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GM seeds: the debate, and a sowing agitation

  • IASbaba
  • June 12, 2020
  • 0
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AGRICULTURE/ SCIENCE & TECH/ GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Issues of food security; Technology missions 
  • Science & Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life. 
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

GM seeds: the debate, and a sowing agitation

Context: In 2020 kharif season, farmers would undertake mass sowing of GM seeds for maize, soyabean, mustard, brinjal and herbicide tolerant (Ht) cotton, although these are not approved.

Farmers had carried out a similar movement in 2019 too.

What are 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.
  • 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 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.
  • In DMH-11 mustard, developed by Deepak Pental & University of Delhi, genetic modification allows cross-pollination in a crop that self-pollinates in nature.

Some benefits of GM Products:

  • Increased crop yields.
  • Reduced costs for food or drug production.
  • Reduced need for pesticides.
  • Enhanced nutrient composition.
  • Resistance to pests and disease.
  • Greater food security and medical benefits to the world’s growing population.
  • Increase the yield of animals for milk and meat production.
  • Decrease susceptibility to disease in animals.
  • Allowing plants to grow in conditions where they might not otherwise flourish.
  • Increased shelf life and hence there is less fear of foods getting spoiled quickly.

Concerns over the use of genetically modified (GM) products:

  • Ecological Balance: The capability of the GMO to escape and potentially introduce the engineered genes into wild populations thus disturbing the fragile ecological balance
  • The reduction in the spectrum of other plants including loss of biodiversity
  • Danger of Permanence: The persistence of the gene after the GMO has been harvested
  • The susceptibility of non-target organisms (e.g. insects which are not pests) to the gene product
  • The stability of the gene is another cause of worry
  • Increased use of chemicals in agriculture.
  • Health: Genetic modification, experts say, brings about changes that can be harmful to humans in the long run.
  • Awareness and Labelling issues: Manufacturers do not mention on the label that foods are developed by genetic manipulation because they think that this would affect their business, which is not a good practice. 
  • Religious issues: Many religious and cultural communities are against such foods because they see it as an unnatural way of producing foods.
  • International Trade: With the increase of GM Products, developing countries would start depending more on industrial countries for GM technology

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

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for 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 fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act ,1989.

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.
  • This action of defying government regulations by growing unapproved Bt varieties will draw attention of authorities to the need for introduction of the latest technology in the fields
  • The approval process of GM seeds is lengthy, opaque and often excludes farmers. This is opposed by farmers who want access to better technology

Conclusion

With growing agrarian distress and increasing population pressures, there is a need for innovation in agriculture that balances interests of humans and that of environment.

Connecting the dots:

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