- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.
What to study?
For Prelims: About GM crops, their production and other Genetic engineering related key facts.
For Mains: Concerns raised over the introduction of GM crops, arguments in favour and against.
Context: Recently, a group of more than 1,000 farmers gathered in a village in Akola of Maharashtra to sow seeds of an unapproved, genetically modified variety of cotton, defying government regulations. The government is now investigating what was planted.
What is allowed?
Bt cotton remains the only GM crop allowed to be cultivated in the country.
Developed by US giant Bayer-Monsanto, it involves insertion of two genes viz ‘Cry1Ab’ and ‘Cry2Bc’ from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into cotton seeds. This modification codes the plant to produce protein toxic to Heliothis bollworm (pink bollworm) thus making it resistant to their attack. The commercial release of this hybrid was sanctioned by the government in 2002.
Role of GEAC:
In India, it is the responsibility of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Environment Ministry to assess the safety of a genetically modified plant, and decide whether it is fit for cultivation.
The GEAC comprises experts and government representatives, and a decision it takes has to be approved by the Environment Minister before any crop is allowed for cultivation.
Besides Bt cotton, the GEAC has cleared two other genetically modified crops — brinjal and mustard — but these have not received the consent of the Environment Minister.
What’s the concern now?
The farmers in Akola planted a herbicide-tolerant variety of Bt cotton. This variety (HtBt) involves the addition of another gene, ‘Cp4-Epsps’ from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens. It is not cleared by GEAC. The farmers claim that the HtBt variety can withstand the spray of glyphosate, a herbicide that is used to remove weeds, and thus it substantially saves them de-weeding costs.
Why it’s a concern?
Genetic changes made in a plant can make it unsafe for consumption, have adverse impacts on human or animal health, or introduce problems in the soil or neighbouring crops. There is an elaborate process of tests and field trials to be followed. Critics of GM technology argue that some traits of genes start expressing themselves only after several generations, and thus one can never be sure about their safety.
What the law says?
Legally, sale, storage, transportation and usage of unapproved GM seeds is a punishable offence under the Rules of Environmental Protection Act 1989. Also, sale of unapproved seeds can attract action under the Seed Act of 1966 and the Cotton Act of 1957. The Environmental Protection Act provides for a jail term of five years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for violation of its provisions, and cases can be filed under the other two Acts.
Sources: Indian express.