GM Mustard (DMH-11)

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    Context

    • Genetically modified crops may soon get the central government nod, further on, activists pressing against allowing commercial use of genetically modified crops.

    About

    • Approval of GM Mustard (DMH-11)
      • Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which functions in the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, might approve the commercial cultivation of modified mustard.
      • This would be the first time since 2002 for such approval to grow GM mustard, a genetically modified hybrid variety of the mustard species, for consumption by the masses.
      • The green signal for GM mustard was given by the central government in 2017 after trials in Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi. 
        • However, it remained pending for approval from the environment ministry. 
    • Future crops in line: 
      • Once the GM mustard is approved, other crop varieties such as BT cotton, BT brinjal and HT cotton are in line for the nod for commercial cultivation. 
    • Protests against it: 
      • The decision to approve it took a pause after activists and farmer bodies approached the Supreme Court to oppose the move. 
    • Issues that will arise after Approval:
      • This could pose a threat to crop diversity, food security.
      • Indigenous crop varieties may get threatened, which are crucial to fight climate change.
      • It will severely affect the agrarian sector, as the seed market will be in the hands of private companies instead of farmers. 
      • The entire biosafety assessment of GM mustard has been unscientific and no guidelines have been followed. 
    • Government’s stand:
      • Farmers in many states like Haryana use illegal cultivations of such varieties. The move is to normalise such illegalities.
      • The government has been mulling over approval for genetic editing, which would not come under the purview of genetic modification

    What are 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.

    GM crops in India

    • Bt cotton:
      • 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. 
      • On the other hand, 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.
    • Bt Brinjal: 
      • In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.
      • In Bt brinjal, a gene permits the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borers.
      • Previously, the government has put on hold the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) mustard due to stiff opposition from anti-GMO activists and NGOs.
    • Global variants: 
      • Across the world, GM variants of maize, canola and soybean, too, are available.

    Legal position of genetically modified crops in India

    • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for the commercial release of GM crops. 
      • In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton. 
    • 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.
    • The Central government had for the first time exempted certain types of genome-edited crops from the stringent regulations applicable on genetically modified or GM crops, paving the way for further R&D on them.
    • FSSAI issued an order on February 8, 2021, setting the permissible limit for genetically modified organisms (GMO) in imported food crops at 1%. 

    Advantages of GMO crops

    • Improves production and raises the farmer’s income. 
    • Reduces the use of pesticide and insecticide during farming that might be great moves 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 marketization of farming that works on immoral profits.
    • The transgenic crops endanger not only farmers but also the trade, and the environment as well.

    The current safety assessments are inadequate to catch most of the harmful effects from the GM crops. 

    Way Ahead

    • The move will definitely open Pandora’s box for commercial use of GM seeds.
    • Proper guidelines and the SOP need to be framed in case of approval by the Ministry.
    • Also, there is a need to strengthen, conserve and preserve traditional seeds that would ensure food security. 

    Source: DTE