Amidst acrimonious debate over the safety of genetically modified (GM) food crops, India’s top biotechnology regulator last week declared a transgenic mustard plant “safe for consumption.” Moving the plant into farmers’ fields is now a political decision in the hands of India’s environment minister, who may wait until the Supreme Court of India resolves several long-pending related cases.
The GM mustard has been under development for almost a decade. A report assessing the plant’s risks was released a year ago, drawing some 700 comments that were reviewed by the Ministry of Environment’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). The report concluded the mustard was safe and nutritious, and GEAC chair Amita Prasad in New Delhi says the commission unanimously agreed on 11 May to recommend allowing farmers to plant the crop for the next 4 years. The final decision will be made by Environment Minister Anil Dave.
The GM mustard was developed with public funding by plant scientist Deepak Pental of the University of Delhi. His team introduced several genes from a soil bacterium, Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, into the mustard to facilitate hybridization. Mustard is largely a self-pollinating crop and creating high-yield hybrids has been cumbersome.