Genetically Modified (GM) Crop – UPSC GS3

What is a GM crop?
  • Genetically Modified(GM) Crop involves the editing of genes of a crop in such a way that it incorporates beneficial traits from another crop or organism.
  • This could mean changing the way the plant grows, or making it resistant to a particular disease.
GM Crops in India:
  • Bt cotton is the only GM crop that is allowed in India. It has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.
  • Ht Bt Cotton is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.
  • In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.
  • In DMH-11 mustard, genetic modification allows cross-pollination in a crop that self-pollinates in nature.
Potential benefits of GM plants:
  • Higher crop yields.
  • Reduced farm costs.
  • Increased farm profit.
  • Improvement in health and the environment.
  • With the challenges like malnutrition, agriculture sustainability ,sustainable development ,food security debates & goals like zero hunger by 2030, GM pulses looks a promising solution as they are rich in Nutrients (including Micro nutrients ) , drought resistance and give more produce .
  • Enhancing production and thus lessening demand supply gap.
  • Our import bills will lessen.
  • Many GM crops are already in place in the West like for cattle feed, we also have GM cotton.
  • Economic survey suggests introduction of GM crops.
Potential risks:
  • The danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in foods.
  • There is no clarity about impact of GM crops on human health and environment. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this. It is also argued that once GM crops are introduced risks outweigh benefits. Also, the technology is irreversible and uncontrollable
  • The likelihood of transgenes escaping from cultivated crops into wild relatives.
  • The potential for pests to evolve resistance to the toxins produced by GM crops.
  • The risk of these toxins affecting non target organisms.
  • Seed makers charging high prices for instance Monsanto (maker of BT cotton seed) demands 30% royalty. It withdrew its plan to introduce advanced version of Bt-Cotton when government put a cap on seed prices.
Recent incidents:
  • Whitefly attack on Bt-cotton ruined 70% cotton crop in Punjab, Haryana (Prelims)
  • Pink bollworm in Gujarat
Reasons why govt. is reluctant toward allowing GM crops:
  1. GM crops require more water, fertilizers unlike what they are always advertised to.
  2. GM crops harms bees and other small insects which helps in pollination along with harmful insects.
  3. Bt. Brinjal and Bt. Cotton had shown many side-effects in past.
  4. Expensive seeds
  5. New seeds are needed every year (Farmer cannot use his produce as seeds as they don’t grow. Traditional crops can be used as seeds)
What needs to be done?
  • A precautionary approach towards any open release of GMOs is necessary.
  • India has mega biodiversity hotspots like the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats which are rich in biodiversity yet ecologically very sensitive. Hence it is necessary to be careful before introducing GM crops in these sensitive areas.
  • Field trials in India, in which the State governments have a say, must ensure that there are sufficient safeguards against such violations.
  • If GM food is allowed to be sold to consumers, they must have the right to know what they are buying, and labelling should be made mandatory.
  • A strong regulatory authority should also be established for overseeing matters related to GM crops.
Legislation in India Related to Genetically Modified Organisms
  • In India, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and the products thereof are regulated under the Rules for the manufacture, use, import, export & storage of hazardous microorganisms, genetically engineered organisms or cells, 1989 (referred to as Rules, 1989) notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The Rules, 1989 are supported by a series of guidelines on contained research, biologics, confined field trials, food safety assessment, environmental risk assessment etc.
  • These rules are very broad in scope essentially covering the entire spectrum of activities involving GMOs and products thereof.
  • They also apply to any substances, products, and food stuffs, etc.
  • New gene technologies apart from genetic engineering have also been included.
  • Rules, 1989 are implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) jointly with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science & Technology and state governments.
  • Six Competent Authorities and their composition have been notified under these Rules that include:
    • rDNA Advisory Committee (RDAC)
    • Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBSC)
    • Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM)
    • Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)
    • State Biotechnology Coordination committee (SBCC)
    • District Level Committee (DLC)
  • While the RDAC is advisory in function, the IBSC, RCGM, and GEAC are responsible for regulating function. SBCC and DLC are for monitoring purposes.
Indian Initiatives Related to GMOs:
  • Indian GMO Research Information System : It is a database on activities involving the use of GMOs and products thereof in India.
  • The primary purpose of this website is to make available objective and realistic scientific information relating to GMOs and products thereof under research and commercial use to all stakeholders including scientists, regulators, industry and the public in general. It is also expected to promote collaborations and avoid duplication of work.
  • India is also a signatory of Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by Living Modified Organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.
Why is it argued that GM cultivation is not in the interest of farmers in India? Do you agree with the other view that cultivation of GM pulses would ensure food security? Comment. (200 Words)
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