Chanakya IAS Academy Blog

The article discuss about the new variety of genetically modified crop i.e. GM Mustard and its implications.

  • On Monday, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which approves proposals relating to trials and commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops, placed in the public domain a safety assessment report on a transgenic mustard hybrid developed by scientists at Delhi University.
  • The report, prepared by an experts’ subcommittee constituted by the official biotech regulator, concluded that consumption of the said GM mustard was “safe for human and animal health”, and its commercial release wouldn’t “pose any risk to biodiversity and the agro-ecosystem”.
  • So, is the approval for commercial cultivation of GM mustard a mere formality now, with the GEAC’s own expert panel giving it the green signal?
  • The subcommittee’s 133-page report has been put on the GEAC’s web site to invite public feedback. These would then be reviewed by both the subcommittee and the GEAC, before a final decision is taken.
  • An approval by mid-October should provide reasonable time to plant the transgenic mustard in the coming rabi season for commercial seed production and multiplication. Large scale cultivation by farmers can follow in 2017-18.
  • But we know from past experience that GM crop clearances are never a smooth affair.
  • The best example here is Bt brinjal, where the GEAC’s go-ahead for its commercial release was overturned in February 2010 by the then Environment Minister ordered a moratorium on the transgenic vegetable’s cultivation.

If all goes well, will this be the first GM food crop that Indian farmers will plant?

  • In a narrow sense, yes. The only transgenic crop currently being grown in the country is Bt cotton, which is a ‘non-food’ crop to the extent that the white fibre or lint from it isn’t eaten.
  • But lint accounts for just about a third of the kapaas or raw un-ginned cotton that farmers harvest. The balance two-thirds comprises the cotton seed that is crushed in order to extract oil, and de-oiled cake or meal.
  • Cottonseed oil is, in fact, India’s second largest indigenously produced edible oil today, after mustard. The de-oiled cottonseed meal, which contains about 40% protein, is similarly fed to cattle and buffaloes.
  • That makes Bt cotton no less a food crop, as the oil from its seeds and the milk from the animals fed on its de-oiled cake are already being consumed by us. And we have been having this so-called “poison” since 2002, when Indian farmers started cultivating Bt cotton!

What then is this debate over ‘food’ versus ‘non-food’ in GM crops?

  • It is flawed, when used to draw a distinction between cotton and mustard on supposed grounds of the latter being a ‘food crop’.
  • Bt cotton incorporates foreign genes isolated from Bacillus thuringiensis, a commonly occurring soil bacterium.
  • The same goes for the GM mustard bred by the Delhi University scientists — it contains two genes (‘Barnase’ and ‘Barstar’) from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, and a third gene (‘Bar’) derived from another non-pathogenic bacterium, Streptomyces hygroscopicicus.
  • Just as nothing calamitous has happened to us from ingesting Bt proteins all these years, there is no evidence of the Barnase, Barstar and Bar proteins being toxic to either humans or animals.
  • For the GM mustard, toxicity and allergenicity assessment studies were specifically carried out at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, based on a 90-day feeding of leaves and seeds from it to laboratory rats.
  • These did not reveal any ill effects in terms of the relevant measured parameters.
  • It is important to point out here that India annually imports over 3.5 lakh tonnes (lt) of canola oil, a lot of which is GM, and based on the same Barnase-Barstar-Bar gene technology.
  • This is over and above the 30 lt imports of soyabean oil that is entirely GM.
  • There have been no protests against such videshi GM oil by green groups, who have directed all their protests against GM mustard, despite it being a product of indigenous, publicly-funded research.

Question:

The point of having GM crop is to increase production, reduce costs and attain food security. But more trails needs to be conducted before introducing GM food crops. Discuss. Do you think, GM labelling should be made compulsory. Justify.

Suggested Approach:

  • Why more trials should be conducted.
  • Health effects which can happen in longer run.
  • Consumer’s right to choose and right to information must be safeguarded and GM labelling should be made compulsory.

Link:http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/will-gm-crops-mustard-sarson-ka-saag-be-on-our-plates-soon-3021084/

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