Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Challenges and Ambiguities in Biotechnology Policy for GM Insects


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: GM Insects

Mains level: Read the attached story


Central Idea

  • In April 2023, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) issued the ‘Guidelines for Genetically Engineered (GE) Insects’.
  • The guidelines note that GE insects are becoming globally available and are intended to help Indian researchers navigate regulatory requirements.
  • However, the guidelines don’t specify the purposes for which GE insects may be approved in India or how the DBT, as a promoter of biotechnology, envisions their use.

Genetically Modified Insects (GE Insects)

  • A genetically modified insect is any insect whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.
  • GE insects offer multiple benefits, such as reducing disease burden, ensuring food security, and conserving the environment.
  • India’s bioeconomy contribution is expected to reach 5% of GDP by 2030, and GE insects play a crucial role in achieving this goal.
  • GE insects find applications in vector management, crop pest control, healthcare product production, and genetic improvement of beneficial insects.

Guidelines for GM Insects

  • Nodal Agency: The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) is the nodal agency and promoter of biotechnology in India.
  • Purpose: The Guidelines provide procedural roadmaps for those interested in creating GE insects.
  • Harmonization: The guidelines have been harmonized with guidance from the World Health Organization on GE mosquitoes, emphasizing their potential applications in disease control.

Why discuss this?

  • India’s bioeconomy, currently contributing 2.6% to the GDP, aspires to reach 5% by 2030, requiring substantial investment and supportive policies.
  • However, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) faces challenges in both funding and policy alignment with these goals.

Challenges in Biotechnology Funding

  • Stagnating Funding: Biotechnology funding in India has stagnated, with no return to pre-pandemic levels. The current allocation stands at a mere 0.0001% of India’s GDP, insufficient to drive meaningful growth.
  • Impact on Pandemic Preparedness: Inadequate funding hampers pandemic preparedness efforts, undermining national interests and health security.
  • Lack of Private Investment: Attracting private investment for biotechnology research and development is challenging and necessitates enhanced funding efforts.

Policies for a Thriving Bioeconomy

Guidelines for Genetically Engineered (GE) Insects: In April 2023, the DBT released guidelines for GE insects, offering procedural guidance but revealing three key issues.

(1) Uncertainty of Purpose

  • The guidelines lack clarity regarding the purposes for which GE insects may be approved in India, hindering alignment with the broader bioeconomy commitment.
  • Emphasis is placed on improving disease management, food security, and environmental conservation, but the economic potential of GE insects is underemphasized.

(2) Uncertainty for Researchers

  • The guidelines only apply to research and not confined trials or deployment, limiting researchers’ options.
  • Deployment of GE insects requires community engagement and monitoring due to potential environmental impacts, but criteria for approval remain unclear.
  • The absence of clarity on government support for specific insect applications discourages research investment.

(3) Uncertainty of Ambit

  • Ambiguity surrounds the definition of ‘beneficial’ GE insects, creating uncertainty among funders and scientists.
  • Lack of precise guidelines inhibits progress, particularly in a country with limited public and private funding.
  • Inadequate consideration of potential misuse or unintended consequences adds to the uncertainty.

Way forward

  • To achieve the ambitious bioeconomy goals set out in the Bioeconomy 2022 report, India must address challenges in biotechnology funding and policy alignment.
  • Increased funding, private sector engagement, and clear, supportive policies are essential.
  • The guidelines for GE insects should reflect economic opportunities and research priorities, fostering a thriving bioeconomy that benefits India’s society, economy, and environment.

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