On a fenced plot not far from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home, a field of mustard is in full yellow bloom, representing his government’s reversal of an effective ban on field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops.
The GM mustard planted in the half-acre field in the grounds of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi is in the final stage of trials before the variety is allowed to be sold commercially, and that could come within two years, scientists associated with the project say.
India placed a moratorium on GM eggplant in 2010 fearing the effect of genetic modification on food safety and biodiversity. Field trials of other GM crops were not formally halted, but the regulatory system was brought to a deadlock.
But allowing GM crops is critical to Modi’s goal of boosting dismal farm productivity in India, where urbanization is devouring arable land and population growth will mean there are 1.5 billion mouths to feed by 2030 — more even than China.
Starting in August last year, his government resumed the field trials for selected crops with little publicity.
“Field trials are already on because our mandate is to find out a scientific review, a scientific evaluation,” Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters last week.
The trials of the mustard plant are being led by Delhi University researchers headed by Deepak Pental. He has developed a transgenic mustard strain that raises output by up to 30 percent.
“The (federal) government is, for a change, being decisive,” Pental said.
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