Even after Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change has put the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) mustard, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 or DMH-11 developed by Delhi University’s (DU) former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental on hold for a few months, more skeletons continue to fall from the cupboard.

Scientists claim that while developing the hybrid, CGCMP has not just gone wrong in many technical steps but also hid important facts like not conducting the field trials in a desired way and not putting results of biosafety trials in public domain.

Scientists and experts alleged that in the entire development of the DMH-11 technology, these agencies have been hand-in-glove with Pental. It is proved by the fact that ICAR conducted the open field trials at ten locations in country in 2005-06 without approval from the GEAC and RCGM. These locations also included the National Research Centre for Rapeseed Mustard (NRCRM), now called Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research (DRMR) at Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

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Pawar said Pental and NDDB should have acknowledged the contribution of NU and use of EH-2 as the male parent. He also insisted that while conducting the BRL-I and BRL-II trials, recently released hybrids like DMH-1 and NRCHB-506 should have been used as checks. “I was involved in conducting multi-location trials of DMH-1, DMH-2 and DMH-11. But DMH-11 never out-yielded the national checks,” said Pawar. He is also demanding that everyone involved in withholding the actual data and not giving proper information to the GEAC should be taken to task. “I congratulate the MoEF and government of India for not accepting the proposal for commercialization of DMH-11 at this stage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Aruna Rodriques, who has been fighting against GM crops, has filed a PIL for contempt of Supreme Court. She is pleading Supreme Court orders of February 15 and May 8, 2007, April 8 and August 12, 2008, were wilfully and deliberately disobeyed by conducting numerous GM field trials of GM Mustard with the aim of introducing a herbicide tolerant (HT) food crop in India.

Rodriques added Pental conducted large-scale open field trials. There was a clear, historically proven risk of contamination from limited BRL-I field trials and there was a huge possibility of contamination from large-scale field trials in BRL II. This, she said, was despite the petitioners having a court order against any contamination in a matter of limited or BRL I field trials.

Rodriques said India was a centre of origin of mustard and there was huge area under the crop here. Mustard is pollinated by wind and insects and the entire mustard crop in India would be contaminated if this new technology was adopted. “Pental has not just hidden the truth, but made statements. This is perjury. He makes claim that DMH-11 provides 25% higher yield than any other variety. He further makes a claim that our import bill for edible oil is astronomical and therefore his mustard is in the national interest because of high yields. These claims are erroneous and misleading,” said Rodriques.

Pental’s hybrid at the most can only be as good as the parent lines he is using. However, in order to show his hybrid as superior, (made using the Barnase-Barstar system) he used a very old and straight variety Varuna for comparison instead of comparing with a hybrid. This Rodriques insisted was a clear fraud. “Our modern varieties and hybrids provide yields comparable to what he has produced. Hence there is no need at all for GM mustard. So there is the huge cover-up and official support to that cover-up by regulators, the ICAR, the Department of Biotechnology or DBT,” she said.

The reason why we have high imports has more to do with low import tariffs on edible oil and toeing the WTO line and thereby disadvantaging Indian oilseed farmers. Until about two decades back India was self-sufficient. “Pental is neither addressing the real problem nor presenting true analysis. He is indulging in mischief instead,” she added.

Interestingly, the reports of All India Coordinated Trials in rape seed mustard  also confirm the claims of scientists and organizations standing against the commercialization of GM mustard. The average yield as per the project report obtained in DMH-11 is 23.9 quintals per hectare which is as good as or even less than those of existing non-GM hybrids used as a national check. Sources also confirmed the claim of scientists and activists that Pental had used a very weak variety (not hybrid) for comparison and his claim of 25% higher yield was spurious.

GM mustard DHM-11 has also received objections and protests from organizations like Coalition for a GM-free India, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, different state governments like Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and deputy CM of Delhi Manish Sisodia have already written to Prakash Javadekar, the union minister for environment, forest and climate change.

However Pental claimed he had followed all rules and regulations stipulated in development of a GM crop and conducting trials. He said the data on biosafety was never to be shared in public domain. It had been given to the right authority, the GEAC. On comparing a hybrid with a straight variety, Pental said those who were raising this question were foolish as he had used the methodology used elsewhere in the world. “Hybrids are always known to outperform a variety. I have just developed a system of hybrid making. It can be used for incorporating other properties like disease resistance in mustard or other crops. I cannot convince the anti-GM lobby as it has its own belief system,” he said.

Mandakini is a bioscience enthusiast and loves to portray a picture of “Science” like never before. Serving as an Editor in Biotecnika she has penned down many interesting news and articles in the past and has also helped in posting just the right job for you. Follow her for more updates in the industry !!