Issues Related to GM Food and Regulatory Mechanism in India

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Issues Related to GM Food and Regulatory Mechanism in India:-

What are Genetically Modified Mustard (GM Mustard)?

  • A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism in which one or more genes (called transgenes) have been introduced into its genetic material from another organism using recombinant DNA technology.
  • Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods.
  • Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) is a genetically modified variety of mustard.
  • It has been developed by the Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants under a government-funded project.

Recent approval by GEAC:-

  • On May 11, 2017 , The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has cleared GM mustard for environmental release and use in farmer fields for four years subject to certain field conditions.
  • According to GEAC Chairperson, “It was a unanimous decision with no dissent and all safety concerns were discussed with experts”.
  • However, the approval is contingent on a final nod from Environment Minister, who can say no.
  • In the past also, environment ministry has blocked the crops approved by GEAC.
  • In 2010, GEAC cleared Bt Brinjal but its released was blocked by then Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, on the ground of a paucity of safety tests.

Arguments for GM Crops:-

The arguments that have been put forward for the use of GMOs in agriculture include:

Potential benefits for agricultural productivity:

  • Better resistance to stress: If crops can be made more resistant to pest outbreaks and severe weather (such as frost, extreme heat or drought), then it would reduce the danger of crop failure.
  • More nutritious staple foods: By inserting genes into crops such as rice and wheat, we can increase their nutritious value which can solve the problem of malnutrition.
  • More productive farm animals: By inserting genes into cattle we can, for example, raise their milk yield.
  • Longer shelf lives: The genetic modification of fruits and vegetables can make them less likely to spoil in storage or on the way to market. This could expand trade opportunities as well as reduce massive wastage incurred in transport and supply.
  • More food from less land: Improved productivity from GMOs might mean that farmers in future won’t have to bring so much marginal land into cultivation.

Potential benefits for the environment:-

  • GMOs might reduce the environmental impact of food production and industrial processes: Genetically engineered resistance to pests and diseases could greatly reduce the use of pesticides and insecticides needed for crop protection. This could not only reduce environmental impact – they could also improve the health of farm and industrial workers.
  • Rehabilitation of damaged or less-fertile land: Large areas of crop-land in
    the developing world have become saline by unsustainable irrigation
    practices. Genetic modification could produce salt-tolerant varieties.
  • Bioremediation: Rehabilitation of damaged land may also become possible through organisms bred to restore nutrients and soil structure.
  • Biofuels: Plant material fuel, or biomass, has enormous energy potential. For example, the waste from sugar cane or sorghum can provide energy, especially in rural areas. It may be possible to breed plants specifically for this purpose.

Potential benefits for human health:-

  • Pharming (Vaccines and Medicines): Plants are being engineered to produce vaccines, proteins and other pharmaceutical products not only for humans but also for farm animals. This process is called “Pharming”.
  • Hunger: According to data from the World Food Programme, around 795 million people do not have enough food to live a healthy life. So many people are still suffering from starvation and malnutritions and this can become even worse in future.

Arguments against GM crops:-

The main arguments that have been put forward against the use of GMOs in agriculture include:

Potential negative effects on the environment:-

  • Genes can end up in unexpected places: – Through “gene escape” they can pass on to other members of the same species and perhaps other species.
  • Genes can mutate with harmful effect:

– Artificial insertion of genes could destabilize an organism by encouraging mutations.

Interaction with wild and native populations:
– GMOs could compete or breed with wild species.

– GM crops could pose a threat to crop biodiversity, especially if grown in areas that are centres of origin of that crop.

– In addition, GM crops could compete with and substitute traditional farmers’ varieties and wild relatives that have been bred, or evolved, to cope with local stresses. If genetically modified crop varieties substitute them, they could be lost.

Impact on birds, insects and soil biota:

– Potential risks to non-target species, such as birds, pollinators and microorganisms, is another important issue.
– Besides, it is feared that widespread use of GM crops could lead to the development of resistance in insect populations exposed to the GM crops.

Potential negative effects on human health:-

  • Allergenicity (Transfer of allergenic genes): These could be accidentally transferred to other species, causing dangerous reactions in people with allergies.
  • Outcrossing: The migration of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild (referred to as “outcrossing”), as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. Cases have been reported where GM crops approved for animal feed or industrial use were detected at low levels in the products intended for human consumption.
  • Studies in the U.S. have shown a strong correlation between growth of GM crops, and diseases such as acute kidney injury, diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s and cancers in the past 20 years in the U.S.

Potential socio-economic effects:-

Loss of farmers’ access to plant material:

– Biotechnology research is carried out predominantly by the private sector and there are concerns about market dominance in the agricultural sector by a few powerful companies.

– This could have a negative impact on small-scale farmers all over the world.

– Farmers fear that they might even have to pay for crop varieties bred from genetic material that originally came from their own fields when they buy seeds from “companies holding patents” on specific genetic modification “events”.

  • Intellectual property rights could slow research: The proprietary nature of biotechnology products and processes may prevent their access for publicsector research.