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

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

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

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.
    • 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.

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

The New Seeds Bill, 2019Bills/Act/Laws

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

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)Mains Only

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

[pib] Seed Bankers for Conserving Native CropsPIBPrelims Only

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

India develops new groundnut line with desirable oil qualityPriority 1

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

[op-ed snap] Serious concerns over Bt brinjalMains Onlyop-ed snap

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.

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

Controversial: BT BrinjalPriority 1

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.

 

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

Controversial: BT CottonPriority 1

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

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


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

PM inaugurates Rice Research Institute, to improve production of cropIOCR


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: GM technology

Mains level: Various researches related to GM crops and how GM technology can help Indian farmers


News

  • The International Rice Research Institute South Asia Regional Centre (IRRI SARC) in Varanasi was dedicated to the nation by PM.

IRRI SARC

  1. With an aim to double farmers’ income the 6th IRRI SARC campus will serve as a hub for rice research and training in South Asia and SAARC region.
  2. The major aim of IRRI is to improve livelihood and nutrition, abolishing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition among those countries which depend on rice-based agri-food systems.
  3. This new Centre is expected to improve crop production, seed quality and the nutritional value of rice.
  4. It will also work with national partners to enhance farmers’ knowledge and income and deliver advanced research, teaching and services in the connection.
  5. It will also teach scientists and agriculture leaders about the latest technologies and innovations for sustainable farming; and laboratories for digital crop monitoring and assessment, and demonstration fields where variety testing is conducted.

Other Features

  1. IRRI SARC facilities will include the Centre of Excellence in Rice Value Addition (CERVA), a suite of modern laboratories where rice grains are assessed for: quality and nutritional value and sensory evaluations for grain taste, texture, and aroma are conducted; on-site facilities.
  2. This centre will catalyze South-South collaboration, strengthen the research expertise and capacity of rice-growing countries in the region, and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

About IRRI

  1. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is an international agricultural research and training organization with headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna in the Philippines.
  2. IRRI is known for its work in developing rice varieties that contributed to the Green Revolution in the 1960s which preempted the famine in Asia.
  3. The Institute, established in 1960 aims to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability of rice farming.
  4. It advances its mission through collaborative research, partnerships, and the strengthening of the national agricultural research and extension systems of the countries IRRI works in.
  5. It is also the largest non-profit agricultural research center in Asia.
  6. IRRI’s semi-dwarf varieties, including the famous IR8 saved India from famine in the 1960s.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[op-ed snap] Don’t believe the anti-GMO campaignop-ed snap


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: GM technology

Mains level: Various research related to GM crops and how GM technology can help Indian farmers


Context

GM crops debate

  1. A review article, “Modern technologies for sustainable food and nutrition security” authored by geneticist P.C. Kesavan and leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan describes Bt cotton as a “failure”
  2. In 2016, 107 Nobel laureates signed a letter challenging Greenpeace to drop its anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) technology stance
  3. They stated that the anti-GMO campaign is scientifically baseless and potentially harmful to poor people in the developing world

GM crops effectiveness

  1. Genetic modification is the technology of choice for solving abiotic problems like drought flood, salinity, etc
  2. It may not be equally effective in the case of biotic stresses since new strains of pests and diseases arise all the time

Usefulness of GM crops

  1. Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%
  2. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops
  3. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries
  4. Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards

GM crops not a failure in India

  1. Bt cotton is not a failure in India
  2. The yields hovering around 300 kg/ha at the time of introduction of Bt cotton (2002) have increased to an average of over 500 kg/ha, converting India from a cotton-importing country to the largest exporter of raw cotton
  3. India has one of the strongest regulatory protocols for field trials of GM crops

Way forward

  1. GM technology is not a magic bullet. It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis
  2. There is definitely scope for improvement in terms of technology and regulatory protocols
  3. But it is time to deregulate the Bt gene and lift the embargo on Bt brinjal
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

M.S. Swaminathan calls GM crops a failureDOMR


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Biotechnology

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level:  BT Cotton

Mains Level: Limitations of GM crops


News

  • 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

  1. The article ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security’ was recently published.
  2. It is authored by P.C. Kesavan and Prof. Swaminathan, senior functionaries of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).

  1. 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.
  2. The latter two have been cleared by scientific regulators but not by the Centre.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. This means making the plant more amenable to developing higher-yielding varieties.
  3. Swaminathan, credited with leading India’s Green Revolution, has said the government should only use genetic engineering as a last resort.
  4. He has emphasized that genetic engineering is supplementary and must be need based.
  5. Only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology.

GM for Abiotic stresses

  1. Abiotic stresses refer to environmental factors that could meddle with plant yield, as opposed to ‘biotic’ stressors such as insects.
  2. GE may be deployed to manage against Abiotic stresses.

Back2Basics

BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis)

  1. BT is a soil dwelling bacterium generally used in biopesticide.
  2. Bt cotton was created through the addition of genes encoding toxin crystals in the Cry group of endotoxin.
  3. When insects attack and eat the cotton plant the Cry toxins are dissolved due to the high pH level of the insect’s stomach.
  4. In 2002, a joint venture between Monsanto and Mahyco introduced Bt cotton to India.
  5. Genetic Engineering appraisal committee (GEAC) is the central agency to allow field trials of BT/GM crops.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Researchers develop transgenic rice with reduced arsenic accumulationPrelims Only


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level:  WaarsM Gene

Mains Level: Benefits of transgenic rice for controlling arsenic accumulation


News

Background

  1. Arsenic accumulation in rice grains is one of the serious agricultural issues in India.
  2. To address this, researchers at Lucknow-based CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute have developed transgenic rice by inserting a novel fungal gene, which results in reduced arsenic accumulation in rice grain.

WaarsM Gene

  1. Researchers have cloned Arsenic methyltransferase (WaarsM) gene from a soil fungus, Westerdykellaaurantiaca.
  2. They inserted the same into the rice genome with the help of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a soil bacterium which has natural ability to alter the plant’s genetic makeup.
  3. The newly developed transgenic rice along with normal rice was then treated with arsenic.
  4. Researchers found that the resulting transgenic plant acquired the potential for methylating inorganic arsenic to a variety of harmless organic species, including volatile arsenicals.
  5. This could be potential strategy for developing transgenic rice capable of low arsenic accumulation not only in grain but also in straw and feed which are used for livestock.

Benefits of this GM

  1. The genetic modification of rice grain can be applied to develop practices to decrease accumulation of arsenic by molecular breeding, gene editing or transgenic approaches.
  2. As large numbers of people are affected by arsenic toxicity, it is imperative to develop rice with lesser arsenic content and high yield.

Other significant Researches

  1. In the past, it has shown a transgenic approach in which phytochelatin synthase from Ceratophyllumdemersum (an aquatic plant) was expressed in rice.
  2. Transgenic lines showed enhanced accumulation of arsenic in roots and shoot but less in grains.
  3. They also described that over expression of OsGrx_C7 (protein found in rice) enhanced tolerance to arsenite and reduced arsenite accumulation in seeds and shoots of rice.
  4. Recently, they have showed that OsPRX38 transgenics accumulate less arsenic due to high lignification in root which acts as a barrier for arsenic entry in transgenic plants.
  5. In this background, biotechnological methods such as modulating the expression of Arsenic metabolism-related genes in rice will be a fruitful and practical approach to decrease arsenic accumulation.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GM mustard trials may get nod soon


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level:  DMH 11

Mains Level: Controversy over use of GM Mustard


News

Nearing approval after several trials

  1. The environment ministry is set to convene a special meeting of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to decide on field-trial approvals for the controversial transgenic mustard
  2. It was developed by the University of Delhi’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP).
  3. The CGMCP had earlier applied to grow transgenic mustard (DMH-11) in plots in Delhi and Punjab to test the plant’s effects on honeybees.
  4. The GEAC had initially cleared the GM crop for commercial cultivation but backtracked and demanded more tests and additional data on honeybees and other pollinators and on soil microbial diversity.

In the chorus of Objections

  1. The GEAC, the apex regulator of transgenic products had put a decision on the proposed field trials on hold after some members objected to the use of unapproved pesticides/herbicides.
  2. The CGMCP team had proposed to use endosulfan; a banned pesticide as part of their experiment, hence some members had voiced objections.
  3. The field safety protocol specifies what measures can be undertaken in case there’s a pest attack on the mustard being tested.
  4. The GEAC had sought more tests for GM mustard in the wake of a several objections to the transgenic crop.
  5. Once cleared it would be the first transgenic food crop to be allowed in India.

Threats posed by GM Mustard

  1. Environmentalists, farmer groups and some scientists argue that transgenic mustard poses several environmental and health risks.
  2. It contains a foreign gene from another species and tests so far have failed to show any appreciable gains in yield over traditional varieties.
  3. The GM mustard is dependent on glyphosate, a weedicide that has been linked to cancer.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

India’s genetically modified crop area fifth largest in worldIOCR


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), GM Crops

Mains level: Growing use of GM crops by farmers and what are regulatory impediments in furthering their expanse


Growing demand for GM crops

  1. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), India has the world’s fifth largest cultivated area under genetically modified (GM) crops
  2. This is an indication of demand for GM technology among Indian farmers
  3. India’s entire GM crop area is under a single crop i.e. cotton
  4. This finding was published in ISAAA’s latest ‘Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/ GM Crops in 2017’ report

GM crops under regulation

In India, the GM crops that are under regulatory consideration are:

  • glyphosate-tolerant cotton
  • biotech hybrid mustard

Bt/insect-resistant cotton has already been commercialised

Transgenic mustard has been developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (harbouring three alien genes that enable higher yields through hybridisation)


Back2Basics

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA)

  1. ISAAA is a non-profit international organization that shares agricultural biotechnology, focusing on genetic engineering
  2. ISAAA documents approved GM crops worldwide and present them in a database available in the organization’s website
  3. The Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology is the information network of ISAAA
  4. The organization releases an annual publication on the global status of commercially approved genetically engineered crops
  5. The ISAAA receives funding from both public and private donors
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

More tests required for GM mustard: regulator


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: Particulars of the committee

Mains Level: The main issue


Observation of the the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee

  1. The committee has said that in light of several representations both “for and against” the release of GM mustard, there was a need for more tests
  2. The Centre has also demanded more tests for genetically modified mustard, a year after clearing the crop for “commercial cultivation”

One of the main issue

  1. The GM mustard has never been tested as a herbicide tolerant crop, for its environmental and health ramifications
  2. It is a point that has remained unaddressed by the regulators

Backrgound

  1. Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH -11) had been developed by a team of scientists at Delhi University
  2. It was developed under a government-funded project

Back2basics

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

  1. It functions in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). As per Rules, 1989, it is responsible for appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle
  2. The committee is also responsible for appraisal of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the enviornment including experimental field trials
  3. GEAC is chaired by the Special Secretary/Additional Secretary of MoEF&CC and co-chaired by a representative from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). Presently, it has 24 members and meets every month to review the applications in the areas indicated above
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Govt: GM soybean imports only after regulator’s approval


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: DGFT, GEAC

Mains level: GM crops and issues related to it


Stop imports of GM soybeans

  1. The Union environment ministry has asked the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) to stop imports of genetically modified (GM) soybean for food or feed without the approval of the regulator for transgenic products
  2. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had received a complaint regarding “illegal/unauthorized import of GM soybean into India from countries like the US and Ukraine

Import regulations

  1. GEAC has not authorized or approved GM soybean or any other products derived from GM soybean seeds for import or cultivation in India
  2. GM Cotton is the only transgenic crop which is allowed to be cultivated
  3. The environment ministry is yet to take a final call on allowing the commercial cultivation of GM mustard

Back2Basics

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

  1. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) functions in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC)
  2. As per Rules, 1989, it is responsible for appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle
  3. The committee is also responsible for appraisal of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the enviornment including experimental field trials
  4. GEAC is chaired by the Special Secretary/Additional Secretary of MoEF&CC and co-chaired by a representative from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT)
  5. It meets every month to review the applications in the areas indicated above
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Many States skip meet on GM crops II


  1. Further steps: GM Mustard needs to be cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, the apex regulator
  2. And then also a possible approval by the Environment Minister
  3. Previously: Bt Brinjal was cleared by the GEAC in 2010 only to be vetoed by former Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh
  4. UNEP: The consultation with States was part of a three-year long project funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  5. The purpose is to “educate” a variety of stakeholders on biosafety and India’s commitments, under international treaties, to treat GMOs responsibly
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Many States skip meet on GM crops I


  1. Event: The Ministry of Environment and Forests held a meeting with states representatives to discuss impediments to research in genetically modified crops
  2. The manner in which field trials ought to be conducted was also discussed
  3. Context: GM mustard has been declared safe for cultivation by a technical committee of India’s apex body that clears GM crop trials
  4. It is the first transgenic crop entirely developed by Indian researchers and with public money,
  5. Problems: This has also prompted States such as Bihar — an important cultivator of mustard — to challenge GM mustard
  6. The SC has begun hearing a petition by anti-GM activist groups
  7. They say that the technical clearance to GM mustard will lead to commercialisation and contaminate India’s mustard gene pool
  8. They also allege that results of tests on GM mustard weren’t fully open to public scrutiny and the clearance violates recommendations of a SC committee
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GM mustard may be stalled indefinitelySC Judgements


  1. News: Even though GM mustard may have been declared safe by a government sub-committee, it may yet remain in the can for an indefinite period
  2. Why? Centre’s preliminary clearance to GM mustard, named Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11), contravenes a 2013 report by a Supreme Court-appointed technical expert committee
  3. This committee had said that herbicide-tolerant crops ought not be permitted in India
  4. One of the genes in DMH-11 contains a gene called ‘bar’ that confers herbicide tolerance
  5. This makes plants resistant to a class of weedicide containing the chemical glufosinate
  6. Critics say glufosinate is toxic and makes farmers dependent on certain brands of crop chemicals
  7. If the court sees merit in the argument, then this could indefinitely stall GM mustard

Consider the following techniques/ phenomena: [Prelims 2014]

1- Budding and grafting in fruit plants
2- Cytoplasmic male sterility
3- Gene silencing

Which of the above is/are used to create transgenic crops?

a) 1 only
b) 2 and 3
c) 1 and 3
d) None

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

Activists objections to herbicide resistant plants


  1. In 2002, India’s biotech regulators had refused to clear a herbicide tolerant plant developed by Bayer Crop Science
  2. Activist organisations from Greenpeace to the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture have protested over decades that using herbicide tolerant genes in plants locks farmers into using select brands of agrochemicals.
  3. However, such an argument is termed bizarre by geneticists
  4. Example: Germany uses four times more herbicide than India, there is no agriculture without herbicide in Western countries- even in countries that swear by organic farming
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Delhi varsity scientist develops GM cotton after success with mustard


  1. An Indian scientists’ team has developed a genetically modified (GM) mustard variety that is inching towards a possible commercial launch
  2. The team could soon hand to a state agency a GM cotton variety that can rival Monsanto’s seeds
  3. It worked on GM mustard for around a decade
  4. A Govt committee said that it found the seeds to be safe for food/ feed and environment
  5. It could be the country’s first GM food crop
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GM mustard moves closer to approval


  1. News: GM Mustard has moved closer to being cleared for commercial cultivation in India
  2. A key committee is learnt to have given a favourable assessment on the tests done so far on GM mustard
  3. However there are multiple approvals still required for any likely clearance
  4. Committee: Was tasked with assessing all the available evidence so far on the plant’s suitability for Indian soil and risks posed to health and ecology
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GM mustard trials: CIC asks govt to reveal bio-safety data


  1. News: Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the environment ministry to reveal safety data regarding trials of genetically modified (GM) mustard without further delay
  2. CIC: Any attempt to postpone or delay the disclosure will block the public discussion on the controversial issue
  3. Background: In April, CIC had pulled up the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) over its lack of transparency on trials of GM crops
  4. Also, directed it to make public all information, including bio-safety data, related to the field trials of the GM mustard crop before 30 April
  5. The CIC also directed the ministry to put in the public domain bio-safety data pertaining to all other GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the pipeline
  6. Context: The CIC’s directions came on an application by an environment activist who sought information regarding field trials of GM mustard from the MoEFCC, but was denied
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Bt cotton has always been controversial. What’s new?


  1. Agriculture Ministry’s new policy on GM crop changes the way seed companies and seed-technology companies such as the MMB share royalty, technology
  2. Aim: India should not be dependent on foreign technology and untimely price fluctuations
  3. Challenge: While India has a healthy repository of GM technologies, translating genes into commercial products is a huge challenge!
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Centre plans alternative to Bt cotton


  1. Purpose: To develop genes that can be integrated into traditional varieties for larger outputs
  2. This project would be led by CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) and DBT (Department of Biotechnology)
  3. Cotton is the only genetically-modified seed that’s legally allowed in India
  4. GM food crops such as Brinjal and Mustard still face opposition by anti-GM activist groups
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Govt. is against the monopolies over seed technologies


  1. Context: Genetically modified seeds are only permitted in cotton and one company seems to be having the monopoly in deciding the prices
  2. Govt may consult with seed firms and farmers before introducing a new policy for technology for GM crops
  3. Aim: To ensure that the final licensing guidelines do not contradict the National IPR Policy, released on May
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Make GM mustard data public: CIC


  1. Context: CIC has asked the Environment Ministry to make public all the data pertaining to the safety of GM mustard
  2. Safeguard: Data can be made public sans proprietary intellectual property data
  3. The first: GM mustard is likely to be the first transgenic seed, to be available in farmer fields
  4. Currently: GM cotton is the only transgenic crop commercially available in farmer fields
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Environment Ministry draws flak over GM mustard data


  1. Context: GEAC, under the Environment Min, had rejected earlier requests for the bio-safety data on GM crops
  2. Why? They said that doing so would “breach commercial confidence” of the crop developer
  3. Now: CIC ordered that ‘data on safety issues which is matter of overriding public interest cannot be considered as confidential information’
  4. People should know how and why GM mustard is being permitted or denied
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GEAC defers decision on importing GM animal feed


  1. Context: The environment ministry has received several requests from companies seeking permission to import genetically modified feed for animals
  2. However, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has deferred a decision on these requests
  3. Why? Absence of an expert view and lack of detailed studies on the matter
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Centre cuts fee & prices for Bt cotton


  1. Context: Centre has lowered the ‘trait’ (licence) fee for genetically modfied (Bt) cotton by 70 per cent for 2016-17
  2. Panel: The decision is in line with the recommendations of a panel constituted to determine a uniform national price of Bt cotton
  3. It was formed in line with the Cotton Price Control Order of December 2015
  4. The order empowered the Centre to fix a uniform national price of cotton hybrids
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

No nod for GM mustard now


  1. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) decided to put on hold any decision on GM mustard
  2. Background – Growing outrage by farmer groups and green activists against commercialisation of GM mustard
  3. The Environment ministry ensured that it will hold a consultative meeting with all the stakeholders before giving approval
  4. It might take couple of months before the trial and safety data could become ready to be publicly available
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Centre sets up committee to fix Bt Cotton seed prices


The government constituted a committee to execute its cotton price control order that will decide the price farmers pay to seed companies.

  1. 9-member committee has a deadline of 31 March to decide on the MSP of genetically modified Bt cotton seeds.
  2. The committee is slated to meet within a week or two to decide the maximum sale price (MSP) of cotton seeds, including royalty fees and dealers’ margins.
  3. The agriculture ministry on 7 December issued a price control order to bring uniformity in Bt cotton seed prices.
  4. As several states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have brought in price control orders.
  5. At least six million farmers grow cotton in India, over 95% of which is grown using the transgenic Bt technology.
  6. The committee will be headed by the joint secretary (seeds) in the ministry, and will have the agriculture secretaries of Telangana and Gujarat as members.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

It is failure of Bt technology, opines expert panel


Expert panel opined that the Bt cotton, despite been cultivated as per the instructions and guidelines of seed producers and Agricultural Universities, was destroyed by pink bollworm pest.

  1. An independent fact-finding team of cotton experts that examined Bt cotton fields destroyed by pink bollworm in Raichur district.
  2. It strongly held that the crop destruction was not due to adulteration of seeds, but due to the failure of Bt technology itself.
  3. The outbreaks of white fly menace in North Karnataka and Andhra 1996, mirid bugs in Haveri in 2013.
  4. The pink bollworm now in Raichur have clearly refuted the claims Bt cotton seed producers claims on pest-resistance.
  5. Experts strongly demanded to amend Seed Act 1966 so as to incorporate provisions that would deal with genetic purity of genetically modified seeds.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GM cotton: whitefly attack raises anxiety among farmers


Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) is now recommending farmers to sow traditional non-Bt varieties of American and indigenous cotton

  1. The ineffectiveness of genetically modified (GM) cotton against the recent whitefly attack in Punjab and Haryana.
  2. It is time for India to actively promote and involve public-private partnership (PPP) model in GM crop technology
  3. Focus on developing new technologies to fight pest infestation on cotton and other crops.
  4. The whitefly attack in Punjab that damaged over 75 per cent crop across the cotton belt had led to widespread protests in the past few days.
  5. Bt cotton is around 14 years old technology and is effective against specific type of bollworms, but not insects such as whitefly.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Eminent scientists praise genetically-modified crops


  1. They emphasised that the state govt’s prior approval for conducting confined field trials should be removed.
  2. Such permission is needed, under the national seeds Act, only for allowing commercial cultivation of new seeds, not for their field testing.
  3. There is no evidence of any adverse impact of the GM products either on human health or on environment.

Discuss: These scientists have written letters to Modi. Now is a good time to revise what are the cons of GM crops

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

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