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

GM seeds: the debate, and a sowing agitation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM crops, BT

Mains level : Issues over GM crops

In the current Kharif season, farmers would undertake mass sowing of GM seeds for maize, soybean, mustard brinjal and herbicide-tolerant (Ht) cotton, although these are not approved. Farmers had carried out a similar movement last year, too.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Indian agriculture is in a way, a victim of its own past success – especially the green revolution. Critically comment.

Genetically Modified (GM) seeds

  • Conventional plant breeding involves crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents.
  • Genetic engineering aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects.
  • The alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.

What is the legal position of GM crops in India?

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for the commercial release of GM crops.
  • In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton.
  • More than 95 per cent of the country’s cotton area has since then come under Bt cotton.
  • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act,1989.

GM crops in India

  • Bt cotton, the only GM crop that is allowed in India, has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) that allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.
  • Ht Bt, on the other, cotton is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.
  • In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.

Why are farmers rooting for GM crops?

  • In the case of cotton, farmers cite the high cost of weeding, which goes down considerably if they grow Ht Bt cotton and use glyphosate against weeds.
  • Brinjal growers in Haryana have rooted for Bt brinjal as it reduces the cost of production by cutting down on the use of pesticides.
  • Industry estimates say that of the 4-4.5 crore packets (each weighing 400 gm) of cotton sold in the country, 50 lakh are of the unapproved Ht Bt cotton.
  • Haryana has reported farmers growing Bt brinjal in pockets which had caused a major agitation there.

Why furore over GM crops?

  • Environmentalists argue that the long-lasting effect of GM crops is yet to be studied and thus they should not be released commercially.
  • The genetic modification brings about changes that can be harmful to humans in the long run.
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