A push for GM mustard disregarding science

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    A push for GM mustard disregarding science, the Law

    Syllabus: GS3/ Science & Technology, Biotechnology

    In Context

    • India has seen a robust debate on GM crops in the last two decades. Environmentalists, scientists, farmers, and the higher judiciary have asked probing questions about the safety, efficacy and even the very necessity of GM food.
      • Also, recently, some activists approached the Supreme Court to ban Genetically-Modified (GM) food crops — Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) for various reasons.

    GM Mustard

    • The Delhi University Center for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants created the genetically altered mustard variety known as DMH (Dhara Mustard Hybrid)-11.
    • Biotechnologists insert select genes at a random location in the DNA of a plant to develop a GM crop. 
    • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GMEC) approved the commercial production of Mustard DMH-11.
      • Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is in charge of evaluating requests to release genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment, including experimental field tests. The Environment Protection Act gives the GEAC or those it has authorized the right to take sanctions.
    • Mustard is India’s top crop for producing edible oil.

    What are the Issues Regarding GM Mustard?

    • GM mustard is a herbicide-tolerant crop, and farmers and campaigners claim that spraying hazardous chemicals on the plant will have an adverse effect on the health of those who consume it. Additionally, they contend that it does not fit the agricultural circumstances in India and is not environmentally sustainable.
    • Few Environmentalists, scientists, lawmakers, farmers, consumers, and members of the higher court have questioned the necessity of Genetically Modified (GM) food as well as its safety and effectiveness.
    • The committees associated with GM Mustard highlighted major weakness in the regulatory system and called for utmost caution. The members of the Committee also pointed to the deficiencies in the safety assessment of GM crops.
    • The Government has not placed the full biosafety dossier of GM mustard in public domain. Also, the government has claimed that it should not be considered as a Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crop.

    What are GM crops?

    • Crops that have undergone genetic engineering processes to alter their DNA are referred to as genetically modified crops.
    • The goal is to give the plant a new characteristic that does not arise naturally in the species.
    • Modifications made improvements to the crop’s nutrient profile and resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental factors are both important in food crops.

    GM Crops in India

    • Bt Cotton: Bt cotton has two foreign genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which enables the crop to create a protein harmful to the common insect pink bollworm. Bt cotton is the only GM crop that is permitted in India

    Contrarily, Bt cotton is created by introducing a second gene from a different soil bacterium, which enables the plant to withstand the common pesticide glyphosate.

    • Bt Brinjal: A gene in Bt brinjal enables the plant to fend off fruit and shoot borer infestations. A gene in Bt brinjal enables the plant to defend itself against fruit and shoot borers. The commercial distribution of genetically modified (GM) mustard has previously been delayed by the government due to vehement resistance from NGOs and anti-GMO campaigners.
    • DMH 11 Mustard: The genetic alteration in DMH-11 mustard, created by Deepak Pental and colleagues at the University of Delhi’s South Campus, permits cross-pollination in a crop that naturally self-pollinates.
    • Worldwide variants:  There are GM versions of maize, canola, and soybeans accessible everywhere. 

    Advantages of GM Crops

    • It boosts output and increases farmer income. 
    • It lessens the use of pesticides and insecticides during farming, which may be excellent steps for improving the availability of food.
    • It can feed a population that is growing quickly due to the drastically higher yields.
    • Smaller plots of land can yield greater yields.

    Disadvantages of GM Crops

    • 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. 
    • It raises the expense of farming and makes farming more prone to marketization, which focuses on unethical profits.
    • In addition to endangering farmers, transgenic crops also threaten the environment and the trade.
    •  The majority of the negative consequences from GM crops are not captured by the present safety evaluations. Additionally, the regulatory framework for GM crops in India has never undergone a full evaluation of the GM risk assessment under Indian conditions.

    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%. 

    Way Forward

    • Governments must address the problems brought on by GM crops, particularly in the areas of safety testing, legislation, industrial strategy, and food labeling.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What are Genetically Modified crops and food? How the cultivation of GM Crops impacts the future of farming and India’s food culture?