Why in News?
- The illegal cultivation of herbicide tolerant (HT) Bt cotton has seen a huge jump this year.
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),
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
- Can be made resistant to specific herbicides
Drawbacks with GM crops
- Unpredictable side effects.
- May cause ecological damage.
- Poor farmers may not be able buy them
- Intellectual property rights.
- Overuse of herbicides.
What is Bt cotton
- Bt cotton is the only transgenic crop (A transgenic crop is a genetically modified organism (GMO)) that has been approved by the Centre for commercial cultivation in India. Now it’s being grown by Indian farmers on some 11 million hectares.
- It has been genetically modified to produce an insecticide to combat the cotton bollworm, a common pest.
- In the case of cotton, the first two generations of Bt have seen the introduction of ‘Cry1Ab’ and ‘Cry2Bc’ genes from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), into the cotton seed. This makes the crop resistant to the attack of pink bollworm.
How is HtBt different from Bt cotton?
- The third generation, i.e. herbicide tolerant Bt (HtBt) cotton variety saw the addition of ‘Cp4-Epsps’ gene from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which produces a modified protein that allows the plant to withstand herbicide glyphosate. The HTBt cotton variant adds another layer of modification, making the plant resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, but has not been approved by regulators.
- Fears include glyphosate having a carcinogenic effect, as well as the unchecked spread of herbicide resistance to nearby plants through pollination, creating a variety of superweeds.
- Herbicide-resistant weeds often referred to as “superweeds” are nuisance plants that have developed resistance to one or more herbicides.
- In India, GM seeds require approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), a body under the MoEFCC.
- Commercial release is granted only for Bt cotton as of now, but similar approvals for Bt mustard and Bt brinjal are awaited.
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.
What law says about 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.