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GM CROPS IN INDIA: PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES
In an ever-changing world of modernism and industrialisation, it comes as no surprise that the food we eat may not be fully natural at its core. Science has reached new levels with the introduction of genetically modified crops and foods in the U.S. in the 1990s. Genetic modification (GM) is also known as “genetic engineering”, “modern biotechnology”, “transgenic” and “gene technology”. Genetically engineered crops are plants whose DNA is modified using scientific techniques to reach the required result. Scientists came up with a solution to the problem of the introduction of unwanted genes during the selective breeding of plants by this process. With the help of this scientific breakthrough, we can now intermingle the genes and DNA of two completely unrelated species to optimise the performance and strength of the said crop or food.
BT COTTON IN INDIA
Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2002 to combat bollworm, an insect that harms the said crop. It was introduced after extreme resistance from activists but was deemed safe by the central government and the Supreme Court. The worms on this particular hybrid become lethargic which increases yield by protecting the crop from destruction. In 2011, India produced 10.6 million hectares of the genetically modified cotton crop.
GM MUSTARD DMH-11 IN INDIA
After the introduction of BT cotton in India, the Indian government has been rooting for another genetically modified crop to be released in the market. Seeing the success and health benefits of BT cotton, the central government recently proposed the Mustard hybrid DMH-11 in the Supreme Court. GM Mustard has resulted in 30-35% higher yield than natural types as well as cuts manual labour and costs to remove weeds.
The centre had given an oral undertaking to the court that it would not commercialise the use of GM Mustard until it was approved but sought to revoke the given statement claiming that the case has remained pending and that the final hearing was supposed to be made sooner.
The centre’s application to the court said, “Indigenous development of transgenic varieties through male sterility or restorer system is a critical element in ensuring India’s future food security as this technology will be utilised to produce new hybrids with higher yields in future, thereby increasing agricultural output and farmer income. The huge policy implications involved deserve early recognition. In the meanwhile, the process sanctioned under the conditional approval dated October 2022 must continue and arrive at its conclusion.”\
If this plea is approved by the court, the future of GM mustard may come sooner to India than expected. The Genetically Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has already approved the GM Mustard DMH-11 for testing. If all goes well, GM mustard will become the second genetically engineered crop allowed in India after BT cotton.
The court has also shown concerns regarding the level of literacy among Indian farmers and has strictly addressed the need for widespread awareness regarding Genetic engineering before the crop is allowed to be produced.
The court seems unenthusiastic regarding the production of GM mustard and has declared that it will not be rushed into making a decision.”This is only one season. Next year there will be another season. However, environmental harm cannot be reversed.” was a statement of Justice BV Nagarathna.
The introduction of GM mustard also is opposed by coalitions of activists who wish to impose a permanent ban on GM mustard from reaching Indian kitchens due to concerns regarding health and farmers’ livelihood.
“The unscientific statements and outright lies of the Government of India in the Supreme Court are spurred by the fact that GM mustard is indeed an HT crop, and that is the reason why the approval letter issued by the Government of India on October 25, 2022, seeks to criminalise farmers for using glufosinate while growing GM mustard hybrid crop. This very condition, which is legally untenable, is the loudest give-away that GM mustard under consideration is an herbicide tolerant crop.”, this was a statement made by the coalition.
ADVANTAGES OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS
Genetically modified crops are made in ways to resist pests, diseases, and other environmental stresses which make them more resistant to pressure and lead to higher yield. Traditional and natural crops may not be able to survive under such conditions and should be replaced with GM crops for better suitability.
REDUCES USE OF PESTICIDES
Some crops are modified to excrete toxins that keep pests away. This results in lower use of pesticides which leads to an array of health and environmental benefits. There is no longer extreme soil and water pollution by these pesticides and farmers are also saved from exposure to such chemicals.
Crops can be genetically engineered to improve their nutritional contents. “Golden rice” was developed to fix the deficiency of Vitamin A in the crop and has resulted in massive nutritional and health benefits. Similarly, science, in the future, will pave the way to increasing the nutrient value of all crops.
GM Crops cause economic benefits to not only the farmer but to the consumer as well. Reduction in the use of chemicals in farming brings down the costs while increasing yield which turns into extra profit in the pocket of the farmer. On the other hand, increased availability of produce due to higher yield results in lower food prices which benefits the consumer as well.
DISADVANTAGES OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS
It is argued that genetically combining the traits of multiple crops or species may lead to the production of new allergens. The long-term consequences of GM food intake have also not been fully understood and need more research.
GM seeds are pricier than organic seeds and require a big initial investment. Moreover, the dominance of GM foods and crops may lead to a disadvantage for small farmers who may fail to compete against bigger corporations. Cross-pollination of GM and organic crops may also lead to economic issues for traditional farmers.
The issue of resistance has been long debated in the chemical industry in agriculture. Resistance can be formed by pests against the GM crops which will nullify the effect and strength they have against them.
GM crops may cross-pollinate with wild species and result in new, unidentified species, resulting in changes in local plants. It is also discussed that the toxins produced by GM crops to drive away pests may harmfully affect insects and organisms that are beneficial to the crop.
Having discussed both the advantages as well as disadvantages of genetically modified crops, we may come to the conclusion that monitored and controlled use of GM crops can be a beneficial new start to the modernising Indian agricultural industry. India is one of the countries that has been shielded from genetically engineered food and crops due to the traditional outlooks of the mostly vegetarian society. However, the future may bring a new era of GM crops that benefit the farmers and the consumers alike.
Author: Jasleen Kaur Palne