GM Crops in India
According to WHO, Genetically modified organisms are the organisms in which genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur in natural recombination.
All GM crops in India require approval from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for use in commercial production. BT cotton is the only genetically modified crop allowed in India. Biotech regulator recently allowed for the commercial production of GM Mustard in the country.Several groups opposed the GEAC’s decision.
Arguments for GM Crops
1) GMOs can address challenges of food security. Biotechnology, around the world, has helped farmers grow 311.8 million tonnes more food in the last 15 years.
2)The spectacular success of BT cotton: two billion hectares of biotech crops have been planted in 28 countries since 1996.Just as the adoption of BT cotton ensured that India transitioned into a cotton-exporting country switching to high-yield oilseeds engineered specially for India’s semi-arid zones can help India Reduce its dependence on imports.
At $10 billion annually, edible oil is India’s third-biggest import item after crude oil and gold. If a farmer produces one tonne of oil, he also produces an equal quantity of cake, a by-product that is a protein-rich feed for animals. When we import vegetable oils, we are denied a large quantity of oilseed cake.
3) Farmers can also benefit from higher yields and income.
4) They can decrease the use of pesticides and herbicides and can protect the environment.
5) People around the world have been consuming products of biotech crops for more than 20 years.
6) GM crops can be engineered to withstand weather fluctuations and extremes.
Arguments against GM Crops
1) GM crops can cause long term consequences on human health. Ex: categorisation of glyphosate by the World Health Organization as a “probable carcinogen”
2) GMOs are self-replicating organisms and cause genetic contamination of the environment which cannot be reversed.
3) Its impact on the health of the people, environment, soil, groundwater or food chain is not known yet.
4) The seed stock will also be contaminated at the molecular level.
5) It makes the farmers susceptible to the practices of MNCs and can raise the cost of cultivation and put them in debt trap.
6) Regulation is not effective and conflict of interest is present, as field trials and safety data generated by the company have commercial interest.
7)The lack of transparency in the regulatory process further amplifies apprehensions. For ex refusal ofGEAC to publicly release the safety testing data
8) Recently BT cotton crop loss faced by farmers due to pest attack by the same pest it was designed to resist. So farmers are now switching back to non BT crops.
Concerns / Challenges
Major opposition to GM cross can be stated as a trust deficit and sense of precaution. Lack of transparency in the regulatory process and conflict of interest are the major reasons.
In India, organizations that are trying to commercialize GM crops are themselves involved in testing their safety through field trials.
Data is also secretive. Concerns regarding loss of food biodiversity if corporate food varieties begin to flood the markets.
The pesticide industry’s efforts to influence policymakers and regulators have obstructed reforms globally. Their business model aims only at making profit.
The technology need enabling policy to ensure their outcomes are in line with the spirit of their promises.
The government needs to improve infrastructure and access to funds and spur innovation.
India needs to reform its regulatory structure to expedite approvals and make it easier to conduct research.
Promoting indigenous gene editing research is important to make treatments available at affordable prices.
Clinical trials need to be contingent on robust demonstration of safety and efficacy.
A two-step model wherein the government works with industry and research groups to accelerate clinical research is recommended.
Responsible use of gene editing could be the remedy for some of India’s problems. This is India’s chance to tailor this cutting edge tool to its own requirements and ensure affordable healthcare to its people.