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GM seeds: the debate, and a sowing agitation

Topics Covered: Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

GM seeds: the debate, and a sowing agitation

What to study?

For Prelims: GM- meaning, examples, approved crops in India, significance and concerns.

Context: In the current kharif season, farmers would undertake mass sowing of GM seeds for maize, soyabean, mustard brinjal and herbicide tolerant (Ht) cotton, although these are not approved.

So, in this regard, Shetkari Sanghatana — a farmers’ union— has announced fresh plans in its agitation for use of genetically modified seeds.

What is the movement about?

  • The Sanghatana has announced that this year they are going to undertake large-scale sowing of unapproved GM crops like maize, Ht Bt cotton, soyabean and brinjal across Maharashtra.
  • Farmers who plant such variants will put up boards on their fields proclaiming the GM nature of their crop.
  • This action will draw attention to the need for introduction of the latest technology in the fields.

What are genetically modified seeds?

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.

For example:

  1. Bt cotton, the only GM crop that is allowed in India, has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.
  2. Ht Bt cotton is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.
  3. In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.
  4. In DMH-11 mustard, genetic modification allows cross-pollination in a crop that self-pollinates in nature.

What is the legal position of genetically modified crops in India?

In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for commercial release of GM crops.

Penalty: Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act ,1989.

Why are farmers rooting for GM crops?

Reduced costs: Cost of weeding goes down considerably if farmers grow Ht Bt cotton and use glyphosate against weeds. In case of Bt brinjal, the cost reduces as the cost of production is reduced by cutting down on the use of pesticides.

Concerns:

Environmentalists argue that the long-lasting effect of GM crops is yet to be studied and thus they should not be released commercially. Genetic modification, they say, brings about changes that can be harmful to humans in the long run.

Sources: Indian Express.