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

Transgenic Crops in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Transgenic Cotton

Mains level: GM crops and issues

transgenic crop

Central Idea

  • The states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Telangana in India have deferred a proposal to test a new type of transgenic cotton seed.
  • This proposal had been approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the central government.
  • The deferral of the proposal by these states indicates that the broader acceptance of genetically modified crops, including transgenic cotton, remains challenging to achieve in India.

What are Transgenic Crops?

  • Transgenic crops, also known as genetically modified (GM) crops or genetically engineered (GE) crops, are plants that have been modified through genetic engineering techniques.
  • These techniques involve the introduction of specific genes from one organism into the genetic material of another organism, resulting in the expression of new traits or characteristics in the modified crop.
  • The introduction of transgenic technology allows scientists to selectively transfer desirable genes into crop plants to impart beneficial traits such as:
  1. Pest Resistance: Genes from naturally pest-resistant organisms can be inserted into crops to make them resistant to specific pests or insects.
  2. Disease Resistance: Genes conferring resistance to diseases can be introduced into crops to enhance their ability to withstand infections caused by viral, bacterial, or fungal pathogens.
  3. Herbicide Tolerance: Transgenic crops can be engineered to tolerate specific herbicides, allowing farmers to effectively control weeds without harming the crop.
  4. Improved Nutritional Content: Genetic engineering techniques can be employed to enhance the nutritional profile of crops by increasing the levels of essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, or proteins.
  5. Abiotic Stress Tolerance: Transgenic crops can be engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, salinity, or extreme temperatures.
  6. Extended Shelf Life: Such crops have extended shelf life or resistance to spoilage, thereby reducing food waste and increasing marketability.

Transgenic Crops in India

  • Cotton: Cotton is currently the only transgenic crop being commercially cultivated in India. It contains a gene called Cry2Ai, which is believed to confer resistance against the American pink bollworm, a significant pest affecting cotton crops.
  • Other Crops in Trials: Apart from cotton, there are several other crops in various stages of trials using transgenic technology. These include brinjal (eggplant), tomato, maize (corn), and chickpea. These crops are being developed with traits such as insect resistance, disease resistance, and improved nutritional content.
  • Mustard Hybrid DMH-11: The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) approved the environmental release of Mustard hybrid DMH-11 and its parental lines for seed production and testing. This transgenic mustard variety is awaiting final clearance.

Regulation Process in India

  • Safety Assessments: Transgenic crops go through rigorous safety assessments conducted by committees before they are approved for further testing. These assessments evaluate the potential environmental, health, and socioeconomic impacts of genetically modified crops.
  • Confined Trials: After safety assessments, transgenic crops undergo confined trials in controlled environments. These trials are conducted at agricultural universities or plots controlled by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). The aim is to assess the performance, agronomic traits, and potential risks associated with transgenic crops.
  • Open Field Trials: Upon successful confined trials, transgenic crops can proceed to open field trials. These trials are conducted over multiple crop seasons and in different geographical regions to evaluate the performance of the crops under diverse environmental conditions.
  • Comparative Evaluation: Transgenic crops can seek commercial clearance only if they demonstrate superiority over comparable non-GM varieties in terms of desired traits, such as resistance to pests, diseases, or drought, without causing harm to the environment or other cultivated species.

Issues in Acceptance of Transgenic Crops

  • Public Perception and Opposition: The acceptance of genetically modified crops continues to be elusive in India due to concerns raised by activists, farmers, and consumer groups regarding the safety, environmental impact, and long-term consequences of GM crops.
  • Legal and Regulatory Framework: The litigation in the Supreme Court regarding the approval and cultivation of transgenic crops adds complexity to the regulatory framework. The decision-making process involves multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, scientists, activists, and judicial authorities.
  • State-Level Approvals: Agriculture being a state subject, companies interested in testing transgenic seeds often require approvals from the respective states. Varying attitudes and policies towards GM crops among states can create challenges and inconsistencies in the regulatory process.
  • Ecological Impact and Biodiversity: Critics argue that the release of transgenic crops into the environment may have unintended ecological consequences, such as the potential harm to non-target organisms, disruption of ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity.
  • Socioeconomic Implications: The adoption of transgenic crops may have socioeconomic implications, including concerns about farmer dependency on seed companies, patenting of genetic materials, and potential impacts on traditional farming practices and indigenous seed varieties.

Way forward

  • Robust Regulation: Strengthen the regulatory framework for transgenic crops to ensure rigorous evaluation, transparent decision-making, and effective monitoring of potential risks to human health, environment, and biodiversity.
  • Public Awareness: Conduct comprehensive campaigns to educate the public about the benefits and safety of transgenic cotton, dispelling misconceptions, and promoting informed decision-making.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Foster open dialogue among farmers, scientists, policymakers, and consumer groups to address concerns, share information, and build mutual understanding.
  • Environmental Monitoring: Implement long-term monitoring programs to assess the impact of transgenic cotton cultivation on factors such as pest resistance, gene flow, and ecological interactions to ensure sustainability.
  • Farmer Training and Support: Provide training programs and technical assistance to farmers, equipping them with proper cultivation practices and effective management strategies for transgenic cotton, maximizing benefits of improved yields and pest control.
  • Socioeconomic Assessments: Conduct comprehensive assessments to evaluate the potential impact of transgenic cotton on farmers’ livelihoods, rural economies, and social well-being, addressing issues of equity, access, and distribution of benefits.
  • Transparent Labelling and Traceability: Implement clear labeling and traceability mechanisms to ensure transparency in marketing and trade of transgenic cotton products, enabling consumers to make informed choices.


  • The GEAC is exploring options to streamline the regulatory process for GM crops.
  • The proposal to declare certain regions as “notified testing sites” aims to provide a standardized framework for conducting trials and minimize the dependency on state-level approvals.

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