Genetically Modified Cowpea in Ghana

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    In Context

    • Recently, Genetically Modified (GM) Cowpea has cleared the first of the three regulatory hurdles in the way of commercialisation in Ghana.

    More about the news

    • Significance of Cowpea in Ghana:
      • Cowpea – black-eyed pea in some parts of the world – is a major source of protein in Ghana and the rest of the sub-continent. It is integral to Ghana’s food security. 
      • It is a staple, especially in the northern part of Ghana, where it is second only to groundnut in terms of area cultivated. 
      • Ghana is the fifth largest producer of cowpea in Africa.
    • Rationale behind Genetic Modification of Cowpea:
      • The GM cowpea has been genetically engineered to resist the Maruca pod borer
        • In confined field trials, GM cowpea suffered less damage from the Maruca pod-borer than non-GM cowpea. 
      • The hope is that this resistance will help decrease the number of insecticides farmers have been using to control pests and increase yields. 
        • Insecticides are known to be deleterious to human health, but their use is on the rise throughout Africa.
      • If Ghana commercialises GM cowpea, it will join Nigeria as the second country in the world to grow it.

    Genetically Modified( GM ) Crops

    • About:
      • 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.

    • Advantages:
      • It improves production and raises the farmer’s income. 
      • It reduces the use of pesticides and insecticides during farming which might be a great move for the betterment of the food supply.
      • It can feed a rapidly increasing population because it shows dramatically increased yields.
      • It can produce more in small areas of land.
    • Disadvantages:
      • The production imposes high risks to the disruption of ecosystem and biodiversity because the “better” traits produced from engineering genes can result in the favouring of one organism
        • Hence, it can eventually disrupt the natural process of gene flow.
      • It increases the cost of cultivation and is more inclined towards the marketization of farming that works on immoral profits.
      • The transgenic crops endanger not only farmers but also the trade, and the environment as well.
      • Inadequate Safety Assessments: The current safety assessments are inadequate to catch most of the harmful effects of GM crops. Moreover, the regulatory regime in India regarding GM crops has never been assessed thoroughly about the GM risk assessment in Indian conditions.
      • May cause allergic reactions because of their altered DNA and they may increase antibiotic resistance.

    GM crops in India

    • Bt cotton
      • It is the only GM crop that is allowed in India since  2002, 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 
      • 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.
    • Bt brinjal: 
      • A gene permits the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borers.
    • Bt Mustard:
      • The government has put on hold the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) mustard due to stiff opposition from anti-GM activists and NGOs.

    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 and works under the aegis of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
      • It is responsible for the appraisal of activities involving the large-scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from an 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.

    Way Ahead

    • Among all the methods for improving genetics, GMOs have the greatest potential for improving food and agriculture. They are also steeped in controversy. 
    • From a scientific standpoint, GMO simply means an organism containing foreign genetic code in its genome.
    • The challenges linked to GM crops need to be addressed by governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, industrial policy and food labelling.

    Source: DTE