Apex court concerned over use of GURTs in transgenic mustard
ASHOK B SHARMA Financial Express, Dec 16 2007
NEW DELHI, DEC 15: The Supreme Court on Friday raised concern over the possibility of the deployment of genetic use restrictive technologies (GURTs) by Delhi University in the development of its transgenic mustard crop.
The apex court bench consisting of Chief Justice YK Sabarwal, Justice Thakkar and Justice Ravindran asked the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to asses and report as to whether GURTs had been deployed in the development of the transgenic mustard seeds and as to how they would manage the situation if GURTs were found to be deployed. The GEAC was told to report by mid-January, 2007, the date fixed for the next hearing. The apex court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Aruna Rodgrigues and others seeking a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops. In the PIL, Aruna Rodrigues had drawn the attention of the Supreme Court by suspecting the application of GURTs in the development of the crop.
India, being a signatory to the UN Convention of Biodiversity, is bound by the tenants of the global treaty which discourages the use of terminator technology and GURTs. Terminator technology is a part of GURTs which produces terminator seeds which do not germinate when saved for the next crop season. The country’s law, Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers’ Rights Act, has banned the registration and use of terminator seeds.
The Supreme Court had earlier imposed a ban on the fresh approval of any GM crop for field trials till further orders. However, on October 13, 2006 it made a case of exception by allowing contained field trials of GM mustard, DMH-11 developed by Delhi University. Delhi University had assured that it would follow all biosafety norms and agreed to uproot the crop if the apex court passed such a ruling in the future on account of failure to adhere to the necessary precautions.
In the ongoing PIL, Aruna Rodrigues and others, pointing to health and environmental hazards of GM crops and GURTs, had also cited expert evidences put forth by three leading international specialists namely, Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Centre for Food Safety, Washington; Jack Heinemann, director, Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety in the University of Canterbury and Joe Cummins, professor-emeritus of genetics in the University of Western Ontario.
The petitioners have claimed the Delhi University had suppressed facts about its GM mustard crop, DMH-11. They have said that DMH-11 is not identical to the developed and trial tested Ms8/Rf3 (GM canola crops) in Europe, the US, Canada and Australia as claimed by the Delhi University.
Aruna Rodrigues and others in their affidavit have said that Barnase-Barstar mutations in DHM-11 mustard may be GURTs. "The data in the IA is incomplete. It is not known whether this particular Barnase-Barstar system in the GM mustard is intended to be used as a GURT, which forces the farmer to buy new seed in every planting season or as a tool for making hybrids."
Mustard or brassica juncea is an open pollinating crop which out-crosses pretty well and hence there is a danger of pollen flow from DMH-11 to other crops or wild relatives.