From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : BT Cotton
Mains level : Hazards of GM Crops
Farmers opt for unapproved variety
- Last week, a group of more than 1,000 farmers gathered in a village in Akola of Maharashtra to sow seeds of an unapproved variety of cotton.
- For defying its regulations the government is now investigating what was planted.
- The farmers in Akola planted a herbicide-tolerant variety of Bt cotton.
- This variety (HtBt) involves the addition of another gene, ‘Cp4-Epsps’ from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens. It is not cleared by GEAC.
- The farmers claim that the HtBt variety can withstand the spray of glyphosate, a herbicide that is used to remove weeds, and thus it substantially saves them de-weeding costs.
- Farmers spend around Rs 3,000-5,000 per acre for de-weeding. Along with the uncertainty in finding labour, de-weeding threatens economic viability of their crops, they say.
It’s a concern. Why?
- Genetic changes made in a plant can make it unsafe for consumption, have adverse impacts on human or animal health, or introduce problems in the soil or neighbouring crops.
- There is an elaborate process of tests and field trials to be followed.
- Critics of GM technology argue that some traits of genes start expressing themselves only after several generations, and thus one can never be sure about their safety.
- Legally, sale, storage, transportation and usage of unapproved GM seeds is a punishable offence under the Rules of Environmental Protection Act 1989.
- Also, sale of unapproved seeds can attract action under the Seed Act of 1966 and the Cotton Act of 1957.
- The Environmental Protection Act provides for a jail term of five years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for violation of its provisions, and cases can be filed under the other two Acts.
- Farmers who assembled in Akola alleged that the HtBt variety is being surreptitiously used by farmers across the country, smuggled from abroad.
- Bt cotton remains the only GM crop allowed to be cultivated in the country.
- Developed by US giant Bayer-Monsanto, it involves insertion of two genes viz ‘Cry1Ab’ and ‘Cry2Bc’ from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into cotton seeds.
- This modification codes the plant to produce protein toxic to Heliothis bollworm (pink bollworm) thus making it resistant to their attack.
- The commercial release of this hybrid was sanctioned by the government in 2002.
Approval in India
- In India, it is the responsibility of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the MoEFCC to assess the safety of a genetically modified plant, and decide whether it is fit for cultivation.
- The GEAC comprises experts and government representatives, and a decision it takes has to be approved by the Environment Minister before any crop is allowed for cultivation.
- Besides Bt cotton, the GEAC has cleared two other genetically modified crops — brinjal and mustard — but these have not received the consent of the MoEFCC.