GM seeds: The debate

  Aug 06, 2020

GM seeds: The debate

Q. Why is this in news?

A. 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. So, in this regard, Shetkari Sanghatana a farmers union has announced fresh plans in its agitation for use of genetically modified seeds.

Q. What is the movement about?

• The Sanghatana has announced that this year they are going to undertake large-scale sowing of unapproved GM crops like maize, Ht Bt cotton, soybean and brinjal across Maharashtra.

• Farmers who plant such variants will put up boards on their fields proclaiming the GM nature of their crop.

• This action will draw attention to the need for introduction of the latest technology in the fields.

Q. What are genetically modified seeds?

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.

For example:

1. 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.

2. Ht Bt cotton is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.   

3. In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.

4. In DMH-11 mustard, genetic modification allows cross-pollination in a crop that self-pollinates in nature.

Q. What is status of GM crops in India?

Q. What is the legal position of genetically modified crops in India?

A. In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for commercial release of GM crops.

Q. What is penalty for using unapproved GM crops?

A. Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act ,1986.

Q. Why are farmers rooting for GM crops?

A. Reduced costs: Cost of weeding goes down considerably if farmers grow Ht Bt cotton and use glyphosate against weeds. In case of Bt brinjal, the cost reduces as the cost of production is reduced by cutting down on the use of pesticides.

Q. What are major concerns?

  1. Environmental impact: Sowing of Bt brinjal or GM foods can give rise to serious environmental concerns like:
  1. Implications for consumers and farmers: National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research’s anticipation that Bt brinjal’s high yield and increased shelf life will benefit consumers and farmers owing to cut in retail price of brinjals ignores the scenario that companies might charge premium prices for Bt brinjal seeds, in which case farmers may not benefit at all.
  2. Critics claim that patent laws give developers of the GM crops a dangerous degree of control/ dominance over the food supply that results in the over domination of world food production by a few companies.
  3. Biosafety Issues: Crops like rice, brinjal, and mustard, among others, have their origin in India and introducing genetically modified versions of these crops could be a major threat to the vast number of domestic and wild varieties of these crops (GM crops because of their pest resistance characteristics could eliminate important species of pests that are responsible for sustaining domestic varieties and can pose serious threats to biodiversity).
  4. Nutrition issues: Bt brinjal poses risks to human health as their resistance to antibiotics can turn medicines ineffective and may result in the formation of new toxins and allergens. Toxins produced by GM crops can not only affect non target organisms but also pose the danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in foods.
  5. Inefficient Regulatory system: Seeing the lapses in the regulatory system and irregularities in the assessment of Bt brinjal (in terms of labeling and unapproved and illegal sowing of GM crops) Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests recommended: