Even as the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the matter regarding ‘environmental release’ of the country’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop, several farmer leaders have sought the intervention of the prime minister to stop field trials of GM-Mustard variety DMH-11 and also withdrawal of the government approval.

“We strongly oppose this, and urge you to take these points into consideration, to stop and reject the approval of the GM Mustard and all other GM field trials. In doing so you avoid the irreparable damage that GMOs will cause to our diversity, soil, food and the environment,” according to a joint letter signed by Yudhvir Singh and Rakesh Tikait of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), Atul Kumar Anjan of All India Kisan Sabha, Rampal Jat of Kissan Mahapanchayat and Jogender Singh Ugrahan of BKU (Ekta) among others.

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These leaders have said that India is nearly self-sufficient when it comes to supply-demand of mustard as edible oil consumption in the country is region-specific.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, last month approved the “environmental release” of DMH-11, paving way for its commercial release in due course. However, the Supreme Court admitted a petition filed by Gene Campaign and Aruna Rodrigues, challenging the nod and asked the government to file an affidavit, which has since been filed.

The Centre has told the apex court that its permission for “environmental release” of genetically modified (GM) mustard is subject to “stringent terms and conditions to ensure environmental safeguards” of the country. The government has discounted the fears over honey bees being affected by the genetic variety.

In an elaborate counter against the writs, the Centre said seed production and testing will require three seasons unless otherwise decided by ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) before the (GM mustard) seeds are made available to farmers.

Briefing media on Monday, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India alleged: “we can list at least five areas where the government has submitted incorrect information to the Supreme Court (through the affidavit).” The Supreme Court is likely to hear the matter on Tuesday.

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She pointed out that according to the government the Court’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC) was a divided house, whereas a major unanimous recommendation of the panel was on ban on Herbicide Tolerant crops. She said whether a crop is herbicide tolerant or not should be based on what genes get inserted and what new traits has the plant acquired, and not by how the applicant describes the plant. “As both the parental lines of DMH-11, the HT hybrid also carries bar gene, they will produce nothing but HT progeny,” she claimed.