GM Crop : One Step Forward Two-Step Backward : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution, and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Key Phrases: No Objection Certificate (NOC), Herbicide-Tolerant (HT), insect-resistant, BG 3 RRF, Genetically Modified (GM) crops, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, Bt cotton.

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Haryana government gave Mahyco a no-objection certificate (NOC) for major field trials of Herbicide-Tolerant (HT) and insect-resistant Bt cotton variety, called BG 3 RRF.

Significance of the move:

  • In a normal world, field trials of a new variant would have been a routine exercise that seed companies need to conduct to test a variant before its commercial release or further evaluation.
  • But given the complexities, delays and political controversy that have marked the commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops in India, this relatively small move is being seen as a significant step forward in some quarters.

Do you know?

  • In India, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the products thereof are regulated under the “Rules for the manufacture, use, import, export & storage of hazardous microorganisms, genetically engineered organisms or cells, 1989” (referred to as Rules, 1989) notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • These Rules are implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Department of Biotechnology and State Governments through six competent authorities.
  • The Rules, 1989 are supported by series of guidelines on contained research, biologics, confined field trials, food safety assessment, environmental risk assessment etc.
  • The definition of genetic engineering in the Rules, 1989 implies that new genome engineering technologies include gene editing and gene drives.

What is the legal position of genetically modified crops in India?

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for the commercial release of GM crops.
  • In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton.
  • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh, under the Rules, 1989 (notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986).

Impact of the slow approval process:

  • The approval process has been made this complicated to deter companies from developing GM variants, putting the whole science into turmoil.
  • Due to delays in approvals, illegal sales of HTBt cotton have grown. The cheap fakes of BG 3 are proliferating the market, causing losses to all.
  • The demand from farmers is growing as attacks of pink bollworm, one of the biggest pest infestations facing cotton farmers in India is rising by the day.
  • Farmers don´t wait for the official release of new Bt cotton variants, which is why around 20 percent of the total cotton acreage in the country is under illegally grown HTBt cotton.

Field trail challenge:

  • For seed companies, the trouble started back in 2010, when the government, while putting a moratorium on further trials of Bt brinjal, had issued two other notifications.
    1. One was to change the nomenclature of GEAC from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. It made political interference in the final approval of GM crops more pronounced.
    2. The second was to make it mandatory for all applicants to get NOCs from each State in which they want to conduct field trials of GM crop variants cleared by the GEAC. It pushed the entire burden of GM approvals to the States, which do not have the expertise to handle such complicated and technical issues as GM technology.
  • As a result, the entire structure of GM approvals and trials was stalled. Though some States did approve field trials, those were few and far between.
  • Subsequently, with little forward movement, several companies withdrew their applications for field trials.

Change in clearance process:

  • In 2017, the entire clearance process underwent another change.
  • Unlike the earlier system of GEAC clearance being subject to NOCs from State governments, the new system required companies and institutes to first get a NOC for field trials from States before seeking GEAC approval.
  • This overturned the entire process and States, being ill-equipped to handle issues related to field trials of GM crops in the first place, particularly when the GEAC had not cleared them, stopped giving NOCs altogether.
  • As a result, for the past five or six years, no field trial of any GM crop has taken place in the country.
  • The entire process has been made so complicated and slow that companies fear venturing into this. That is why in the last 33 years, just one crop (cotton) has been approved for commercial usage.

Advantages of GM Crops:

  • It improves production and raises farmers’ income by enhancing farm production.
  • It reduces the use of pesticides and insecticides during farming which might be a great move for the betterment of the food supply.
  • It can feed a rapidly increasing population because it shows dramatically increased yields.
  • It can produce more in small areas of land.
  • It induces the ability to thrive in a harsh climate, such as drought or heat.
  • It has longer shelf life and therefore less waste
  • It Increases nutritional value which can boost the health of people with limited access to food.

Disadvantages of GM Crops:

  • The production imposes high risks to the disruption of the ecosystem and biodiversity.
  • It increases the cost of cultivation and is more inclined towards marketisation of farming that works on immoral profits.
  • The transgenic crops endanger not only farmers but also the trade, and the environment as well.
  • It is biologically altered. Hence, biotech foods may pose a human health risk.Studies have shown a strong correlation between GM crops and Birth defects, cancers, kidney injury, diabetes, autism, and Alzheimer’s.
  • The excessive production of genetically modified foods will be rendered ineffective over time because the pests that these toxins used to deter might eventually develop resistance towards them.


  • The technology needs enabling policy to ensure its outcomes are in line with the spirit of its promises.
  • A strong regulatory mechanism proposed under the draft Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill should be again considered to ensure that science does not suffer.
  • Unless there is a regulatory system that caters to the requirements of 21st century India, curtailing field trials is the only way to ensure biosafety protocols.
  • As a middle path, the Centre could explore the possibility of notifying some sites within ICAR Centres or agriculture universities where field trials of GM crops can be conducted.

Source: Business-Standard

Mains Question:

Q. Discuss the challenges and opportunities related to cultivation of genetically modified crops in India?