The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex body deciding on genetically modified organisms in the country, has put off a decision on allowing tests to study GM mustard’s impact on the honeybee population.

According to minutes released last week of the GEAC’s 135th meeting, held on July 25, the decision was deferred till the next meeting as two of its members expressed concerns about the protocols submitted by the Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), which developed the transgenic mustard variety. The next meeting of the GEAC is not scheduled as yet.

The July meeting was also the first meeting of a reconstituted GEAC in which many earlier members were replaced by new experts.

CGMCP, in its application submitted to the GEAC, put forward its proposal to undertake studies on honeybees at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana and Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi to establish the biosafety of its transgenic mustard variety — DMH-11 — on the insects that play a key role in the pollination of the oilseed crop as well as in honey production.

In its previous meeting, held in March, the GEAC asked CGMCP to undertake a field demonstration of GM mustard to generate additional data on the crop’s impact on the honeybee population, honey production as well as soil microbial diversity. Environmental activists, who were objecting to the approval of DMH-11, have been arguing that the transgenic variety may be detrimental to the survival of honeybees.

Some GEAC members argued that the developers of the technology submitted the protocols for the field demonstration only three days before the meeting took place in July and hence they didn’t have adequate time to examine them.

The next mustard sowing season commences nearly a month and a half from now. Attempts to contact Deepak Pental, who developed the GM mustard variety, were unsuccessful.

Proposals cleared

Meanwhile, the GEAC approved a proposal by the Bengaluru-based Metahelix Life Sciences Limited, owned by the Tata group, to test several GM “events” (incorporation of a particular package of genetic material in a defined place in the plant genome) in its efforts to create insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant varieties of cotton and maize crops. Similarly, Hyderabad-based Bioseed Research India’s application for permission to conduct event selection trials in its incorporating a gene from the garlic plant to confer resistance against sap-sucking pests in cotton was also approved by the apex body.

The Coalition for a GM-free India said in a statement: “the GEAC continues to ignore evidence that is emerging the world over by continuing to allow hazardous and obsolete technologies worth rejecting. The fact that new GM cotton strains related to resistance to sucking pests and pink bollworm are being experimented upon is an indication of the failure of the hyped Bt science and technology. Basic (post modern) science of pest management understands that these approaches are unsustainable, apart from being hazardous.”

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