GM Mustard's Push Ignores Scientific Concerns and Legal Prudence

GM Mustard's Push Ignores Scientific Concerns and Legal Prudence
Posted on 20-07-2023

GM Mustard's Push Ignores Scientific Concerns and Legal Prudence


The Supreme Court of India has been witnessing a contentious battle between environmentalists and Delhi University's genetically modified (GM) herbicide-tolerant (HT) mustard, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11). The government's decision to approve the release of this GM food crop has sparked widespread debate, with activists seeking its ban for various reasons.

GM Crops and GM Mustard

GM crops differ significantly from conventional varieties and hybrids, as biotechnologists insert select genes into the DNA of a plant to develop specific traits. For example, GM mustard has been engineered to resist the herbicide glufosinate, facilitating the development of hybrid seeds for higher yields. Farmers growing GM mustard can use the herbicide to control unwanted plants, resulting in potentially increased yields.

GM Mustard - DMH-11

DMH-11, developed by scientists at Delhi University's Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), contains two alien genes from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. These genes, barnase and barstar, enable breeding of hybrids from a wider range of mustards, potentially increasing yields by an average of 28% over traditional varieties.

Evolution of GM Crops in India

India's journey with GM crops began with the release of Bt cotton, a pest-resistant GM version of cotton, in 2002-03. While Bt cotton initially showed some benefits to farmers, it also increased costs and risks. The experience with Bt cotton has raised concerns about the safety and efficacy of GM crops.

Ongoing Debate on GM Crops in India

The debate surrounding GM crops has involved various stakeholders, including environmentalists, scientists, politicians, farmers, consumers, and the judiciary. Some of the concerns raised include potential increases in pesticide use, environmental and health implications, and the impact on sustainable agriculture.

Committees to Examine GM Crops

To address the concerns, two Standing Committees of the Parliament and a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) were appointed to examine GM crops. Both committees identified weaknesses in the regulatory system and called for cautious evaluation before releasing GM food. The TEC, in particular, highlighted serious risks associated with HT crops like GM mustard.

Criticism of GM Mustard by Activists

The government has faced criticism from activists for disregarding science and the law. The full biosafety dossier of GM mustard has not been made public, and the government has been unresponsive to criticisms from agricultural scientists about the superiority of non-GM mustard hybrids. Furthermore, the government's attempt to downplay GM mustard as not being an HT crop has been viewed as misleading.

Way Forward

Considering the overwhelming consensus among experts and lawmakers, the government should approach the issue of HT crops transparently, with a focus on precautionary measures. Instead of misleading the court, the government should address public health, environmental protection, and agricultural livelihoods concerns related to GM mustard. Science-based opposition to GM mustard should be heard, and a fresh deliberation on the matter should be initiated.


The opposition to GM food crops continues to be a significant issue, with ongoing debates on the advantages and disadvantages of GM crops. The outcome of the current battle in the Supreme Court will have implications for Indian farmers and consumers. If GM mustard is approved, it could potentially pave the way for the release of other HT crops in the future, warranting a cautious and science-based approach in the decision-making process.

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