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Sale of illegal HTBt cotton seeds doubles

Context:

The illegal cultivation of herbicide tolerant (HT) Bt cotton has seen a huge jump in 2021, with seed manufacturers claiming that the sale of illegal seed packets has more than doubled since 2020.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology (Biotechnology, Genetically Modified crops), GS-III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are GM Crops?
  2. Regulating Bodies concerned with GM Crops
  3. About Bt cotton
  4. About HT Bt Cotton

What are GM Crops?

  • Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. More than 10% of the world’s crop lands are planted with GM crops.
  • In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species like resistance to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, herbicides etc.
  • Genetic Modification is also done to increase nutritional value, bioremediation and for other purposes like production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels etc.

Regulating Bodies concerned with GM Crops

GEAC

  • The top biotech regulator in India is Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
  • The committee functions as a statutory body under the Environment Protection Act 1986 of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF).
  • GEAC is responsible for granting permits to conduct experimental and large-scale open field trials and also grant approval for commercial release of biotech crops.
  • The Rules of 1989 also define five competent authorities for handling of various aspects of the rules:
    • The Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBSC),
    • Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM),
    • Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
    • State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) and
    • District Level Committee (DLC)

Cartagena Protocol

  • The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement on biosafety as a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity effective since 2003.
  • The Biosafety Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by genetically modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

About Bt cotton

  • Bt. cotton is the only GM crop approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) which works under MOEFC.
  • Genetically modified (GM) cotton, the plant containing the pesticide gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), has been grown in India for about twenty years.
  • Strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produce different Bt toxins, each harmful to different insects.
  • Most notably, Bt toxins are insecticidal to the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, cotton bollworms and ghtu flies but are harmless to other forms of life.
  • The gene coding for Bt toxin has been inserted into cotton as a transgene, causing it to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues.
  • According to the Ministry of Agriculture, from 2005, adoption of Bt cotton rose to 81% in 2007, and up to 93% in 2011.

About HT Bt Cotton

  • The third generation, i.e., herbicide tolerant Bt (HtBt) cotton variety saw the addition of ‘Cp4-Epsps’ gene from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which produces a modified protein that allows the plant to withstand herbicide glyphosate.
  • Farmers are not able to spray glyphosate on normal cotton because the chemical does not distinguish between the crop and weed, but the herbicide tolerant Bt (HtBt) cotton remains unaffected by glyphosate.
  • Like the first two hybrids, Ht Bt has also been developed by the US giant Bayer Monsanto. The company had submitted a proposal to GEAC for approval in 2013. However, the proposal was later withdrawn by the company because of various regulatory issues with the government.

The important advantages of Bt Cotton are briefly:

  • Increases yield of cotton due to effective control of three types of bollworms, viz. American, Spotted and Pink bollworms.
  • Insects belonged to Lepidoptera (Bollworms) are sensitive to crystalline endotoxic protein produced by Bt gene which in turn protects cotton from bollworms.
  • Reduction in insecticide use in the cultivation of Bt cotton in which bollworms are major pests.
  • Potential reduction in the cost of cultivation (depending on seed cost versus insecticide costs).
  • Reduction in predators which help in controlling the bollworms by feeding on larvae and eggs of bollworm.
  • No health hazards due to rare use of insecticides (particularly who is engaged in spraying of insecticides).

Arguments against Bt Cotton

  • In India, Bt cotton has been enveloped in controversies due to its supposed failure to reduce the need for pesticides and increase yield.
  • The link between the introduction of Bt cotton to India and a surge in farmer suicides has been refuted by other studies, with decreased farmer suicides since Bt cotton was introduced.

Argument for Indigenous variety

  • The cost of ignoring indigenous varieties for decades has been high for India.
  • These varieties resist many pests and don’t present the problems faced with hybrids.
  • Research suggests that with pure-line cotton varieties, high density planting, and short season plants, cotton yields in India can be good and stand a better chance at withstanding the vagaries of climate change.
  • But government backing for resources, infrastructure and seeds is essential to scale up indigenous varieties.

-Source: The Hindu

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