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

Controversial: BT Cotton


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.

Legal Provisions

  • 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

  • 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.
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