Genetically Modified Crops

Genetically Modified Crops

This article deals with ‘Genetically Modified Crops  – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Science and Technology’ which is important pillar of GS-3 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

 

 

 

Genetically Modified Foods /Crops

  • Genetically modified organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering, unlike similar food organisms which have been modified from their wild ancestors through selective breeding
  • GM foods were first put on the market in the early 1990s
  • GM aids the development of specific traits in crops like:
Herbicide resistance Viral resistance
Pest resistance Slow ripening
Fungal and  bacterial resistance Quality improvement – protein and oil
Value addition – vitamins, micro and macro elements  

 

Pro-GM crops in India

  • By 2050, the world’s population is expected to expand from 7 billion to 9 billion.  Yet the amount of farm land is shrinking. GM Crops is the only way to feed  growing population.

 

  • Resistance to pests and protecting the environment: Scientists can give crops built-in resistance to pests (eg : Bt gene) . That means less need for pesticides that are potentially harmful to the environment.

 

  • Higher income for farmers: GM crops cut costs for consumers and raise livelihoods for farmers

 

  • There is little evidence  to validate  perceived dangers by GM Crops. GM brinjal has since been approved and grown in neighbouring Bangladesh without causing any environmental or health hazards. 

 

  • They are necessary to fight malnutrition . Eg Bio fortification –  increasing vitamins and micro-nutrients in staple crops . Examples include
        • Golden Rice = Vitamin A
        • DRR Dhan – 45 (rice) = Zinc
        • Dhan Shakti (Bajra) = Iron

 

  • We cant stop the import of GM foods which is produced in the world . Hence, there is no point in restricting their cultivation in India and losing ground to foreign competitors. Eg India annually imports 3 million tonnes of soyabean oil  which is predominantly GM

 

  • Father of green revolution – Norman Borlaug recommends GM crops for food security too

 

  • Face climate change => GM crops with suitable genetic editing can help to make crops that can withstand the stress like high temperature or drought etc

 

 

Anti-GM crops

MS Swaminathan  has called GM crops to be failure due to unbearable costs of seeds and inputs on poor farmers as well as stagnation yields of Bt cotton at 500 kg / ha (lower than China & Egypt)

  • GM crops isn’t purely scientific issue & is situated at a socioeconomic & political nexus involving market monopolies in seeds  leading to suicides.

 

  • Farmer Suicides : introduction of  GM cotton is the cause for increasing farmer suicides in Karnataka, Vidharbha region.  Farmers are using expensive GM seeds in drought prone region

 

  • Farmers don’t cultivate indigenous varieties & results in  biodiversity loss. Vidarbha district in Maharashtra, India, is nearly a 100% Bt cotton (of the total cotton area) producing region. Local varieties of cotton seeds have almost disappeared

 

  • Terminator Genes in Hybrid Seeds : Hybrid GM seeds are  ‘programmed’ in such a way that they lose their ‘hybrid vigour’ so new  seeds must be purchased every planting season.

 

  • Loss of vigour : GMCs gradually lose their vigour.
        • Eg : White pest attack on cotton in Punjab clearly showthis.
        • Monsanto also accepted that Bt Cotton is now susceptible to Pink Ballworm .

 

  • Stringent labelling requirements are required when they are cultivated because those who are consuming GM food have right to know that. But in India, vegetables are sold loose and this is not possible.

 

  • Parliamentary committee says GM crop benefit only rich farmers & companies like Monsanto are filled with monopolistic characteristics .

 

  • GM crops require more water, fertilisers unlike what they are always advertised to.

 

While billion dollar companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta have scientists lobbies who conduct research and publish researches in high numbers in favour of GM crops and trying to push it in India. There is nothing wrong in using GM crops but we should remember that Dow chemicals are behind Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Bayer was Endosulfan supplier. Such billion dollar companies often hide harmful effects of GM in long terms.

 

 

Way forward

Legal measure – There should be a liability clause, like in case of US , where liability is huge in case the GM tech effects the regular varieties of crops. It will ensure that seed companies take proper precautions in fear of penalty

 

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Biological Diversity act, 2002 must be effectively implemented.

 

Need of National Policy on GM Crops.

 

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