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Issues With Genetically Modified Crops in India


  • India has had a heated and continuous controversy around genetically modified (GM) crops for the past 20 years. Environmentalists, scientists, farmers, and members of the higher court have all expressed serious concerns regarding the necessity, safety, and efficacy of GM food.
  • Notably, a group of activists has recently petitioned the Supreme Court with their grievances, pleading for a ban on the growth of genetically modified (GM) food crops, with a focus on the Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) type. They support the prohibition for a variety of reasons, including the safety, environmental impact, and socioeconomic repercussions of using GM crops.


GS Paper 3 – Science and Technology – Bio-technology

Mains Question

Examine the importance of the debates around GM mustard, Bt cotton, and Bt brinjal in India. A discussion of the GEAC’s (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) role in approving GM crops and the latest exception for genome-edited crops is required. Examine how this choice will affect biotechnology research. (250 Words)

GM Mayonnaise

  • The DMH-11 variety of genetically modified mustard developed by the Delhi University Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants has generated intense and ongoing discussion about GM crops in India over the past 20 years.
  • Biotechnologists randomly introduce particular genes into plants’ DNA as part of the process of creating GM crops. This genetic engineering aims to improve particular traits or properties of the crop.
  • The commercial cultivation of the genetically modified variety of DMH-11 mustard was authorised by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which assesses requests relating to the discharge of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment.
  • The Environment Protection Act has given the GEAC the authority to impose penalties for the release of GM organisms or goods.
  • Notably, mustard is a crucial crop in India because it is used to produce the majority of the nation’s edible oil. In light of the potential effects of the introduction of GM mustard on agriculture, the environment, and the economy, this increases the relevance and implications of doing so.

What Problems Are There With GM Mustard?

  • Because GM mustard is a herbicide-tolerant crop, farmers and activists are worried that using dangerous chemicals on the plant could have a severe influence on consumer health. There are concerns that such cultivation methods may not be environmentally sustainable and may not be suitable for India’s different agricultural conditions.
  • Environmentalists, scientists, MPs, farmers, consumers, and members of the higher court are just a few of the groups that have questioned the need for genetically modified (GM) food as well as its efficacy and safety.
  • Committees involved with GM mustard have called attention to fundamental flaws in the regulatory framework and emphasised the necessity of exercising utmost caution. Members of these committees have also called attention to problems with the evaluation of GM crops’ safety.
  • The government has not made the entire biosafety document on GM mustard publicly available, which fuels criticism. Further aggravating the situation, the government has contested the designation of GM mustard as a herbicide-tolerant (HT) crop.

How do GM crops work?

Plants that have undergone genetic engineering to add specific alterations to their DNA are known as genetically modified crops, or GMOs.The goal of genetic modification is to give the plant new qualities that do not exist naturally in the species.By increasing the crop’s nutrient profile and resistance to particular pests, diseases, and environmental stresses, these improvements hope to raise the quality and output of food crops.

Indian GM Crops

  • Bt Cotton: Bt cotton is a genetically modified plant that has two extra genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) soil bacteria. These genes allow the plant to create a protein that is poisonous to the pink bollworm, a common insect problem. The only GM crop that is legal to grow in India is Bt cotton.
  • Contrary to conventional Bt cotton, a variety of Bt cotton has been created by inserting a second gene from a different soil bacterium. The plant now has resistance to the common pesticide glyphosate thanks to this extra gene.
  • Bt Brinjal: This genetically altered fruit and vegetable contains a gene that protects against fruit and shoot borer infestations. The plant can successfully defend itself because to this genetic modification.
  • GM Mustard (DMH-11): Deepak Pental from the South Campus of the University of Delhi is one of the scientists that created the genetically altered mustard variety known as DMH-11. This GM mustard is designed to allow cross-pollination in the crop, as opposed to naturally occurring self-pollination.
  • Global Variants: Genetically modified maize, canola, and soybean varieties are widely accessible and grown all over the world.

Benefits of GM Crops

  1. Enhanced Productivity and Higher Farmer Income: GM crops help enhance agricultural output, which raises farmers’ incomes.
  2. Lessened Need for Chemical Pesticides and Insecticides: GM crops can reduce the need for chemical pesticides and insecticides by adding natural pest resistance traits, which is good for the environment and for people’s health.
  3. Addressing Food Availability: Higher yields from GM crops help feed populations that are expanding quickly, resulting in better food availability.
  4. Better Land Use: The improved productivity of GM crops allows for higher yields to be produced on smaller plots of land, resulting in more effective use of agricultural resources.

The downsides of GM crops

  1. The genetic alterations in GM crops might cause the dominance of particular features, favouring some organisms and potentially upsetting ecosystems and biodiversity. This is one of the disadvantages of GM crops.
  2. Increased Farming Costs and Marketization: The use of GM crops may increase farm costs and subject agriculture to forces of the market aimed at maximising profits, which may result in unethical behaviour.
  3. Risks to Farmers, the Environment, and International Trade: The introduction of transgenic crops presents hazards to farmers, the environment, and the dynamics of international trade.
  4. Safety Evaluation Limitations: Many of the unfavourable effects connected to GM crops are not sufficiently covered in the present safety analyses.
  5. Insufficient Risk Assessment: The regulatory framework for GM crops in India has not undergone a thorough assessment of the potential dangers unique to Indian settings. This raises questions about how effective the current regulatory framework is.

Genetically modified crops’ legal status in India

  • The highest authority in India for approving the commercial distribution of genetically modified (GM) crops is the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). The GEAC authorised the commercial production of Bt cotton in 2002.Under the Environmental Protection Act of 1989, using unapproved GM varieties is punishable by harsh fines and prison terms that might total five years.
  • In a recent significant move, the Central government decided to exempt a few genome-edited crops from the strict laws that apply to genetically modified products. This exemption is anticipated to make it easier to conduct additional study and development in this field.
  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued an order on February 8, 2021, establishing an allowed limit of 1% for genetically modified organisms in such items, in response to GMO concerns over imported food crops.

Way Forward

When it comes to GM crops, governments should put an emphasis on safety testing, strong legislation, and transparent food labelling. Responsible biotechnology research must be supported by a clear industrial plan, and public involvement encourages enlightened debate. In order to solve issues with food security, GM crops will be deployed responsibly and sustainably by balancing innovation with risk mitigation.

December 2023