Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Biotechnology
From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important
Prelims Level: BT Cotton
Mains Level: Limitations of GM crops
- A research paper co-authored by leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, which describes Bt cotton as a ‘failure,’ was criticised by India’s Principal Scientific Adviser as ‘deeply flawed’.
BT crops: A big Failure
- The article ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security’ was recently published.
- It is authored by P.C. Kesavan and Prof. Swaminathan, senior functionaries of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).
- The article is a review of crop development in India and transgenic crops — particularly Bt cotton, the stalled Bt brinjal as well as DMH-11, a transgenic mustard hybrid.
- The latter two have been cleared by scientific regulators but not by the Centre.
- It states that the precautionary principle (PP) has been done away with and no science-based and rigorous biosafety protocols and evaluation of GM crops are in place.
- BT crops have failed as a sustainable agriculture technology and have, therefore, also failed to provide livelihood security for cotton farmers who are mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
Why opt GM?
- Conventional GE technology uses genes from soil bacterium to either protect them from specific pests or— as in the case of GE mustard — facilitate hybridization.
- This means making the plant more amenable to developing higher-yielding varieties.
- Swaminathan, credited with leading India’s Green Revolution, has said the government should only use genetic engineering as a last resort.
- He has emphasized that genetic engineering is supplementary and must be need based.
- Only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology.
GM for Abiotic stresses
- Abiotic stresses refer to environmental factors that could meddle with plant yield, as opposed to ‘biotic’ stressors such as insects.
- GE may be deployed to manage against Abiotic stresses.
BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis)
- BT is a soil dwelling bacterium generally used in biopesticide.
- Bt cotton was created through the addition of genes encoding toxin crystals in the Cry group of endotoxin.
- When insects attack and eat the cotton plant the Cry toxins are dissolved due to the high pH level of the insect’s stomach.
- In 2002, a joint venture between Monsanto and Mahyco introduced Bt cotton to India.
- Genetic Engineering appraisal committee (GEAC) is the central agency to allow field trials of BT/GM crops.