India: Suspected terminator technology could end Delhi University's GE-mustard trials
New Delhi -- Monday November 13, 2006
ASHOK B SHARMA
DU’s transgenic mustard crop trials may hit roadblock
NEW DELHI, NOV 12: The Delhi University (DU)’s transgenic mustard crop under limited field trials may have to face difficult times ahead. The petitioners, Aruna Rodrigues and others in the ongoing public interest litigation (PIL) have drawn the attention of the Supreme Court suspecting application of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) in the development of the crop.
GURTs, otherwise known as terminator technology, produces terminator seeds which do not germinate when saved for the next crop season. The Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers’ Rights Act has banned the registration and use of terminator seeds.
The Supreme Court had earlier imposed a ban on fresh approval of any genetically modified (GM) crops 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 the Delhi University. The Delhi University had assured to follow all biosafety norms and agreed to uproot the crop if the apex court passes such a ruling in future on account of failure to adhere to necessary precautions.
Aruna Rodrigues and others, who had earlier filed a PIL urging for a moratorium on GM crops, have now drawn the attention of the apex court citing health and environmental hazards relating to the GM mustard crop.
• Aruna Rodrigues and others in the PIL have drawn the attention of the SC suspecting application of GURTs in the development of the crop
• GURTs produces terminator seeds which do not germinate when saved for the next crop season
They 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 that the Delhi University has 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.
The regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), is deeply concerned over the developments. There are reports of local farmers under the leadership of Bharatiya Kissan Union (BKU) burning Bt rice under field trials in Karnal, Haryana.
The BKU has said that the field trial was conducted without the prior knowledge of the state government, district authorities and panchayats.