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GM food and sustainable food production

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Awareness in the fields of Biotechnology


Source: IE

 Context: Genetically modified (GM) food is viewed as a controversial as well as a science-based solution for a sustainable global food system.


Challenges the world is facing – Conflict between food security and environmental protection:

  • Agriculture is responsible for a quarter of the carbon emissions and the vast majority of the world’s biodiversity losses.
  • However, there is the need to increase food production (by 50%), as the world’s population keeps growing [will reach 10 billion in 2057 (as per UN estimates)].


Approaches to achieving food security and mitigating climate crisis:

  • Dietary changes to make consumption more sustainable.
  • Better technologies to create more environmentally friendly methods of agriculture. Gene technologies are a crucial part of the strategy for a sustainable food system.


What is GM food?

  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms that have altered DNA to change their properties.
  • Foods produced from or using GMOs are often referred to as GM foods/crops.
  • GMOs were first introduced in the US in 1994, to prolong the shelf life of tomato plants.
  • Since then, GM soybeans, wheat and rice have been approved for agricultural use.
  • Currently, GM crop production uses ~10% of the land as compared to non-GM crops.



  • Can improve yield, delay ripening to prolong their shelf life, builds resistance to disease/pests, frost, or drought, or adds nutrients.
  • Can be modified to reduce carbon emissions and boost the sustainability of food production.


GM controversy:

  • Uncertainty (over-regulation) and concerns about safety (long-term impact on human-animal health and biodiversity).
  • The monopoly of big corporations (like Monsanto) → expensive GM seeds.


GM crops in India:

  • Indian farmers started cultivating Bt cotton – a pest-resistant, GM version of cotton, in 2002-03.
    • By 2014, around 96% of the area under cotton cultivation in India was Bt cotton, making India the 4th-largest cultivator of GM crops by acreage and the 2nd largest producer of cotton.
  • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) cleared the environmental release of mustard hybrid Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11) for its seed production and testing
  • Indian scientists have also developed strains of Sub-1 rice, which are much more resistant to flooding.
  • Golden rice is a GM strain modified to contain vitamin A, to combat the shortage of dietary vitamin A in parts of Asia and Africa.


Way ahead:

  • The focus of GM products must be on the social and public enterprise.
  • The industry must look at more local solutions that help smallholder farmers in developing countries.
  • Easy availability of open-source seeds and GM technologies.
  • Creating a licensing landscape that empowers local farmers to adapt to the demands of sustainable agriculture, to meet rising populations and climate change.


Insta Links:

Genetic Modification in Crops


Prelims Links: (UPSC 2018)

With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 and 3 only
  2. 2 only
  3. 2 and 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3


Ans: 2

Tags: GM crops, GS 3, Today’s article, 31 May CA