India has approved a domestically-developed genetically modified (GM) mustard/rapeseed for environmental release, paving the way for commercial use in several years, Reuters reports.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), part of India’s environment ministry, gave its clearance following lengthy reviews and political indecision, the 27 October report said.

“I can call it a landmark development,” Deepak Pental, a geneticist and former vice-chancellor of Delhi University, who developed the seeds along with his team, said.

However, the commercial use of GM mustard seeds would take several years, he added.

As one of the world’s biggest importers of edible oils, on which it spends tens of billions of dollars a year, India meets more than 70% of its demand from Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and Ukraine, Reuters wrote.

“The GEAC’s decision recognises the potential of biotechnology to address the issue of India’s growing edible oil imports,” Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the non-profit South Asia Biotech Centre, said.

According to a 31 October report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the GEAC’s approval for the environmental release of GM mustard is initially valid for a period of four years and is renewable for a further two years based on the compliance report’s results.

However, the USDA said the approval remained subject to several conditions, including other statutory clearances and relevant clearances from the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI).

“Local experts report that the process may take at least another two years before the GE mustard seeds are made widely available to farmers for commercial cultivation,” the report said.

Since allowing the cultivation of GM cotton in 2002, India had not approved any transgenic crop, Reuters wrote, with many scientists and agricultural experts calling for faster clearance of GM crops to boost production of staple grains and oilseeds.

However, some politicians and advocacy groups believed GM crops could compromise food safety and biodiversity and pose a health hazard, the report said.