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

India’s GM crop revolution and the controversy over GM mustard


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: GMO, GM crops, Advantages and Disadvantages.

Mains level: GM mustard debate



  • As soon as the government took the decision to release India’s first genetically-modified (GM) food crop Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) for “environment release”, some activists approached the Supreme Court to ban it for various reasons. The Supreme Court has ordered the status quo to be maintained till the next hearing on the matter on November 17.

What are Genetically modified organisms (GMO)?

  • Changes in genetic material: GMOs can be defined as organisms (i.e., plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination
  • Transfers of genes: It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species.
  • GM foods: Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods


What is the ironic case of opposition to the GM crops?

  • Opposition to GM is not new: The opposition to GM food crops is not new. There has been a global campaign in this regard by many activists. GM crops have spread around the world since 1996.
  • of countries accepted the use of GM crops: More than 70 countries have accepted the use of GM crops. For instance, by 2019, roughly 190 million hectares were under GM crops, led by corn and soyabean in the US, Brazil, Argentina, and canola (rapeseed/mustard) in Canada, even Bangladesh has marched ahead with Bt brinjal.
  • No concrete evidence of harmful impact: There is ample evidence in support of that with no harmful impact on human or animal health or the environment per se.

India’s journey towards GM crops, specifically “Bt cotton”

  • First GM crop released under Vajpayee government with the slogan of Jai Vigyan:
  • Atal Bihar Vajpayee envisioned that science could transform agriculture
  • India had its first GM crop, Bt cotton, released in 2002 by the Vajpayee government. He extended the original slogan of “jai jawan, jai kisan” (salutation to the soldier and the farmer), given by Lal Bahadur Shastri, to include “jai vigyan” (salutation to science).
  • The case of Historic success of Bt cotton:
  1. Cotton production Increased: With the Bt cotton, Cotton production increased remarkably from a mere 13.6 million bales (1 bale = 170 kg) in 2002-03 to 39.8 million bales in 2013-14. Registered an increase of 192 per cent in just 12 years, ushering the famous “gene revolution”.
  2. Area under Cotton cultivation expanded: The area under cotton cultivation expanded by 56 per cent, of which about 95 per cent is under Bt cotton.
  3. Cotton productivity per hectare increased significantly: Cotton productivity increased from 302 kg per hectare in 2002-03 to 566 kg per hectare in 2013-14, an increase of 76 per cent,
  4. More productivity more income to farmers lead to increase in agri- GDP: The gains to cotton farmers whose incomes increased significantly. For instance, Bt cotton led Gujarat’s “agrarian miracle” of very high (above 8 per cent) annual growth rate in agri-GDP during 2002-03 to 2013-14.
  5. Revived the glory to The Indian cotton in the world market: It made India the second-largest producer after China, and the second-largest exporter after the US, of cotton in the world today.

What are the concerns associated with the cultivation of GM crops?

  • Emergence of Increased pest resistance: Enhanced sucking pest damage in Bt cotton; increase in secondary pests such as mired bugs and Spodoptera; and the emergence of pest resistance.
  • Impact on environment of human health: Environmental and health implications in terms of toxicity and allergenicity that can cause hematotoxin reactions in the human body.
  • Fear of increased mono cropping: Farmers’ exposure to a greater risk of monopoly in the seed business.


What is the controversy and debate associated with GM Mustard?

  • Debate on advantages and impacts: There is a raging debate going on advantages and disadvantages of GMOs. For a long time, further study was requested by farmers, environmentalist on GMO crops.
  • Denial goes against the principle of basic rights of farmers: By not allowing GM mustard or for that matter even Bt brinjal for so long, one is denying the basic rights of farmers who want to increase their incomes.
  • Allow with the sustainable practice with the use of science and technology: The best way to do so is by raising productivity in a sustainable manner. The field trials of GM mustard at different locations showed 25-28 per cent higher yield and better disease resistance compared to indigenous varieties. This can go a long way in augmenting domestic mustard oil supplies and farmers’ incomes.
  • Unnecessary debate after the approval by the scientific body: Dissent is a good sign in any democratic society and forms an essential part of checks and balances. But once the safety tests are done and the scientific body (GEAC) has given the green signal, what is needed is political leadership to keep the decision-making science-based.


Why GM Mustard is important for India?

  • India’s heavy dependence on Imported edible oils: India heavily depends on imported edible oils (55-60 per cent of India’s domestic requirement is imported). A large portion of this about three-four million tonnes every year comes from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the US, etc, which is all from GM technology (in soybean and canola).
  • Import and GM crops are already in our food chain: We eat plenty of our own cotton seed (binola) oil, and about 95 per cent of our cotton is now GM. Cotton seed is also fed to cattle which gives the milk its fat content. Even poultry feed, such as soya and corn, is being imported. So, one thing is clear GM food is already in our food chain, and has been there for quite some time.
  • A chance to emerge as a major export hub: It was expected that India would be at the forefront of the gene revolution and emerge as a major export hub to other Asian and African countries. What the IT revolution has done in computer science, the Bt revolution could have done in agriculture.


  • The agriculture of tomorrow is going to be science-based, and the winners will be those who adopt it and develop it further today. Innovation is the name of the game, and “Jai Anusandhan” is a good slogan given by PM Modi. But it will have meaning only when the government goes ahead with not just GM mustard but also fast-tracks Ht Bt cotton, Bt brinjal, and even GM soya and corn.

Mains Question

Q. What are GM crops? With policy paralysis in the case of GM mustard, India may not be able to keep pace with the success of Bt cotton. Critically analyse.

Click and Get your FREE copy of Current Affairs Micro notes

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch