Sale of HTBt cotton Seeds Doubles

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    The illegal cultivation of herbicide-tolerant (HT) Bt cotton has seen a huge jump this year 2021 and the sale of illegal seed packets have more than doubled.

    • Industry lobbies have written to the Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, demanding that action be taken to stop such sales and punish offenders.

     

    Bt Cotton

    • Bt cotton is the only genetically modified (GM) crop that is allowed in India since 2002.
      • Bt cotton was first approved for commercial use in the United States in 1995. In 2002, a joint venture between US-based Monsanto and the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co Ltd (Mahyco) introduced Bt cotton to India.
    • It 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 and the other is Ht Bt cotton which is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.

     

    Herbicide Tolerant Bt (HTBt) Cotton

    • The HTBt cotton variant adds another layer of modification. It makes the plant resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. This has not been approved by regulators.
      • It is feared that glyphosate has a carcinogenic effect.
      • The unchecked spread of herbicide resistance to nearby plants through pollination could create a variety of superweeds.

     

    Major Concerns Highlighted 

    • This year there is a big increase in such illegal cultivation especially in Maharashtra from 30 lakh packets last year to about 75 lakh packets this year(2021) and to make matters worse, the illegal seeds are sold using the brand name of prominent companies.
    • It is illegal to grow HTBt cotton in India since the Government has not cleared it for commercial cultivation. 
    • Farmers are at risk with such illegal cotton seed sale as there is no accountability of the quality of seed.
    • The industry is losing legitimate seed sales and the government also loses revenue in terms of tax collection noting that HTBt seeds are often produced in Gujarat and then moved to Maharashtra.
    • It will not only decimate small cotton seed companies but also threatens the entire legal cotton seed market in India.
    • Cultivation of the genetically modified cotton variant has serious environmental and economic consequences.

     

    Reasons For Favouring  HTBt 

    • Farmers say the cultivation cost reduces drastically with HTBt seeds as they can spray herbicides to eliminate weeds without damage to cotton crop and save labour cost required to pull out weeds that reduce the yield.
      • There is a shortage of the labour needed to do at least two rounds of weeding for Bt cotton. 
      • With HTBt, they can simply do one round of glyphosate spraying with no need for weeding. It saves ?7,000 to ?8,000 per acre for farmers.

     

    Stand of Government 

    •  The Centre has made a policy to ban this variant.
      •  But the State governments must take action. 
    • Following Central advisories to all cotton-growing States, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Telangana have seized HTBt stock and taken punitive action against the culprits. States have also been asked to regulate the sale of glyphosate.
    • It has been decided that proposals for field trials of GM crops, including Bt brinjal, will not be taken up for consideration by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) without the recommendation of the State/UT concerned.
    • However, the State government officials said that they were still waiting for further directions from the Centre

    Genetically Modified(GM) Crops

    • They are that type of plants whose DNA has been modified through genetic engineering for embedding a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species.
      • Genetic engineering aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects and the alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.
    • Across the world, GM variants of maize, canola and soybean etc, are available

     

    Legal Position of GM crops in India

    • All GM crops in India need to be approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for regulating the manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms or genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and cells in the country.
    • It is responsible for the appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
    • The committee is also responsible for the appraisal of proposals relating to the release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
    • 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.

    Regulation of Imported Crops

    • The task of regulating GMO levels in imported consumables was initially with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Union environment ministry.
    • Its role was diluted with the enactment of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and FSSAI was asked to take over approvals of imported goods.

     

    Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) 

    • It functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
    • It is responsible for the appraisal of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
    • The committee is also responsible for the appraisal of proposals relating to the release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.

     

    Source: TH