What are genetically modified (GM) seeds?
- Conventional plant breeding is done by crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents.
- The aim of genetic engineering is to transcend the genus barrier by inserting an alien gene in the seeds to produce desired results.
- The alien gene could be taken from an animal, a plant or even a soil bacterium.
- Bt cotton is the only Genetically Modified crop that is allowed in India. It has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These genes allow the crop to develop a toxic protein effective against the common pest pink bollworm.
- Ht Bt cotton is produced with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.
- In Bt brinjal, a gene is introduced in the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.
- In DMH-11 mustard is developed by Deepak Pental & University of Delhi, genetic modification allows cross-pollination in a crop that self-pollinates in nature.
Legal Position of GM crops in India
- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is an apex body in the country that allows for the commercial release of GM crops.
- The commercial release of Bt cotton was allowed by GEAC in 2002. More than 95% of India’s cotton area has since then come under Bt cotton.
- Use of the unapproved GM seed can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs. 1 lakh under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Why are farmers rooting for GM crops?
- In the case of cotton, farmers have to carry the high cost of weeding, which goes down considerably if they grow Ht Bt cotton and use glyphosate against weeds.
- Brinjal growers in Haryana have rooted for Bt brinjal as it reduces the cost of production by cutting down on the use of pesticides.
- This action of defying government regulations by growing unapproved Bt varieties will draw the attention of authorities to the need for the introduction of the latest technology in the fields
- The approval process of GM seeds is lengthy, opaque and often excludes farmers. This is opposed by farmers who want access to better technology.
Benefits of GM Seeds:
- Its use increases crop yields.
- It reduces costs for food or drug production.
- It requires a fewer amount of pesticides.
- It enhanced nutrient composition.
- GM crop is resistant to pests and disease.
- GM crop is used for greater food security and medical benefits to the world’s growing population.
- Decrease susceptibility to disease in animals.
- It uses increases the yield of animals for milk and meat production.
- GM seeds allow farmers to grow a plant in conditions where they might not otherwise flourish.
- One of the benefits of GM crop is increased shelf life, leading to less fear of foods getting spoiled quickly.
1. Harmful to Human Health:
- The genetic modification can be harmful to humans in the long run. The long-lasting effect of Genetically Modified crops is yet to be studied by experts.
- Bt brinjal is another GM crop, poses risks to human health as it is resistance to antibiotics can turn medicines ineffective and may result in the formation of new toxins and allergens.
2. A threat to Biodiversity:
- Cross-pollination in GM crops paves the way for herbicide-resistant superweeds that can further threaten the sustenance of other crops and pests because of their uncontrolled growth. In short, biodiversity gets threatened.
- GM crops, because of their pest resistance characteristics, could eliminate important species of pests that are responsible for sustaining domestic varieties and can pose serious threats to biodiversity. Can affect the food chain also.
3. Impact on consumers and farmers: It is claimed that patent laws give developers of the GM crops a dangerous degree of control/dominance over the food supply that results in the over domination of world food production by a few companies.
4. Awareness and Labelling issues: Manufacturers do not mention on the label that foods are developed by genetic manipulation because they think that this would affect their business, which is not a good practice.
5. Religious Challenges: Many religious and cultural communities are against such foods because they see it as an unnatural way of producing foods.
6. International Trade: With the increase of GM Products, developing countries would start depending more on industrial countries for GM technology
With growing agrarian distress and increasing population pressures, there is a need for innovation in agriculture that balances the interests of humans and that of the environment.
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