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

Raging debate on genetically modified crops shows no signs of abating. Here is everything you need to know about this debate.

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

First-ever genetically modified rubber planted in Assam

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : First-ever genetically modified rubber planted in Assam

Mains level : Hazards of using GMO crops

A Rubber Board research farm on the outskirts of Guwahati now sports the world’s first genetically modified (GM) rubber plant tailored for the climatic conditions in the Northeast.

GM rubber

  • The GM rubber has additional copies of the gene MnSOD, or manganese-containing superoxide dismutase, inserted in the plant.
  • The plant was developed at the Kerala-based Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII).
  • It is expected to tide over the severe cold conditions during winter — a major factor affecting the growth of young rubber plants in the region.

Why need GM rubber?

  • Natural rubber is a native of warm humid Amazon forests and is not naturally suited for the colder conditions in the Northeast, which is one of the largest producers of rubber in India.
  • Growth of young rubber plants remains suspended during the winter months, which are also characterized by progressive drying of the soil.
  • This is the reason for the long immaturity period of this crop in the region.

What does MnSOD gene offer?

  • The MnSOD gene has the ability to protect plants from the adverse effects of severe environmental stresses such as cold and drought.
  • Laboratory studies conducted at the RRII showed the GM rubber plants overexpressed the MnSOD gene as expected, offering protection to the cells.
  • The plant is thus expected to establish well and grow fast in the region.
  • There was no risk of genes flowing from the GM rubber into any other native species, a concern often raised by environmental groups against GM plants in general.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

BT Cotton adoption in Punjab has resulted in net economic, environmental benefits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GMO, BT

Mains level : Hazards of using GMO crops

Amid the perpetual debate surrounding BT cotton’s positive and negative impacts, a recent study has said its adoption in Punjab in the past over a decade has resulted in net economic and environmental benefits.

Background

  • BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton has been commercially grown in India for the past 19 years.
  • The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the release of BT cotton for commercial cultivation in 2002 in western and southern parts of the country.
  • In Punjab, BT cotton was released for cultivation in 2005.
  • Before the release, it was adopted by 72% farmers on 22% of the cotton area. However, a lot of questions have been raised recently on its impact.

BT cotton in India

  • BT cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically modified pest resistant plant cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to combat bollworm.
  • Strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produce over 200 different BT toxins, each harmful to different insects.
  • Most notably, BT toxins are insecticidal to the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, cotton bollworms and flies but are harmless to other forms of life.
  • In 2002, a joint venture between Monsanto and Mahyco introduced BT cotton to India.
  • In 2011, India grew the largest GM cotton crop at 10.6 million hectares.

Issues with BT cotton

  • In India, BT cotton has been enveloped in controversies due to its supposed failure to reduce the need for pesticides and increase yield.
  • The link between the introduction of BT cotton to India and a surge in farmer suicides has been refuted by other studies with decreased farmer suicides since BT cotton was introduced.
  • BT cotton accounts for 93% of cotton grown in India.
  • Maharashtra banned the sale and distribution of BT cotton in 2012, to promote local Indian seeds, which demand less water, fertilizers and pesticide input.

What is the new study about?

Success of BT in Punjab

  • The research was funded by the Agricultural Extension Division of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under extramural project “Impact evaluation of integrated pest management technologies”.
  • It found that since the commercialization of BT cotton:
  1. there has been reduction in insecticide use by volume and applications,
  2. decline in environmental and human health impact associated with insecticide use,
  3. more reduction in the use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and
  4. reduction in the expenses associated with insecticide use.
  5. Cotton yields in the past 13 years have been stable, the only exception being 2015

Now its’ time to answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q.In India, the use of carbofuran, methyl parathion, phorate and triazophos is viewed with apprehension. These chemicals are used as: (CSP 2017)

(a) Pesticides in agriculture

(b) Preservatives in processed foods

(c) Fruit-ripening agents

(d) Moisturizing agents in cosmetics

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[pib] Sadabahar: A mango variety that bears fruits round the year

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sadabahar mango

Mains level : GMO crops

A farmer from Kota, Rajasthan, has developed a round-the-year dwarf variety of mango called Sadabahar, which is resistant to most major diseases and common mango disorders.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (CSP 2018)

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Sadabahar

  • The fruit is sweeter in taste, comparable to langra and being a dwarf variety, is suitable for kitchen gardening, high-density plantation, and can be grown in pots for some years too.
  • Besides, the flesh of the fruits, which is bourn round the year, is deep orange with a sweet taste, and the pulp has very little fiber content which differentiates it from other varieties.
  • The bountiful nutrients packed in mango are immensely good for health.
  • This variety has been verified by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), India, an autonomous institution of the Department of Science & Technology.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[pib] Glycemic Index in Rice

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indigenious varities of rice mentioned

Mains level : Not Much

The Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has provided some useful information about some indigenous varieties of rice.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2018:

Q.With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Indigenous varieties of rice

  • Indigenous varieties of rice are being promoted through varieties of programmes.
  • 574 indigenous varieties of rice have been propagated and tested at more than 10,000 farmers’ fields.
  • Nutritional profiling of 300 selected rice varieties has been done for market linkage and better price to the farmers.
  • Farmers are also being trained on conservation, improvement and use of traditional/ indigenous varieties through participatory variety selection.
  • Further, for access to seeds of these indigenous varieties, community seed banks have been established.

Key varieties

  • Lalat and Improved Lalat (GI value: 54) as Low GI
  • Swarna, Sambha Mahsuri and Shaktiman (GI value <60) as intermediate GI have been identified

There is no certification for GI (Glycemic Index) in rice in India.

What is Glycemic Index (GI)?

  • GI is a number from 0 to 100 assigned to food, with pure glucose arbitrarily given the value of 100, which represents the relative rise in the blood glucose level two hours after consuming that food.
  • The GI of a specific food depends primarily on the quantity and type of carbohydrate it contains.
  • But it is also affected by the amount of entrapment of the carbohydrate molecules within the food, the fat and protein content of the food, the number of organic acids (or their salts) in the food, and whether it is cooked and, if so, how it is cooked.
  • A food is considered to have a low GI if it is 55 or less; high GI if 70 or more, and mid-range GI if 56 to 69.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

IISER scientists identify the gene that greens plants

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BBX11 gene

Mains level : Genetics and its applications

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) have identified a gene that facilitates in the greening of plants.

It would be no surprise to expect a core Biology question in the coming years, if we look at this PYQ:

Q. Which of the following statements are correct regarding the general difference between plant cells and animal cells? (CSP 2020)

  1. Plant cells have cellulose cell walls whilst animal cells do not.
  2. Plant cells do not have plasma membrane unlike animals cells which do
  3. Mature plant cell has one large vacuole whilst animal cell has many small vacuoles

Select the correct answer using the given code below-

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

BBX11

  • The synthesis of chlorophyll in plants is a lengthy, multi-step process.
  • When a seedling emerges from under the soil it must quickly synthesize chlorophyll to start supporting its own growth.
  • In order to facilitate the quick synthesis of chlorophyll, plants make a precursor of chlorophyll called ‘protochlorophyllide’ in the dark, which glows red when blue light is shone on the plant.
  • As soon as the plant comes out into the light from under the soil, light-dependent enzymes convert protochlorophyllide to chlorophyll.
  • The two proteins oppositely regulate the ‘BBX11’ gene to maintain optimum levels of ‘BBX11’.

How does it work?

  • It plays a crucial role in regulating the levels of protochlorophyllide — an intermediate in the biosynthesis of the green pigment chlorophyll.
  • The amount of protochlorophyllide synthesized needed to be proportional to the number of enzymes available to convert them to chlorophyll.
  • If there is an excess of free protochlorophyllide, then exposure to light converts it into molecules that cause ‘photobleaching’.
  • Thus, it is very important to regulate the amount of protochlorophyllide synthesized by the plant and here comes the vital plant played by the ‘BBX11’ gene.
  • If it is less, plants are unable to efficiently ‘green’ in order to harvest sunlight.

Benefits of the research

  • The study could have tremendous implications in the agriculture sector in tropical countries like India and can help provide leads to optimize plant growth under stressful and rapidly changing climatic conditions.
  • Due to the rapidly changing climatic conditions, farmers in several states in India, especially in Maharashtra, are suffering huge losses in crop yields.
  • This often leads to severe distress among the farming community as indicated by the high number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra for the past several years.
  • Severe drought, high temperature and high light are some of the major reasons for crop failure. Young seedlings emerging out of the soil are extremely sensitive to high irradiance of light.
  • This study can provide leads to optimize plant growth under these stressful conditions.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[pib] Alternative Dwarfing Genes in Wheat

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rht14 and Rht18

Mains level : Alternatives to stubble burning

Scientists at Pune based Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology has mapped two dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat that can reduce stubble volume.

Note: One may wonder why the name of research institution has not been skipped here!

Q. With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (CSP 2018)

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Rht14 and Rht18

  • The researchers have mapped the dwarfing genes on chromosome 6A in durum wheat, and DNA-based markers were developed for a better selection of these genes in wheat breeding lines.
  • These genes are associated with better seedling vigour and longer coleoptiles (sheath protecting the young shoot tip).
  • These DNA based markers are being used at ARI for marker-assisted transfer of these genes in Indian wheat varieties, so as to make them suitable for sowing under rice stubble-retained conditions and dry environments.
  • Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.
  • Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.

Significance

  • In India, close to twenty-three million tonnes of leftover rice residues are annually burnt by farmers to get rid of the straw and prepare their fields for sowing wheat, which is the next crop, resulting in air pollution.
  • Burning of leftover rice crop residue has serious implications for the environment, soil, and human health.
  • Therefore, there is a need to include alternative dwarfing genes in wheat improvement programs.
  • The dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat conferred a plant height reduction comparable to the Rht1 alleles while retaining early vigour in wheat seedlings, but do not affect coleoptile length and seedling shoot length.
  • These can, therefore, be utilized as an alternative dwarfing gene to Rht1 for deep sowing conditions or in fields with retained stubble.
  • The improved wheat lines which are being developed at ARI will help reducing stubble burning incidences under the rice-wheat cropping system.
  • These lines will also allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil, therefore, saving valuable water resources and reduce the cost of cultivation to farmers.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[pib] Biofortified Carrot ‘Madhuban Gajar’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Madhuban Gajar

Mains level : Bio-fortification and its benefits

 

Madhuban Gajar

  • It is a biofortified carrot variety with high β-carotene and iron content developed by Shri Vallabhhai Vasrambhai Marvaniya, a farmer scientist from Junagadh district, Gujarat.
  • The variety is being cultivated in more than 1000 hectares of land in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh during the last three years.
  • It is a highly nutritious carrot variety developed through the selection method with higher β-carotene content (277.75 mg/kg) and iron content (276.7 mg/kg) dry basis.
  • It is used for various value-added products like carrot chips, juices, and pickles.
  • This carrot variety possesses a significantly higher root yield (74.2 t/ha) and plant biomass (275 gm per plant) as compared to check variety.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

Sahyadri Megha

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sahyadri Megha

Mains level : Not Much

The University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences (UAHS), Shivamogga (K’taka) has developed ‘Sahyadri Megha’, a new red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast (a fungal disease) and rich in nutrients.

Sahyadri Megha

  • It is a red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast disease and rich in nutrients.
  • It was developed under the hybridization breeding method by cross-breeding the best among the ‘Jyothi’ variety with that of ‘Akkalu’, a disease-resistant and protein-rich paddy variety.
  • The new variety will be notified under the Indian Seed Act 1966 shortly after which it will become part of the seed chain.

Key features

  • The protein content in it is 12.48%, higher than the other red rice varieties grown.
  • The yield per hectare from ‘Sahyadri Megha’ is around 65 quintals, substantially higher than other red paddy varieties.
  • It is a medium-term paddy that can be grown when there is a delay in the onset of monsoon. It can be harvested after 120 days of sowing.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

Yellow Rust

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Yellow rust, Pusa Yashasvi

Mains level : Not Much

 

Yellow Rust was detected in wheat crops in parts of Punjab and Haryana.

Yellow Rust

  • Yellow Rust disease appears as yellow stripes of powder or dust on leaves and leaf sheaths of the wheat crop. This yellow powder comes out on clothing or fingers when touched.
  • This occurs when the rust colonies in the leaves drain the carbohydrates from the plant and reduce the green leaf area.
  • In India, it is a major disease in the Northern Hill Zone and the North-Western Plain Zone and spreads easily during the onset of cool weather and when wind conditions are favourable.
  • Rain, dew and fog favour the disease’s development.

Impact of the disease

  • The disease can spread rapidly under congenial conditions and affects crop development, and eventually the yield.
  • Yield due to the disease can affected by between 5 and 30 per cent.
  • According to the IIWBR advisory, if farmers observe yellow rust in patches in their wheat fields, they should spray fungicides.

Other facts: Pusa Yashasvi

  • Last year, a new variety of wheat called HD-3226 or Pusa Yashasvi was released by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
  • It had higher levels of resistance against major rust fungi such as the yellow/stripe, brown/leaf and black/stem.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[op-ed of the day] The flawed spin to India’s cotton story

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Introduction of Bt cotton, and various cropping patterns

Context

This year, India is expected to be the world’s largest cotton producer, surpassing China in output. However, India’s productivity (yield per unit area), is much lower than other major cotton-producing countries.

India’s experience with cotton

  • India is the only country growing hybrids: India is the only country that grows cotton as hybrids and the first to develop hybrid cotton back in 1970.
    • What are hybrids: Hybrids are made by crossing two parent strains having different genetic characters.
    • Greater yields: These plants have more biomass than both parents, and capacity for greater yields.
    • Require more inputs: They also require more inputs, including fertilizer and water.
    • Expensive seed production: Though hybrid cottonseed production is expensive, requiring manual crossing, India’s low cost of manual labour makes it economically viable.
    • Rest of the countries: All other cotton-producing countries grow cotton, not as hybrids but varieties for which seeds are produced by self-fertilization.
  • Key issues with the use of hybrids
    • Hybrid seed cannot be propagated over generations: A key difference between hybrids and varieties is that varieties can be propagated over successive generations by collecting seeds from one planting and using them for the next planting.
    • Purchasing the seeds is must: Hybrid seeds have to be remade for each planting by crossing the parents. So for hybrids, farmers must purchase seed for each planting, but not for varieties.
    • Pricing control to the companies: Using hybrids gives pricing control to the seed company and also ensures a continuous market.
    • Increased yield used as justification for high prices: Increased yield from a hybrid is supposed to justify the high cost of hybrid seeds.
    • However, for cotton, a different strategy using high-density planting (HDP) of compact varieties has been found to outperform hybrids at the field level.

Cotton planting strategies

  • What other countries do?
    • Compact and short-duration varieties: For over three decades, most countries have been growing cotton varieties that are compact and short duration.
    • 5kg seeds/acre: These varieties are planted at high density (5 kg seeds/acre).
    • These varieties have 5-10 bolls per plant.
  • What is done in India?
    • Low density and long duration: Hybrids in India are bushy, long duration and planted at a ten-fold lower density.
    • 0.5 kg seeds/acre: Hybrids are planted at a lower density of 0.5kg/acre.
  • Which strategy is more beneficial?
    • The lower boll production by compact varieties (5-10 bolls per plant) compared to hybrids (20-100 bolls/plant) is more than compensated by the ten-fold greater planting density.
    • Experience of Brazil: The steep increase in productivity for Brazil, from 400 to 1,000 kg/hectare lint between 1994 and 2000 coincides with the large-scale shift to a non-GM compact variety.

Why should India opt for short duration variety?

  • Cotton being a dryland crop: Cotton is a dryland crop and 65% of the area under cotton in India is rain-fed.
    • Advantage of short duration variety in the rain-fed area: Farmers with insufficient access to groundwater in these areas are entirely dependent on rain. Here, the shorter duration variety has a major advantage as it reduces dependence on irrigation and risk.
    • Particularly late in the growing season when soil moisture drops following the monsoon’s withdrawal.
    • This period is when bolls develop and water requirement is the highest.
  • Productivity and input costs of the varieties: It has more than twice the productivity.
    • Half the fertilizer (200 kg/ha for hybrids versus 100 kg/ha for varieties).
    • Reduced water requirement.
    • And less vulnerability to damage from insect pests due to a shorter field duration.

Impact of Policy

  • Why India persisted with hybrids during 1980-2002
    • Two phases of policy have contributed to this situation.
    • The first phase- Before GM cotton: The answers lie with the agricultural research establishment.
    • The second phase: The phase where the question of hybrids versus compact varieties could have been considered, was at the stage of GM regulation when Bt cotton was being evaluated for introduction into India.
    • International experience not taken into account: It would not have been out of place to have evaluated the international experience, including the context of the introduction of this new technology.
    • Agro-economic conditions were not taken into account: Importantly, agro-economic conditions where it would be used should have been a guiding factor.
    • The narrow scope of evaluation: The scope of evaluation by the GM regulatory process in India was narrow, and did not take this into account.
    • Consequently, commercial Bt hybrids have completely taken over the market, accompanied by the withdrawal of public sector cottonseed production.

Key takeaways

    • FristOutcome of technology depends upon the context: Outcome of using a technology such as Bt is determined by the context in which it is deployed, and not just by the technology itself.
      • Negative fallout: If the context is suboptimal and does not prioritise the needs of the principal stakeholders (farmers), it can have significant negative fallouts, especially in India with a high proportion being marginal and subsistence farmers.
    • SecondBetter consultation in policy: There is a need for better consultation in policy, be it agriculture as a whole or crop-wise.
      • Socioeconomic consideration in GMO risk assessment: India is a signatory to international treaties on GMO regulation (the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety), which specifically provide for the inclusion of socio-economic considerations in GMO risk assessment.
      • However, socioeconomic and need-based considerations have not been a part of the GMO regulatory process in India.

Conclusion

Given the distress, the cotton-growing farmers are facing this is the right time to review the grounds on which Bt cotton was introduced in India.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

The New Seeds Bill, 2019

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Salient features of The New Seeds Bill, 2019

Govt plans to change existing law to ensure availability of quality seeds to farmers with a proposed Bill to replace The Seeds Act, 1966

The New Seeds Bill, 2019

  • The new Seeds Bill, 2019 provides for compulsory registration of “any kind or variety of seeds” that are sought to be sold.
  • According to Section 14 of the draft Bill, “no seed of any kind or variety… shall, for the purpose of sowing or planting by any person, be sold unless such kind or variety is registered”.
  • In other words, even hybrids/varieties of private companies will need to be registered, and their seeds would have to meet the minimum prescribed standards relating to germination, physical and genetic purity, etc.
  • Breeders would be required to disclose the “expected performance” of their registered varieties “under given conditions”.
  • If the seed of such registered kind or variety “fails to provide the expected performance under such given conditions”, the farmer “may claim compensation from the producer, dealer, distributor or vendor under The Consumer Protection Act, 1986”.

Why need such a bill?

  • The 1966 Act only covers “notified kinds or varieties of seeds”.
  • Thus, regulation of quality, too, is limited to the seeds of varieties that have been officially notified.
  • Such varieties would be mostly those that are bred by public sector institutions — the likes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the state agricultural universities (SAUs).
  • And the provisions of The Seeds Act, 1966, apply only to certified seeds produced of notified varieties.

What is the context for bringing the Bill?

  • The 1966 legislation was enacted at the time of the Green Revolution when the country hardly had any private seed industry.
  • The high-yielding wheat and paddy varieties, which made India self-reliant in cereals by the 1980s, were developed by the various ICAR institutes and SAUs.
  • These public sector institutions have retained their dominance in breeding of wheat, paddy (including basmati), sugarcane, pulses, soyabean, groundnut, mustard, potato, onion and other crops.
  • Over the last three decades or more, however, private companies and MNCs have made significant inroads, particularly into crops that are amenable to hybridization.
  • Their seeds are first-generation hybrids produced by crossing two genetically diverse plants, and whose yields tend to be higher than that of either of the parents; the grains from these, even if saved as re-used as seed, will not give the same “F1” vigour.

So, are privately-bred hybrids not covered under any regulation?

  • The current Seeds Act, as already noted, applies only to notified varieties. Also, unless a variety or hybrid is notified, its seeds cannot be certified.
  • Most of the private hybrids marketed in India, by virtue of not being officially “released”, are neither “notified” nor “certified”. Instead, they are “truthful labeled”.
  • The companies selling them simply state that the seeds inside the packets have a minimum germination (if 100 are sown, at least 75-80, say, will produce plants), genetic purity and physical purity (proportion of non-contamination by other crop/weed seeds or inert matter).

How does the proposed Seeds Bill, 2019 address the above lacuna?

  • It does away with the concept of “notified” variety.
  • By providing for compulsory registration of “any kind or variety of seeds”, private hybrids — whether officially “released” or “truthful labeled” — will automatically be brought under regulatory purview.
  • It must be mentioned here that the Seeds (Control) Amendment Order of 2006 under the Essential Commodities Act mandates dealers to ensure minimum standards of germination, purity, and other quality parameters even in respect of “other than notified kind or variety of seeds”.
  • Enforcing mandatory registration under a new Seed Act, encompassing all varieties and hybrids, is expected to bring greater accountability from the industry, even while rendering the Seeds Control Order redundant.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ZBNF

Mains level : Debate over efficiency of ZBNF

  • Addressing the COP14 to the UNCCD, PM mentioned that India was “focusing on Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)”.
  • The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) however, criticised the “unproven” technology of ZBNF citing no incremental value gain to either farmers or consumers.

ZBNF

  • ZBNF is a farming technique that seeks to bring down input costs for farmers by encouraging them to rely upon “natural products”, rather than spending money on pesticides and fertilisers.
  • The concept behind ZBNF is that over 98 per cent of the nutrients required by crops for photosynthesis — carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water, and solar energy — are already available “free” from the air, rain, and Sun.
  • Only the remaining 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent nutrients need to be taken from the soil, and converted from “non-available” to “available” form (for intake by the roots) through the action of microorganisms.
  • The idea is that since these too, need not be purchased, farming remains practically “zero-budget”.

Components of ZBNF

  • To help the microorganisms act, farmers must apply ‘Jiwamrita’ (microbial culture) and ‘Bijamrita’ (seed treatment solution).
  • It uses ‘mulching’ (covering plants with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves) and ‘waaphasa’ (giving water outside the plant’s canopy) to maintain the right balance of soil temperature, moisture, and air.
  • To manage insects and pests, ZBNF recommends the use of ‘Agniastra’, ‘Brahmastra’ and ‘Neemastra’, which, like ‘Jiwamrita’ and ‘Bijamrita’, are based mainly on urine and dung of Indian cow breeds.

Arguments for

  • Proponents claim this system is also more environment-friendly, since it does not require chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Apart from increasing crop yield and leading to healthier produce, this model can also help prevent farmer suicides.
  • Farmers fall into the debt trap mainly because input cost of agriculture is high, they claim, and ZBNF brings it down.

What is the criticism?

  • Scientists say there isn’t much evidence to support claims of the efficacy of ZBNF, and that giving up modified high-value seeds and fertilizers can actually hurt agriculture.
  • There is no verifiable data or authenticated results from any experiment for it to be considered a feasible technological option.
  • 78 per cent of air is nitrogen, but it is not freely available to plants.
  • Being non-reactive, atmospheric nitrogen has to be fixed into a plant-usable form such as ammonia or urea.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[pib] Seed Bankers for Conserving Native Crops

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Seed Vaults

Mains level : Preservation of native plant varities


  • Till date 1597 plants varieties have been registered with Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Right Authority and certificates of registration have been issued.

National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources

  • ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi is conserving seed germplasm for long-term conservation (at -20°C) in its National Genebank (NGB).
  • NGB has the responsibility of conservation of plant genetic resources for posterity and sustainable use including landraces and traditional varieties which are potential sources of agriculturally important genes.

Navigate to the page for:

Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Right Authority


Back2Basics

India’s seed bank at Chang La

  • At Chang La in the Himalayas, at a height of 17,300 feet, there is a storage facility with over 5,000 seed accessions.
  • One accession consists of a set of seeds of one species collected from different locations or different populations.
  • The vault is a joint venture of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (under ICAR) and the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (under DRDO).
  • When a seed needs to be stored for few years, maintaining it at just 10 degree Celsius is enough.
  • But in the long run, for 10 to 20 years, they need to be kept at a minus 15 to minus 20 degree Celsius (range).
  • Chang La has a prevalent temperature in this sub-zero range.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

  • It is a facility located on a remote Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean and it houses the world’s largest collection of seeds.
  • The seeds can be of use in the event of a global catastrophe or when some species is lost due to natural disasters. It is therefore also referred to as the doomsday vault.
  • The storage rooms are kept at −18 °C (−0.4 °F). The low temperature and limited access to oxygen will ensure low metabolic activity and delay seed aging.
  • The samples stored in the genebanks are accessible in accordance with the terms and conditions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, approved by 118 countries or parties.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

India develops new groundnut line with desirable oil quality

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM Groundnut

Mains level : GM Crops in India

(This news was originally published on 12th of May)

GM Groundnut

  • In collaboration with scientists from India and Africa, researchers from Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) have developed improved groundnut lines for disease resistance and high oleic acid content.
  • The improvement reported development of high (up to 82%) oleic acid content lines in three popular groundnut varieties.
  • In 2018 ICRISAT developed a groundnut line that has up to 82% of oleic acid content, while linoleic and palmitic acid content decreased up to 89% and 39%, respectively.
  • A U.S. groundnut variety that has high oleic acid and very less linoleic acid was used for breeding the new line.
  • These have been extensively field tested in different parts of India and will be soon released for commercial cultivation.

Whole genome sequencing

  • Since GM technology is mired in controversy, the scientists steered clear of it.
  • ICRISAT used conventional breeding techniques and looked for genes for high oleic acid content with the help of molecular markers in the progenies to select the lines for the next generation.
  • Based on whole genome sequencing of cultivated groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), ICRISAT scientists and other institutions have found 1,944 genes related to oil content and quality.
  • These genes are responsible for fatty acid synthesis, lipid signalling and triacylglycerol (TAG) biosynthesis.

What defines a good quality groundnut?

  • Fatty acid composition defines groundnut oil quality.
  • Six saturated fatty acids including palmitic acid constitute 10%, whereas oleic acid (monounsaturated fatty acid) together with linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fatty acid) constitutes nearly 80% of unsaturated fatty acid in groundnuts.
  • It is highly desirable to increase the oleic acid content and reduce both linoleic acid and palmitic acid content.
  • Groundnuts grown in India have about 55% oleic acid, about 25% linoleic acid and around 10% palmitic acid, whereas in the U.S., several groundnut varieties have 80% oleic acid and just 2-3% linoleic acid.
  • Efforts have been taken to increase the oleic acid content and reduce both linoleic and palmitic acid content for health benefits and to increase the shelf-life.

Various nutrients in groundnut

  • Excess consumption of palmitic acid increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Linoleic acid is not stable on heating and causes deterioration of foods due to oxidation with oxygen.
  • Linoleic acid also promotes formation of trans-fat.
  • On the other hand, oleic acid reduces the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and maintains level of high density lipoproteins (HDL).
  • Oleic acid also reduces the formation of tumour, and ameliorates inflammatory diseases.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[op-ed snap] Serious concerns over Bt brinjal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GMO

Mains level : Concerns related to Bt Brinjal need to be addressed.

CONTEXT

A month ago, Bt brinjal genetically modified (GM) to resist the brinjal fruit and shoot borer (an insect), was found growing illegally in Haryana. This was a different Bt brinjal from the one developed by the Indian company.Even as the government clamped down on the illegal GM crop, some farmer groups have demanded the release of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal and other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline. But is Bt brinjal actually ready for release?

The impacts

1.Effect on prices, consumer and farmers’ income

  • The National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research anticipates that if Bt brinjal performs as Mahyco proposes, brinjal output will increase and retail prices will fall, benefiting consumers far more than farmers.
  • The report ignores the scenario that companies might charge premium prices for Bt brinjal seeds, in which case farmers may not benefit at all.

2.Biosafety Issue

  • The Dr. Y.S.R. Horticultural University highlighted crucial deficiencies in the characterisation of Bt brinjal, and in the environmental impacts assessment.
  • The ecologist, Madhav Gadgil, warned of contamination of India’s diverse brinjal varieties.
  • Biodiversity is critical for nutrition and sustainability, and the government’s own task force on biotechnology (2004) had recommended that no GM crop be allowed in biodiversity-rich areas.
  • Further, a majority of the technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court (in the public interest litigations over GM crops), recommended a ban on genetically modifying those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity. Brinjal happens to be such a crop.

3.Nutrition issues

Many health researchers and professionals, and scientists such as immunologist have argued that Bt brinjal poses risks to human health.

4.Responses from government

  • Bt brinjal found no support from State governments. Kerala and Uttarakhand asked for a ban on GM crops.
  • States with substantial brinjal cultivation, i.e. West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar opposed the release pending rigorous, extensive testing.
  • As did Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and undivided Andhra Pradesh.
  • In 2012 and 2017, respectively, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests assessed the GM controversy.
  • Both committees expressed grave concerns about lapses in the regulatory system.
  • In fact, the Committee on Agriculture was so alarmed by the irregularities in the assessment of Bt brinjal, that it recommended “a thorough probe by a team of eminent independent scientists and environmentalists”, which never happened.
  • Further, both committees endorsed labelling GM foods to protect a consumer’s right to know.

5.No scientific consensus 

  • In recent years, pests have developed resistance to Bt cotton, forcing farmers to spray lethal pesticides.
  • This led to over 50 deaths by pesticide-poisoning in Vidarbha in 2017.
  • A GM-based strategy of pest control is unsustainable, all the more so since farmers, already pressed for land, ignore the government’s recommendation to plant refuge crops.
  •  The problem of sustainable, remunerative farming has become more acute, and alternative strategies such as organic and zero budget natural farming, which do not allow GM seeds, are gaining ground.

Way Forward

 The government

    • Must detail the steps it has taken since 2010 to address the scientific lacunae.
    • Clarify precisely how Bt brinjal will benefit farmers
    • Put the infrastructure to ensure labelling into place
    • Demonstrate how Bt brinjal fits in with sustainable farming and biodiversity conservation.

Conclusion

As things stand, Bt brinjal runs counter to the framework for agricultural development and farmers’ well-being devised by parliamentary panels and the government’s own task forces and expert committees.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

Controversial: BT Brinjal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BT Brinjal

Mains level : Hazards of GM Crops


  • A month ago, Bt brinjal to resist the brinjal fruit and shoot borer (an insect), was found growing illegally in Haryana.
  • This was a different Bt brinjal from the one developed by the Indian company, Mahyco, in which Monsanto has a 26% stake.

BT Brinjal

  • Mahyco’s Bt brinjal has been under a moratorium since 2010.
  • Even as the government clamped down on the illegal GM crop, some farmer groups have demanded the release of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal and other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline.
  • It is true that the moratorium was imposed by the then MoEFCC, despite being cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body for GM crops.

Issues with BT Brinjal

I] Institutional dilemma

  • The Ministry of Agriculture has not offered evidence that Bt brinjal will benefit farmers.
  • If Bt brinjal performs as Mahyco proposes, brinjal output will increase and retail prices will fall, benefiting consumers far more than farmers.
  • Companies might charge premium prices for Bt brinjal seeds, in which case farmers may not benefit at all.

II] Biosafety issues

  • On biosafety issues, scientific opinion is divided down the middle. Brinjal happens to be such a crop.
  • While some scientists were in favour of releasing Bt brinjal, others highlighted crucial deficiencies in the characterization of Bt brinjal, and in the environmental impacts assessment.
  • Few ecologists warned of contamination of India’s diverse brinjal varieties.
  • Biodiversity is critical for nutrition and sustainability, and the government’s own task force on biotechnology (2004) had recommended that no GM crop be allowed in biodiversity-rich areas.
  • Further, a majority of the technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court recommended a ban on genetically modifying those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity.

III] Nutrition issues

  • In terms of nutrition, there seem to be some significant differences between Bt and ordinary brinjal.
  • Many health researchers have argued that Bt brinjal poses risks to human health.
  • S. Swaminathan and V.M. Katoch, then the Director General of the ICMR, asked for long-term (chronic) toxicity studies, before taking any decision on Bt brinjal.
  • Further, they asked that these be conducted independently, instead of relying exclusively on Mahyco for data.

In the debate

  • Bt brinjal found no support from State governments. Kerala and Uttarakhand asked for a ban on GM crops.
  • States with substantial brinjal cultivation, i.e. West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar opposed the release pending rigorous, extensive testing.
  • In 2012 and 2017, respectively, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests assessed the GM controversy.
  • Both committees expressed grave concerns about lapses in the regulatory system.
  • In fact, the Committee on Agriculture was so alarmed by the irregularities in the assessment of Bt brinjal, that it recommended “a thorough probe by a team of eminent independent scientists and environmentalists”, which never happened.
  • Further, both committees endorsed labelling GM foods to protect a consumer’s right to know.
  • However, since retailing is largely unorganised, enforcing truthful labelling is a logistical nightmare, and the Ministry of Agriculture believes it is impractical.
  • The FSSAI has only recently begun putting labelling rules into place.

No scientific consensus yet

  • In sum, there is a moratorium on Bt brinjal because there is no scientific consensus on its safety and efficacy, and because the States and Parliament have profound misgivings about the regulatory system.
  • In recent years, pests have developed resistance to Bt cotton, forcing farmers to spray lethal pesticides.
  • This led to over 50 deaths by pesticide-poisoning in Yavatmal in 2017.
  • If anything, the problem of sustainable, remunerative farming has become more acute, and alternative strategies such as organic and zero budget natural farming, which do not allow GM seeds, are gaining ground.

Way Forward

  • A GM-based strategy of pest control is unsustainable, all the more so since farmers, already pressed for land, ignore the government’s recommendation to plant refuge crops.
  • We cannot wish all these concerns away simply because some farmers want to try Bt brinjal, or farmers in Bangladesh have been cultivating Bt brinjal since 2013.
  • Farmers do not and cannot assess long-term impacts on ecology and health, which needs more rigorous and sensitive studies than those conducted so far.

 

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

Controversial: BT Cotton

Note4Students

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.

Why?

  • 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.

Back2Basics

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.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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

[op-ed snap] SC Bt cotton verdict is relief for Monsanto

Note4students

Mains Paper 3 Science and Technology| Bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics of IPR, GM, GEAC.

Mains level: The newscard discusses impact of SC ruling on IPR environment, in a brief manner.


Context

  1. The Supreme Court restored Monsanto Co.’s patent claim on genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton until its validity is decided by a single judge of the Delhi high court.
  2. It ought to reassure biotech companies that had held back on introducing new technologies in India after the controversy over genetically modified (GM) cotton erupted.

Background

  1. The ruling is the result legal battles between Monsanto and domestic seed companies, led by Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd.
  2. In 2004 Monsanto entered into a sub-license agreement with domestic company Nuziveedu for an initial period of 10 years.
  3. The agreement had entitled the Indian firms to commercially exploit genetically modified hybrid cotton planting seeds with help of Monsanto’s technology within the limits of the agreement on the payment of a license fee.
  4. Local seed firms, which get licenses from Monsanto to sell genetically-modified seeds, used to pay a “trait fee” fixed by the government.
  5. Recently Nuziveedu Seeds was arguing that the U.S. company was not entitled to get any more money from them and had petitioned in the court to cancel Monsanto’s patent
  6. Soon after, Monsanto had lodged counter cases for patent infringements by Indian companies.
  7. The agreement was terminated in November 2015, giving rise to the patent suit.
  8. The Single Judge, in March 2017, restored the agreement and ordered the parties (Monsanto and companies like Nuziveedu) to adhere to their obligations under it.

Why did the Delhi HC reject patent?

  1. The judge reasoned that Monsanto’s Bt gene was useless to farmers unless inserted into a cotton hybrid, which farmers could then grow to repel pests.
  2. This insertion is carried out by seed companies, who cross a Bt gene-containing plant (from Monsanto’s donor seeds) with their proprietary cotton varieties.
  3. The judge argued that this crossing of plants was a natural and biological process.
  4. This argument undermined Monsanto’s patent, because under Section 3(j) of India’s Patents Act, a seed or a plant, or a biological process to create a seed or plant cannot be patented.
  5. If this argument is correct, few plant biotechnology innovations would be patentable in India.
  6. This is a dangerous conclusion because the lack of patent protection would discourage crucial research by the agri-biotech industry.

Significance of SC ruling

  1. SC order validates that patents are integral to innovation and reinforces faith in the Indian judiciary and the Indian patent system.
  2. Technology developers will now be encouraged to invest more money into bringing new technologies to the market.
  3. The court has recognised that products of biotechnological processes such as man-made DNA constructs are patentable in India.
  4. The ruling may prompt some biotech companies to revive expansion plans that were placed on hold amid restrictions imposed by the government and local courts in recent years.
  5. SC ruling will bring certainty in the policy environment and looking to improve Indian cotton farmer’s competitiveness.

Regulatory fog

  1. IPR issue-
  • Protecting intellectual property rights is vital to improving the competitiveness of the Indian farmer.
  • The Supreme Court’s suggestion to the Delhi high court—a division bench of which had ruled that life forms cannot be patented—that all aspects related to Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seeds can be considered could allay apprehensions among technology developers over losing pricing freedom in India.
  1. Reduced Royalty
  • The government has capped royalty payments to Monsanto and asked it to grant licences to more seed companies for using Bt cotton. Indian seed companies pay a government-mandated trait fee, as such royalty is called, on genetically modified seeds.
  • Multinational biotechnology companies like Monsanto which has held back other Bt cotton varieties from India and Bayer has gone slow in introducing a hybrid rice seed that can withstand flooding for two weeks.
  1. Maze over field trials
  • Regulatory clarity over field trials for genetically modified seeds is overdue. A moratorium on field trials for Bt brinjal, for instance, is in its ninth year and the government wants more research done for GM mustard, which involves more field trials that, in turn, await permissions from state governments.

Way forward

  1. Transgenic technologies such as Bt cotton are an important part of India’s cotton production arsenal. They are not infallible.
  2. But this is true of all technologies, like antibiotics, that fail when used improperly, as was the case with Bollgard-2.
  3. The important thing for India is to keep incentivizing the development of such technologies and to use them properly. Strong patent protection is a crucial part of this process.

Back2Basics

GM Crops in India

  1. India has the world’s 5th largest GM crop acreage. The world order is – USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India.
  2. If that’s not interesting enough, then let me add another fact on this – this rank is largely on the strength of Bt cotton, the only genetically modified crop allowed in the country. 
  3. At present, 96% of India’s cotton cultivation area is under Bt cotton crops.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

  • GEAC is apex body under Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for regulating manufacturing, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms or genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and cells in the country.
  • It is also responsible for giving technical approval of proposals relating to release of GMOs and products including experimental field trials.
  • However, Environment Minister gives final approval for GMOs.

What is Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis)?

  1. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the soil and produces proteins that kill certain insects.
  2. Through biotechnology, scientists can use these naturally occurring Bt proteins to develop insect-protected crops that protect against insect damage and destruction.
  3. When targeted insects eat the plant containing the protein, they ultimately die; but impact of Bt on humans and other animals is still being questioned.

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

Genetically Modified Organisms(GMO): Developments and Concerns

Recently, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) decided to put on hold the government’s decision to commercialise genetically modified (GM) mustard, because of growing outrage by farmer groups against it. Let’s understand its basics in brief!

What is GMO?

  • 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
  • It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non related species
  • Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods
  • Recently in India, GM mustard crop was introduced, which was later withdrawn. 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

<Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is a body under the Environment Ministry that regulates the use of genetically modified organisms>

Why are GM foods produced?

  • GM foods are developed – and marketed – because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods
  • This is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both
  • Initially GM seed developers wanted their products to be accepted by producers and have concentrated on innovations that bring direct benefit to farmers (and food industry generally)
  • One of the objectives for developing plants based on GM organisms is to improve crop protection

What really is India’s recently developed GM mustard?

  • A team of scientists at Delhi University led by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental has bred DMH-11, a genetically modified (GM) mustard hybrid
  • Hybrids are normally obtained by crossing two genetically diverse plants from the same species
  • The first-generation offspring resulting from it has higher yields than what either of the parents is individually capable of giving
  • But there is no natural hybridisation system in mustard, unlike in, say, cotton, maize or tomato
  • What team has done is, that they have created a viable hybridisation system in mustard using GM technology
  • The resulting GM mustard hybrid, it is claimed, gives 25-30% more yield than the best varieties such as ‘Varuna’ currently grown in the country

Is there a need, in the first place, for developing a mustard hybrid?

  • In 2014-15, India imported 14.5 million tonnes of edible oils valued at $10.5 billion
  • With the country’s own annual edible oil production stuck at below 7.5 million tonnes, of which mustard’s share is roughly a quarter
  • So, there is need to raise domestic crop yields and cut dependence on imports
  • Hybrid technology is a potential technique to boost yields, as has been successfully demonstrated in a host of crops

What are the environmental risks?

  • GMOs contaminate forever. GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel far and wide
  • It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool
  • Genetic engineering allows plants to survive high doses of weed killers, resulting in higher herbicide residues in our food
  • GMO crops are creating ‘super weeds’ and ‘super bugs,’ which can only be killed with more toxic poisons

Are there any advantages?

Insect Resistance

  • Some GMO foods have been modified to make them more resistant to insects and other pests
  • This means the amount of pesticide chemicals used on the plants are reduced, so their exposure to dangerous pesticides are also reduced

Stronger Crops

  • Another benefit that GM technology is believed to bring about is that crops can be engineered to withstand weather extremes and fluctuations,
  • This means that there will be good quality and sufficient yields even under a poor or severe weather condition

Environment Protection

GM crops often requires less time, tools and chemicals, and may help with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and environmental pollution

More Nutritious Foods

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), some GM foods have been engineered to become more nutritious in terms of vitamin or mineral content.

Economic Benefits

  • Larger production leading to increased farm income, reduced poverty, low food prices and thus reduced hunger and malnutrition.
  • Besides new food products are also included, diversifying food varieties

Then, Why has there been so much concern about GM foods among some public interest groups, activists and consumers?

  • Since the first introduction on the market in the mid-1990s of a major GM food (herbicide-resistant soybeans), there has been concern about such food among activists and consumers, especially in Europe
  • In fact, public attention has focused on the risk side of the risk-benefit equation, often without distinguishing between potential environmental impacts and public health effects of GMOs
  • Consumers have questioned the validity of risk assessments, both with regard to consumer health and environmental risks, focusing particulary on long-term effects
  • Consumer concerns have triggered a discussion on the desirability of labeling GM foods, allowing for an informed choice of consumers

What further developments can be expected in the area of GMOs?

  • GM organisms are likely to include plants with improved resistance against plant disease or drought, crops with increased nutrient levels, fish species with enhanced growth characteristics
  • For non-food use, they may include plants or animals producing pharmaceutically important proteins such as new vaccines
Published with inputs from Arun

By Dr V

Doctor by Training | AIIMSONIAN | Factually correct, Politically not so much | Opinionated? Yes!

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