Should we grow GM mustard?

Should we grow GM mustard?

Should we grow GM mustard?

India is all about to change the way farmers look at crops. The long pending approval on genetically modified (GM) crop, mustard to begin with, seems to nearing an affirmative end or should we say a beginning. We are one of the biggest producers of mustards. The GM derived crop is likely to yield about 25% more seeds than the normally cultivated ones.

The skeptical lots of people are giving examples of how the decision back in 2010 was unsuccessful when a GM version of brinjal or eggplant was cultivated with bacterial gene that thwarts insect pests. Cotton cultivation has successfully been equipped with the procedure since 2004 and the yield has been more than 90% of what it was earlier. Is it about time when we give GM technology a go with mustard too?


1. Safety reviews: It has been found in the latest reports on the safety review of GM mustards that it does not raise any public health or safety concerns for humans or animals. The issue has long been pending but now that the studies have confirmed that the GM variety will be safe and economically more beneficial, there should be no reason for rejecting the approval.

2. Contents: The GM variety is to be equipped with genes from a soil microbe that manipulate pollen development in a way such that the variety will produce hybrids more easily in the crop that is usually self pollinating. This technique will help in the production of about 25% more seeds than the traditional method and hence more oil could be extracted.

3. Examples: We can go by the example of Canada that produces transgenic version of a crop which is similar to mustard, rapeseed. Other countries like Japan that do not grow transgenic produce are still the biggest importers of these products which are clear example of the consumption safety of the genetically modified versions of edible crops.

4. Catering to the demands: Rising population, more mouths to feed, less development on agricultural front and the biggest of all, poverty – these are the challenges that need a different approach now if they have to be dealt with. In years to come, demands will outgrow production and since we also cater to exporting to other nations, our GDP is bound to see bad days unless we adapt new technologies like the one being talked about.


1. Inadequate studies: The GM variety of edible crop production should be given more time and research before it is applied on products that are highly used in the whole of the country and even exported. Anything going wrong with the safety measures and the outcome of the technique could harm a lot of people and animals.

2. Cautionary note: It is to be noted that even though the safety review of about 133 pages state that the technique is safe and shall not harm humans or animals, there is a cautionary note that says that it could harm honey bees and honey production in the areas where these GM mustards shall be grown. It has warned that insects and other organism of that area should be monitored which clearly shows that the study needs more time.

3. It doesn’t increase yield: It is being said that the report of 25% increase in yield is only a false story being spread in order to lure government and people to support the initiative. The GM variety is simply the hybrid variety where the genes are altered with an alien gene and that does not increase the yield of a product unless more advanced technologies will be implemented to give a tough competition to poor farmers.

4. Challenges: The GM variety of cotton is being rebuked on grounds that the insect was meant to be immune over the years and the crop is being plagued by different variants of pests, leading to a huge rise in the usage of pesticides. All hybrid crops have been known to face this issue where pests increased and so did the usage of pesticides. Is this what we intend to feed the future of our nation?

5. Affecting nearby crops: Protestors are of the view that cultivating GM mustard in a field that is adjacent to the fields of farmers who grow with the traditional organic method will affect them too. The pests will catch up all the nearing fields and they will be forced to use pesticides too. They may lose their certification in the process.

Growing GM mustard does have it pros like higher yield if reports are to be believed but it can also not be ignored that the fund allocated for agricultural research in our country is quite less which could lead to inadequate research and reviews based on incomplete truths and findings. Giving it a few more years of study should not harm the advocates of GM mustard and also ensure people that the cons have been thoroughly considered.
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  • RE: Should we grow GM mustard? -Bhagirath Choudhary (09/19/16)
  • Dear Friends/Colleagues,

    Indian farmers suffer from very low yields in mustard that are as low as 1000 kg per hectare – one third of that in Canada, China and Australia. Around 60 lakh (6 million) farmers grow mustard over 65-70 lakh hectares in Rabi (winter) season in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Ironically, mustard production and yields have remain stagnant for past 20 years. The scientific community attributes two reasons for low mustard production and yield; first, a narrow variability in Indian mustard germplasm and second biotic and abiotic stresses like white rust, alternaria blight, sclerotinia rot and orobanche etc. Farmers continue to suffer from low yield, meagre farm income and loss of opportunity cost due to denial of farm technologies.

    India is a major importer of GE canola (Canadian mustard) oil and GE soybean oil. India has been consuming GE cotton oil produced domestically by our cotton farmers for past 14 years. We consume approx. 50 lakh tons of GE edible oil as cooking oil every year. GE Indian mustard oil is no different from imported GE canola (Canadian mustard) and GE soybean oils. Globally, a quarter of Brassica (mustard/canola) area equivalent to 85 lakh hectares or 24% of total Brassica area of 360 lakh hectares was under genetically engineered varieties in 2015. In a nutshell, GE canola is commercially cultivated over an area equivalent to one and half times the area under mustard in India. Farmers in Australia, Canada and USA have been benefiting from GE canola since 1996. GE technology in Brassica has transformed canola production in Canada, and now constitutes a major export farm produce from Canada.

    Countries growing GE canola dominate the global trade in Brassica grain, edible oil and animal feed. GE technologies are helping their farmers produce more canola grain, oil and feed. Noticeably, GE soybean and GE canola account approx. 104 million tons or 94 % of 110 million tons of global oilseeds trade in soybean and canola; 15 million tons or 22 % of 70 million tons of global edible oil trade and 64 million tons or 80% of 80 million tons of global animal feed trade. Therefore, it is evident that GE soybean and GE canola contribute a major portion of the global trade in edible oilseeds, edible oil and animal feed.

    These countries have approved multiple trait GE canola allowing their farmers to harness the yield potential through hybridization and deploying an efficient weed control system by adopting multiple mode of action weed control system of glyphosate and glufosiante tolerance. More than 90% of their farmers grow multiple trait GE canola and reap a bountiful harvest season after season.

    GE mustard developed by Delhi University South Campus is India’s first state-of-the-art farm innovation that will allow Indian mustard farmers to produce more mustard per unit area. The barnase-barstar technology of GE mustard will accelerate mustard breeding program by both public and private sector resulting in introduction of high-yielding and superior mustard hybrids capable of revolutionizing mustard farming and edible oil production in the country.

    The development of GE mustard is a classic example of India’s scientific capability to harness the science of biotechnology and farm innovation in agriculture. More so, India faces a huge deficit in edible oil production and annually imports approx. 14.5 million tons of edible oil including oil extracted from GE soybean and GE canola. The imported edible oil accounts for over 70% of total edible oil consumption pegged at 20 million tons. Annually, India spends approx. Rupee 78,000 crores (over US$12 billion) on edible oil imports that is growing at double digits to meet the burgeoning domestic requirement. Edible oil import is the third largest Indian import after petroleum and gold. Ironically, we have noticed an increased dependence on imported food such as edible oil, pulses and maize in the recent years. The edible oil deficit will continue to widen with the increase in the population, dietary changes and per capita income. To address this insurmountable challenge, India needs to critically look into ways and means to increase productivity of oilseed crops including mustard, soybean and other important edible oil crops. GE mustard hybrid DMH-11 (Dhara Mustard Hybrid -11) is one of the promising technologies to improve mustard yields in India.

    Those opposing GE mustard are conspiring to stop Indian mustard farmers to become competitive, they are conspiring to keep our farmers poor and they are conspiring to increase India’s dependence on imported GE canola and GE soybean oil. They mislead general people by attacking our scientific community and by demeaning Indian regulatory system of GE crop safety assessment. The truth is India has robust multi-tier and multi-disciplinary regulatory system involving more than 100 external experts drawn mainly from Indian public sector institutions through statutory regulatory committees such as Review Committee for Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) with representatives of AYUSH, ICAR, ICMR and CSIR and Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) comprising of independent external experts and representatives of inter-ministerial departments and institutions. The food and environment safety assessments follow the best practices and parameters similar to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Australian Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), USFDA, USEPA and that of Brazil and South Africa.

    The mustard scientific research community in India has addressed some fallacies propagated by activists and highlighted below some of the important scientific arguments that underpin innovation and reasoning in support of the barnase-barstar technology and GE mustard hybrid DMH-11 that are summarized:
    INCREASING MUSTARD YIELD: the barnase-barstar technology is an important innovation that can improve yield of Indian mustard significantly higher than the present level.

    - EFFICIENT HYBRIDIZATION OF MUSTARD: the barnase-barstar system provides opportunity to produce fully fertile hybrids with enhanced yield levels, reduce hybrid seed production cost and increased farmers’ income.

    - MUSTARD CROSSABILITY: The issue of crossability of GE mustard with the conventional mustard or wild relatives has been overstated and exaggerated to stall the commercial cultivation of this powerful hybridization technology.

    -HERBICIDE TOLERANCE IN MUSTARD: the herbicide tolerance is not a prime target for the barnase-barstar GE mustard hybrid DMH-11. However, all efforts should be directed to develop mustard seeds tolerant to popular herbicides including glyphosate and glufosinate to allow farmers to increase mustard productivity and production in India.

    -NON-TERMINATOR TECHNOLOGY & MALE STERLITY TRAIT IN MUSTARD: the system of male sterility in one of the parents is a fundamental necessity for efficient hybrid seed production irrespective of use of methodologies such as the cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) or the barnase-barstar system. Efforts should be made to ensure that the general public should not be confused with the system of male sterility induced by the barnase-barstar technology with the GURT or terminator technology.

    The barnase-barstar technology and GE mustard hybrid DMH-11, rigorously assessed for biosafety over last decade under the Indian regulatory system is “as safe as conventional mustard” and "does not raise any public health or safety concerns for human beings or animal or environment”. The technical sub-committee of India's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) thoroughly evaluated the safety of GE mustard and released the Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety (AFES) report published in the MOEF&CC website and a full dossire consisting of four volumes (hundred of thousands) page in available at MOEF&CC as ready reckoner.

    GE mustard is developed by Indian scientists to help our farmers overcome production constraints and make them competitive. It will help our country reduce dependence on imported edible oil.

    If you think it is an important step in increasing farmers productivity, you should send your comments to the MOEF&CC at

    You can download additional resources of GE mustard from:
  • RE: Should we grow GM mustard? -Bhoj (09/19/16)
  • GM technology promises to improve production by 25% and has been waiting to get a go since many years. Many countries have been using such technique and others are importing too. India will also follow this lane sooner or later. We have talked about its negativity and harmful affects today, but if it improves yield then it will become a necessity, given the explosive growth in population.