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Mustard seeds, India's first genetically modified food crop

Mustard seeds, India's first genetically modified food crop

NEW DELHI: Genetically modified mustard seeds developed by India will be the country's first GM food crop once environmental approval is granted, experts said on Thursday.

India is streamlining regulations for the development of genome-edited plants, the government said, calling the technology 'promising', as it offered huge economic potential.

The statement came hours after a government panel gave environmental clearance for indigenously developed genetically modified (GM) mustard seeds, experts said.

The world's biggest importer of edible oils, on which it spends tens of billions of dollars a year, India fills more than 70% of its demand from Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and Ukraine.

"I can call it a landmark development," said Deepak Pental, a geneticist and former vice-chancellor of Delhi University, who developed the seeds along with his team, in an effort stretching more than a decade.

The statement came hours after a government panel gave environmental clearance for indigenously developed genetically modified (GM) mustard seeds, experts said.

In a notice, the government confirmed the highest level of clearance yet for the transgenic mustard crop, also known as rapeseed.

"The decision of GEAC recognises the potential of biotechnology to address the issue of India's growing edible oil imports," said Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the non-profit South Asia Biotech Centre.

He was referring to the panel responsible for the clearance, formally known as the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which is part of India's environment ministry.

The move follows lengthy reviews and political indecision.

In 2017, Pental's team came close to getting government approval to grow GM mustard seeds commercially, following years of field trials and the analysis of crop data.

But India sat on the fence, prompted by resistance from activists opposing the use of transgenic technology in farming.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly urged farmers to boost domestic oilseed production so as to achieve self-reliance, a theme he has pursued since coming to power in New Delhi in 2014.

Modi's western home state of Gujarat was at the forefront of efforts to adopt GM cotton seeds during his time as its chief minister.

Since first allowing GM cultivation with genetically modified cotton in 2002, India has not approved any transgenic crop.

But that move helped transform it into the world's No. 1 producer of cotton and its second-largest exporter, as output jumped fourfold.

Many scientists and agricultural experts have called for faster clearance of GM crops as India's farming acreage shrinks because of rapid urbanisation and erratic weather that threatens the output of staple food grains such as rice and wheat.

But conservative politicians and advocacy groups have opposed lab-altered crops, in the belief that GM crops could compromise food safety and biodiversity and pose a health hazard.

Source: Reuters

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