Revolution of Genetically Modified Crops

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    • Recently, Some activists approached the Supreme Court to ban Genetically-Modified (GM) food crops — Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) for various reasons.

    About Genetically Modified Crops

    • A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is any living organism whose genetic material has been modified to include certain desirable techniques. 
      • Genetic modification has previously been used for the large-scale production of insulin, vaccines, and more
    • In crops, genetic modification involves the manipulation of DNA instead of using controlled pollination— the conventional method to improve crops— to alter certain characteristics of the crop.

    Advantages : 

    • It is useful in controlling the occurrence of certain diseases.
    • It grows faster than the foods that are grown traditionally. 
      • Probably because of this, the increased productivity provides the population with more food. 
    • At times, genetically engineered food crops can be grown at places with unfavourable climatic conditions too
    • It is reported to be high in nutrients and contain more minerals and vitamins than those found in traditionally grown food.

    Disadvantages 

    • It can have harmful effects on the human body. 
    • It is believed that consumption of these genetically engineered foods can cause the development of diseases which are immune to antibiotics.
    • This cross-pollination method can cause damage to other organisms that thrive in the environment.
    • The technology is mostly carcinogenic. It is a killer technology that kills soil, microbes, pollinators, almost all medicinal herbs and adversely affects crop diversity. It can also cause cancer in humans,

    Widely grown GM crops around the world

    • Soyabean, maize, cotton, and canola with herbicide tolerance and insect resistance are the most widely grown GM crops around the world. 
      • Other common genetically modified characteristics include virus resistance, drought resistance, and fruit and tuber quality.
    •  GM crops have spread around the world since 1996. More than 70 countries have accepted the use of GM crops.

    GM crops in India

    • Indian farmers started cultivating Bt cotton, a pest-resistant, genetically modified version of cotton, in 2002-03. 
      • Bt modification is a type of genetic modification where the Bt gene obtained from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis is introduced into the target crop – in this case, cotton.
        •  Bt cotton is resistant to bollworm, a pest that destroys cotton plants.
    • By 2014, around 96% of the area under cotton cultivation in India was Bt cotton, making India the fourth-largest cultivator of GM crops by acreage and the second largest producer of cotton.
      • More important are the gains to cotton farmers whose incomes increased significantly.

    Latest Developments

    • Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH -11) was developed by a team of scientists at Delhi University under a government-funded project. 
      • It uses a system of genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard — generally a self-pollinating plant — better suited to hybridisation than current methods.
    • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India’s apex regulator of genetically modified plants and food products, has approved the environmental release of Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11), a genetically-engineered variant of mustard.
      •  If approved for commercial cultivation it would be the first genetically modified food crop available to Indian farmers.

    The response from farmers’ associations

    • Left-wing farmers’ organisation All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has welcomed the development related to GM mustard. General Secretary Hannan Mollah, however, said the control of the technology should remain with the governments and the public sector and extensive testing of the hybrid seed must be done by ICAR.
    • However, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s (RSS) farmer body Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) opposed the move.

    Regulatory framework in India

    • Strict regulations are in place to control threats to animal health, human safety, and biodiversity at large during the processes of development, cultivation and transboundary movement of GM crops.
    • Acts and rules that regulate GM crops in India include:
    • Environment Protection Act, 1986 (EPA)
    • Biological Diversity Act, 2002
    • Plant Quarantine Order, 2003
    • GM policy under Foreign Trade Policy
    • Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
    • Drugs and Cosmetics Rule (8th Amendment), 1988

    Conclusion and Way Forward

    • The success of Bt cotton holds many lessons for policymakers and the field trials of GM mustard at different locations showed 25-28 per cent higher yield and better disease resistance compared to indigenous varieties. 
      • This can go a long way in augmenting domestic mustard oil supplies and farmers’ incomes.
    • It was expected that India would be at the forefront of the gene revolution and emerge as a major export hub to other Asian and African countries. 
    • Dissent is a good sign in any democratic society and forms an essential part of checks and balances. 
      • But once the safety tests are done and the scientific body (GEAC) has given the green signal, what is needed is political leadership to keep the decision-making science-based.

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q]What are Genetically Modified Crops ? and  List out the advantages and disadvantages of the  Genetically Modified Crops.