Why in News:
- Wide recall of toffees made from rice flour with genetically modified (GM) contamination and according to notifications on the European Commission’s rapid alert system, it allegedly originated in India,.
- However, the Commerce Ministry pointed out that GM rice is not grown commercially in India, let alone exported, and promised a thorough enquiry by its agricultural exports authority.
India’s export scenario
- India’s annual rice exports amount to 18 million tonnes worth ₹65,000 crore, and reach more than 75 countries.
- Multiple GM rice varieties have been approved for confined field trials, and any cross-contamination could dampen the country’s agricultural export ambitions.
What is GM crop
- A genetically modified organism (GMO) or living modified organism (LMO), is any organism whose genetic material has been modified using laboratory-based transfer of genetic material from another organism.
- Development of GM crops starts with the identification of genes of interest and isolating it from the host organism. The gene is incorporated into the DNA of crop plants using laboratory based gene gun or agrobacterium approaches.
- GM technology involves direct manipulation of DNA instead of using controlled pollination to alter the desired characteristics. Genetic modification is one the approaches to crop improvement, all of which aim at adding desirable genes and removing undesirable ones to produce better varieties.
- Conventional crop improvement involves selection and cross breeding using control pollination of better types available naturally or produced through breeding.
- Of the GM food crops in India, brinjal, mustard etc is awaiting permission for large-scale field trials and seed production. Bt brinjal is the first food crop to get GEAC approval.
- But, Bt cotton is the only other GM crop permitted for commercial cultivation in the country.
- GEAC approval does not mean commercial cultivation, the final decision to allow commercial cultivation is taken by the Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
India’s GM Crops
- In 2002, Bt cotton became the first GM crop to be certified for commercial production.
- Bt Brinjal was authorised by GEAC in 2009 and is resistant to the brinjal shoot fly. However, due to a ten-year prohibition on GM crops imposed by the Supreme Court of India’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC), commercialization has halted.
- GM Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11: GEAC has urged that a thorough safety assessment be generated before commercial release of DMH 11 developed by Delhi University.
- But unauthorised HtBt Cotton and Bt Brinjal are already being grown commercially, with hundreds of growers blatantly defying the governmental ban
- In India, GM rice is not commercially produced. Multiple GM rice varieties, on the other hand, have been approved for controlled field trials. Cross-contamination from such field studies, either directly or through seed leakages, can happen.
Statutory bodies on GM crop regulation
- Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RDAC): Monitors the developments in biotechnology at national and international levels.
- Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBSC): Approves low-risk experiments and ensures adherence to prescribed safety guidelines. Recommends high-risk experiments to the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) for approval.
- Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM): Reviews all ongoing projects involving high-risk and controlled field experiments. Approves applications for generating research information on GM plants.
- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC): Approves activities involving large scale use of GMOs in research and production.
- State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC): Reviews the safety and control measures in various institutions handling GMOs. Acts as State level nodal agency to assess the damage, if any, due to release of GMOs and to take on-site control measures.
- District Level Committee (DLC): Inspects, investigates and reports to the SBCC or the GEAC about compliance or non-compliance of regulatory guidelines. Acts as nodal agency at District level to assess the damage, if any, due to release of GMOs and to take on site control measures.
Legality of controlling GM crops
- 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.
Benefits of GM crops
- Better Pest and Disease Resistance.
- Greater tolerance of stress, e.g. drought, low temperatures, salinity etc.
- High yield and faster growth, so that harvesting can be done with shorter growing seasons.
- Can be made more nutritious.
Drawbacks with GM crops
- Unpredictable side effects.
- May cause ecological damage.
- Poor farmers may not be able buy them
- Intellectual property rights issues may hinder access
- Overuse of herbicides.