GM Crop

What is a GM crop?
A GM or transgenic crop is a plant that has a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology.
  • For example, a GM crop can contain a gene(s) that has been artificially inserted instead of the plant acquiring it through pollination.
  • The resulting plant is said to be “genetically modified” although in reality all crops have been “genetically modified” from their original wild state by domestication, selection, and controlled breeding over long periods of time.
  • India have fourth largest GM crop acreage in world
  • Bt-Cotton was the only GM crop allowed in India. It was later banned by Environment minister.

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
  • GM mustard issue :
    • GM mustard, likely to be the first food-related transgenic crop allowed
    • Critics alleging that such technologies are unfit for human consumption and proponents arguing that such technology is critical for India’s future.
    • The Environment Ministry had also constituted a Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee comprising biotechnologists, ecologists and sociologists to take a call on GM mustard.
    • GEAC has cleared GM Mustard for environmental release and use in farm fields.
    • Now, Environment Minster has to give final approval.
    • The GM mustard, developed by a Delhi University institution, is only the second food crop which got its clearance from the central regulator. The GEAC had earlier in 2010 cleared the Bt Brinjal but the decision was not accepted by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Currently, only Bt Cotton – a non-food GM crop – is commercially cultivated in the country
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.
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)
Why GM cultivation is not in interest of farmers?
  1. Issues like defective seeds, prevalence of GM-resistant pests like pink Bollworm.
  2. Monopoly of few private companies which produces GM Seeds , fertilizers etc. Monsanto Mahyco case where they increased the trait fees to be paid by licensed companies.
  3. conflict of interest. GEAC under Dept. of Biotechnology is a regulator and Dept. itself is promoter. So question of legitimate regulation of the GM crops?
  4. The impact of genetically modified vegetative or sexual parts when they transfer their properties across species. This is concen because it would be disaster it were imparted to Invasive species and weeds.  Foriegn exotic breeds may wipe out local indigenous breeds by actinf as invasive species.
  5. increased costs of seeds, water demands, fertlisers, etc will further indebt farmers, increase NPAs, calls for more subsidy while we wish to move towards organic farming.
  6. Long term health impacts are not known and so there is no market mechanism to differentiate between GM crops and non GM crops, so economics of GM crops doesnot support farmers as of now.
  7. The benefits may again be limited to rich farmers in North and West India, thus furthrr cresting divide amongst the farming community.
  8. No Indianstudy done so far for ascertaining impact of GM crops on large scale and future.
  • Pending BRAI Bill must be taken seriously. 
  • BRAI bill should be passed to avoid conflict of interest in GEAC and MoEF
  • Making public the findings of the GEAC reports on GM crops. 
  • Quarantine facilities for field test
  • Proper safeguards must be put and market mechanism must be involved.

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