Context

Recently, the Centre told the Supreme Court that it had not granted approval for commercial cultivation of the Genetically Modified (GM) mustard crop and that no plantation will start till its gives a clean nod.

What is DMH-11 or GM Mustard?

  • Dhara Mustard Hybrid – 11 or DMH-11 is a genetically modified variety of mustard.
  • It uses a system of genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard — generally a self-pollinating plant — better suited to hybridization than current methods.

What is the need for developing GM Mustard?

  • Usually, hybrids are obtained by crossing 2 genetically diverse plants from the same species.
  • The product or the offspring derived out of such a cross breeding has higher yields than what either of the diverse plants are individually capable of yielding.
  • Mustard cannot be naturally hybridized because it is a self-pollinating plant having both male and female reproductive parts in a single flower
  • But researchers have created hybridized mustard using GM technology.
  • The GM hybridized mustard, as it is claimed, gives up to 30% more yield than the present best varieties

Why is the issue with GM Mustard?

  • Currently, India is debating the introduction of the herbicide tolerant GM mustard. IF allowed GM Mustard will become the first commercial genetically modified food crop introduced in India and second gm crop after cotton.
  • But Supreme has stayed the introduction of the food crop after an environmental campaigner launched a lawsuit that accuses scientists of deceiving the public about the benefits of transgenic mustard.

What is the rationale behind using of hybridised mustard variety?

  • India imports Rs.60, 000 crore worth of edible oils every year. There is an urgent need to reduce dependence on imports and raise domestic crop yields of mustard, which in turn raises production of edible oils domestically.
  • To improve yields, hybridisation is a potential technique as it is successfully demonstrated with many other crops.

What are the objection with regard to GM Mustard?

  • GM mustard is modified so it is able to absorb huge amounts of herbicide known as glufosinate, a known neurotoxin.
  • Now, in India it is illegal to introduce herbicide tolerance in plants.
  • GM crops and herbicides have long term health effects
  • Absorption of more and more herbicide will increase corporate sales of herbicide and spread its vicious poisons all over India, at the cost of health of the people, soil as well as subsidiary businesses.
  • Once the herbicide is sprayed on mustard fields; the modified plants absorb it without dying but the chemical toxic kills all other forms of life: this simplifies the practice of industrial agriculture, but is detrimental to the environment and biodiversity on the planet.
  • GM mustard will require almost double the quantity of fertilizer and water.
  • Other Health concerns of GM Hybrid Mustard include: allergenicity; gene transfer, especially of antibiotic-resistant genes, from GM foods to cells or bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; and `out crossing’, or the movement of genes from GM plants to conventional crops, posing indirect threats to food safety and security.
  • GM mustard can affect honeybees directly and indirectly through effecting flowering and pollen production. Protease inhibitors have proved detrimental to the longevity and behaviour of bees.

What are the advantages of GM Crops?

  • Resistant to pest and diseases.
  • They have improved quality and taste, as well as increased nutrients.
  • Sustainability: GMOs provide a stable and efficient way to sustain enough crops to feed the ever-growing population of people in the world.
  • They help reduce the environmental impact of human activities by a reduction in the use of insecticides and pesticides.
  • Some of the GM crops contain the quality of resistance to herbicides.
  • Some specific GM crops can bear the harsh climatic conditions like drought, salinity and cold, which the original crops are unable to do.
  • Economic Benefits: GM crops can increase yield and thus increase farm income.

What are dis-advantages of GM crops?

  • Health Concern: Effects of GM crops on human health can be unpredictable. They might have a tendency to provoke any allergic reaction.

Environmental Concern:

  1. They can reduce species diversity. For example, Insect-resistant plants might harm insects that are not their intended target and thus result in the destruction of that particular species.
  2. GM technology could also allow the transfer of herbicide tolerant genes from GM crop to weeds, creating “super-weeds”, which will be immune to common control methods.
  3. Viral genes added to crops to confer resistance might be transferred to other viral pathogens, which can lead to new and more virulent virus strains.

Economic Concern:

  1. Introduction of a GM crop to market is a lengthy and costly process.
  2. Patenting of GM plants is a great concern. Patenting these seeds increases the price of these seeds and small farmers especially in developing countries cannot afford to buy GM seeds every year. This result to be financially disastrous for poor farmers in developing countries like India, further increasing the inequality in the distribution of income.

Arguments in favour of GM Mustard

  1. Its introduction will increase yields by 25-30%
  2. It will help lessen India’s dependence on the rising imports of edible oil.

Arguments against GM Mustard

  1. Environmentalists are raising biosafety concern with GM crops as their introduction may adversely affect environment & health.
  2. DNA from transgenic mustard might contaminate nearby plants
  3. As DMH-11 has external gene that makes the plant resistant to herbicide. Thus, it will force farmers to use only select brands of agro-chemicals. Campaigners worry about safety and that multi­national agro-technology firms could take control of the country’s food supply.
  4. Herbicide Tolerant crop will impact the livelihoods of weeding labourers .

What is GEAC ?

  • Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) established under MoEFCC is the apex body for approval of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recom­binants in research and industrial production from the environ­mental angle.
  • The GEAC is also responsible for ap­proval of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment including experimen­tal field trials (Biosafety Research Level trial-I and II known as BRL-I and BRL-II).

What are the problems that have surfaces at the policy formulation level?

  • There have been numerous severe deficiencies in the evaluation process of GM mustard.
  • The risks to health, environment and agriculture have not been evaluated even through those inadequate tests which were conducted at the time of Bt brinjal examination, though mustard is far more extensively grown and consumed than brinjal.
  • HT (herbicide tolerant) GM crops have been condemned by a number of medical professionals and other scientists for increasing chemical herbicide use, leading to serious health conditions — at all stages, but most worryingly at the foetal stage.
  • A scientific report from Argentina found a fourfold increase in birth defects and a threefold increase in childhood cancers in HT soya areas.
  • Shockingly, the GEAC has conveniently omitted to have any herbicide-related studies. A small committee was constituted to “examine” the safety dossier — the tests that were done and the deliberations of GEAC were shrouded in secrecy
  • Upon that, the ‘developers’ are yet to produce a single serious health test to the public and it is without any blood analysis of animals that have consumed GM mustard. The three months testing period is scientifically inadequate and disregards all rules of scientific bio-safety assessment.
  • All safety regulations have been by-passed

What is government’s take on this issue?

  • A sub-committee in the Rajya Sabha had submitted its report but the government had not taken a decision on its recommendations.
  • Thought the recommendations are yet to be examined and a decision has not been made, the government has assured that no stones will be left unturned and only after thorough examination of all the reports, will it approve GM Mustard crop for commercial cultivation.

Conclusion

  • GM crops are the way forward for sustainable development.
  • It has a great potential to address global hunger and malnutrition issues.
  • It can help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and insecticides.
  • However, the unintended impact on human health and environment is a matter of concern.
  • The Economic viability of farmers in developing countries in India is a major discourse.
  • In India, a strong regulatory framework is needed for commercialization of GM crops. Otherwise, years of researches on GM crops will go in vain.
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