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GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS

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GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS

The adoption of science based technologies for crop improvement such as genetic engineering for developing Genetically Modified (GM) crops as a supplement to conventional breeding methods has become an absolute necessity to address the burgeoning and complex challenge of achieving global food and nutritional security under the fast changing climate.

According to the Global Food Security and Nutrition Report, 2019, it is difficult to achieve the ‘Zero Hunger’ target by 2030.

GM MUSTARD

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has yet again cleared the proposal for commercial cultivation of GM Mustard. GEAC functions in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. It is responsible for appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.

It is also responsible for appraisal of proposals relating to release of Genetically Engineered (GE) organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.

HISTORY OF GM MUSTARD:

Earlier, in 2017, the GEAC had cleared the proposal for commercial cultivation of GM Mustard. However, the Union Environment Ministry vetoed it and suggested that the panel hold more studies on the GM crop.

GENETIC MODIFICATION/ENGINEERING

  • Genetic engineering aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects.
    • The alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.
      g., Bt cotton has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

      • It allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.

Seeds produced using genetic engineering are called Genetically Modified Seeds.

ADVANTAGES OF GM CROPS

  • Increase productivity and prevent crop loss: GM crops are resistance to insect damage, tolerant to herbicides, resistance to plant viruses which help farmers prevent crop loss and increases the crop productivity.
  • Food security: With increase in population demand of food also increasing, to address this GM crops help foods to become more accessible and affordable for consumers.
  • Enhanced nutritional quality: Many varieties of GM food crops have been developed, to enhance nutritional quality. Eg. Golden rice is a transgenic variety in rice, which is rich in vitamin A.
  • Maintain soil fertility: GM crops have increased efficiency of mineral usage that reduces excess use of fertilizers and prevents loss of fertility of soil.

CHALLENGES WITH GM CROPS

  • Bio-safety of human and animal health: Risk of toxicity, due to the nature of the product or the changes in the metabolism and the composition of the organisms resulting from gene transfer.
  • Environmental concerns: Since a GMO is artificially created, its breeding with the other crops in the natural ecosystem can result in genetic contamination. GM technology could also allow the transfer of genes from one crop to another, creating super weeds which might be immune to common control methods.
  • Economic concerns: Yields of GM crops have turned out to be false. For example, in India, with its Bt cotton experience, cotton yield has stagnated around 460 kgs per hectare in the recent past, despite most cotton being GM.
  • Ecological concerns: GM crops could lead to erosion of biodiversity and pollute gene pools of endangered plant species.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Awareness and information: Public awareness with reliable evidence-based information on GM crops such as keeping biosafety data out of the public domain needs to be increased to take informed decisions.
  • Government roadmap: The government should come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security without jeopardising the biodiversity and compromising with the safety of human health.
  • Capacity building: There is need of capacity building in GM research agenda and development with science based consistent regulatory policy.
  • Robust clinical trials: Clinical trials of GM crops need to be contingent on robust demonstration of safety and efficacy.

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