present, India meets nearly 55-60 per cent of its edible oil demand through imports, the affidavit mentioned.

Incidentally, it submitted, the imported edible oil is from GM oilseeds. For instance, India imports about 55,000 MT of canola oil largely from GM canola seeds. Similarly, nearly 2.8 lakh tonnes of soybean oil is being imported annually, again largely comprising GM soybean oil.

“Most exporting countries such as Argentina, USA, Brazil and Canada cultivate GM soybean. Globally, around 80 per cent of soybean growing is GM soybean,” the MoEFCC document said.

“Mustard is the most important edible oil and seed meal crop of India, grown in around 8-9 million hectares of land. Seed replacement (farmer buying fresh seed) rates are around 63 per cent and area under irrigation has increased to 83 per cent of the total area under mustard. Despite all these investments, yields of mustard are stagnating,” the affidavit said.

However, the present rate of edible oil consumption in India surpasses the domestic production rate, owing to which India is constantly importing edible oil. But the average prices of refined palm oil, refined soy oil and mustard oil have been continuously increasing due to which India needs to be independent in oil production to meet the domestic consumption demand, the affidavit added.

In this scenario, to oppose introduction of such technology in the agricultural sector, particularly when India is importing and consuming oil derived from GM crops, would only hurt farmers, consumers and the industry, the ministry has claimed.

“Increased edible oil prices will also lead to inflation in the Indian economy. An agricultural reform like growing GM oilseed crops like mustard will be useful,” asserted the affidavit, while underlining Centre’s commitment to improve “farm productivity in oilseeds and grain legumes with an explicit goal of making the country Aatmanirbhar in edible oils and grain legumes.”

Also read: Indian scientists say GM mustard will help boost crop yields, cut vegetable oil imports

‘Conditional approval to GM Mustard after exhaustive regulatory review process’

The application seeking moratorium on the release of GM Mustard was moved by activists led by Aruna Rodrigues, who filed a petition in 2016 and then in 2021 opposing open-field trials or commercial release of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops, including GM Mustard. The court was informed that a committee of experts formed by the top court in 2012, called the technical expert committee (TEC) had recommended a total ban on all HT crops.

Sharing extensive details of the regulatory mechanism operating to monitor GM crops, the government provided an insight into the decision-making process for GM Mustard. As per the government document, a 3,251-page dossier containing results of all bio-safety studies was submitted to the Genetically Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in 2015, following which a thorough examination was done by the GEAC and its sub-committees prior to the clearance.

The application for environmental release of GM Mustard was considered only after the applicant completed three years of trial, as required under the regulatory regime.

“The conditional approval has been made after a long and exhaustive regulatory review process which commences as far back as in 2010. This conditional approval pertains to an environmental release prior to commercial release and is subject to necessary regulatory and technical oversight,” the affidavit said, as it provided year-wise development of the GM Mustard project.

Even the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA) made a presentation to the members of GEAC, with a request to approve GM Mustard in India, as “this technology confers additional yield of 30 per cent and also saves huge money through import substitution and also benefits the farmers by providing additional income,” the affidavit said.

However, in case there is any evidence regarding harmful effects of the approved GM Mustard, the approval can be revoked on the ground of non-compliance of any condition stipulated by the GEAC.

(Edited by V.S. Chandrasekar)

Also read: Why India banned export of broken rice & could more curbs be in the offing


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