Battling the GM Mustard Dilemma

Battling the GM Mustard Dilemma


The Supreme Court of India is currently witnessing an ardent battle between environmentalists and Delhi University over the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) herbicide-tolerant (HT) mustard. This contentious issue has far-reaching implications for Indian farmers and consumers, as GM crops differ significantly from conventional varieties and hybrids.


GS-02 (Government Policies and Intervention) GS-03 (Biotechnology)


  • GM crops
  • Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

Mains Questions

  • What are the key factors that differentiate genetically modified (GM) crops from conventional varieties, and how do these differences impact Indian agriculture? (150 words)
  • Evaluate the regulatory weaknesses highlighted by the Committees and discuss the potential consequences of releasing herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops like GM mustard without adequate precautions. (150 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • GM Crops
  • GM Crops in India – A Controversial Debate
  • A Need for Transparent and Robust Regulation

GM Crops:

  • Definition of GMOs: Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are agricultural plants whose DNA has been altered using genetic engineering techniques, enabling the incorporation of genes from various living organisms to express desired traits.
  • GM crops in India: India has approved only one GM crop for commercial cultivation, which is Bt cotton. This variety was approved in 2002 after being illegally cultivated by many growers in the early 2000s, and it currently accounts for 95% of the cotton-growing area in the country.
  • Other GM crops in India: BT Brinjal, GM-Mustard, and Protato (protein-rich potato).
  • Potential of GM crops: GM technology allows for the introduction of desired traits from any living organism, be it plants or animals, offering possibilities for enhancing agricultural productivity. However, concerns surrounding safety, regulation, and public acceptance continue to influence the pace of GM crop approvals in India.

GM Crops in India – A Controversial Debate

  • Over the past two decades, India has been a battleground of opinions regarding GM crops. Environmentalists, scientists, politicians, farmers, and consumers have all raised valid questions concerning the safety, efficacy, and necessity of genetically modified food.
  • The advent of Bt cotton, the first and only GM crop approved in the country, has been met with mixed results. While some farmers have experienced short-term benefits, it has come at a steep cost in terms of cultivation expenses and risks.
  • Simultaneously, seed companies have profited significantly from the sale of expensive GM seeds.
  • To address the intensifying debate, two Standing Committees of Parliament meticulously examined the subject of GM crops and food. Additionally, the Supreme Court appointed a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) in response to public interest litigations.
  • These two committees, working over a five-year interval, highlighted notable weaknesses in the regulatory framework and strongly advocated for caution before the release of GM food.
  • The Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, and Forests particularly pointed to GM mustard, urging the government to conduct a thorough and transparent assessment of its long-term biosafety, environmental risks, and socio-economic impacts.
  • Five out of the six TEC members also criticized the safety assessment of GM crops, deeming HT crops like GM mustard unsuitable for the Indian context and foreseeing adverse consequences on the environment, rural livelihoods, and sustainable agriculture.

A Need for Transparent and Robust Regulation

  • The convergence of viewpoints among prominent scientists and elected representatives is a compelling case against hasty approval of any HT crop. This convergence effectively refutes the notion that critics of GM crops are anti-development.
  • Consequently, the government must approach the issue of HT crops, particularly GM mustard, with transparency and robustness, emphasizing the importance of precaution.
  • However, the government’s current approach raises serious concerns. Despite provisions of the Right to Information Act and a declaration by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, the government has not made the full biosafety dossier of GM mustard public.
  • Moreover, the government seems dismissive of agricultural scientists’ criticisms, which highlight that non-GM mustard hybrids already available offer superior yields compared to GM mustard.


  • The disregard with which the government is pressing forward, ignoring science-based concerns and opposition, is disconcerting. Attempting to sidestep the growing evidence of long-term ecological and health risks of HT crops, the government argues that GM mustard should not be considered HT since its primary objective is to improve yields. However, the scientific community unequivocally classifies GM mustard as an HT crop, making the government’s argument misleading at best. Such actions not only mock facts and logic but also undermine the constitutional principles of safeguarding public health, protecting the environment, and preserving agricultural livelihoods.
  • The decision on GM mustard’s fate before the Supreme Court holds tremendous significance, as it could set a precedent for the potential release of other HT crops in the future. The future of farming, India’s rich food culture, and agricultural heritage hang in the balance. Therefore, it is imperative for the Supreme Court to thoroughly consider the consequences and uphold the principles of sustainable agriculture and responsible technological advancement, keeping the best interests of Indian farmers and consumers at heart.