The Coalition for GM-Free India, along with independent scientist Sharad Pawar, claimed on Thursday that the testing for the genetically-modified mustard variety, being considered for commercial relea
The Coalition for GM-Free India, along with independent scientist Sharad Pawar, claimed on Thursday that the testing for the genetically-modified mustard variety, being considered for commercial release in India by the Central regulatory body called Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, was rigged unscientifically to show increased yield of 30 per cent. However, these claims were dismissed as inaccurate and bitter allegations by Dr Deepak Pental, the developer of this hybrid. Addressing a press conference, Dr Pawar pointed out that the GM hybrid DMH-11, developed by Delhi University’s Dr Pental with funding from the National Dairy Development Board and department of biotechnology, has been compared with variety Varuna and RL 1359, which were released in 1976 and 1987 respectively, to show an increase in yield. According to the mandate of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, the comparator must be one that is the latest, and has been released in the last 2-3 years. The coalition showed DMH-11 hybrid yield has not been compared with the recommended hybrids. By doing this, Dr Pental has been able to show 30 per cent increase in yield, claimed Dr Pawar and called this a “scientific fraud of the first order”.
Dr Pental, in an emailed reply, claimed DMH-11 out-yielded regional checks by around 37 per cent. He insisted that the main issue is biosafety of the hybrid seed production system — based on the bar, barnase, barstar genes. He added that Varuna had to be included for biosafety analysis. “As predicted earlier — distortion of facts continues. It seems NGOs are getting desperate and taking recourse to even bigger lies. All their submission in the press-conference is a bunch of lies and distortion of facts,” Dr Pental said. He went on to claim that Dr Pawar, who was associated with the mustard research programme while he was on the advisory committee of the NDDB, was “bitter” about the end of his tenure as an adviser at the NDDB.
Dr Pental added that the trials were conducted by ICAR. “We could not have rigged the data. This accusation itself shows how desperate some parties are to stop the GM technology for hybrid seed production in mustard,” he said.
According to comparisons done by the coalition, based on data from all India coordinated research projects on rapeseed and mustard, the yield potential of at least six varieties and hybrids is 10-27 per cent more than that of DMH-11.
The coalition questioned why these are not being promoted if the only parameter for introducing GM mustard, which has negative health and environmental impacts, is to bring down India’s oilseed import bill. Dr Pental claimed this comparison with other varieties is mischievous and scientifically invalid.
The coalition also claimed GEAC decisions on trials for DMH-11 were different from the actual permissions granted to Dr Pental, and the trial protocols adopted were ultimately different. “It should be clear now why data and test results have to be shared at all stages,” Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convenor of the coalition, told the media.