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GM Crops

GM Crops

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), scientists have modified the genetic makeup of organisms, known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in a way that doesn’t occur naturally through breeding. In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) must approve all genetically modified crops before they can be grown commercially. Currently, BT cotton is the only GM crop permitted in India. However, the biotech regulator has recently approved the commercial cultivation of GM Mustard in the country. This decision by the GEAC has faced opposition from various groups.

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What are Genetically Modified (GM) Crops?

  • Scientists have tweaked the DNA of these plants through genetic engineering to incorporate new characteristics not typically found in the species.
  • Genetic engineering tries to go beyond what plants naturally do by adding a gene from a different plant, animal, or even a soil bacterium into the seeds to achieve specific effects.
  • Globally, scientists have genetically modified crops like corn, canola, and soybeans, among others.

Arguments for GM Crops

  • GMOs can address challenges of food security. Biotechnology, around the world, has helped farmers grow 311.8 million tonnes more food in the last 15 years.
  • The phenomenal success of BT cotton: farmers in 28 countries have planted two billion hectares of biotech crops since 1996. Just as the adoption of BT cotton ensured that India transitioned into a cotton-exporting country, switching to high-yield oilseeds engineered specifically for India’s semi-arid zones can help reduce its dependence on imports. Edible oil, at $10 billion annually, ranks as India’s third-biggest import item after crude oil and gold. When a farmer produces one tonne of oil, they also generate an equal quantity of cake, a protein-rich feed for animals. Importing vegetable oils denies us access to a large quantity of oilseed cake.
  • Farmers can also benefit from higher yields and income.
  • They can decrease the use of pesticides and herbicides and can protect the environment.
  • People around the world have been consuming products of biotech crops for more than 20 years.
  • Scientists can engineer GM crops to withstand weather fluctuations and extremes.


Arguments against GM Crops

  • Sometimes, genetically modified crops can have lasting effects on our health. For instance, the World Health Organization has categorized glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide on GM crops, as a “probable carcinogen“, raising concerns about its impact on human health.
  • GMOs, being organisms that can reproduce on their own, might spread their modified genes into the environment, causing irreversible genetic contamination.
  • We’re still uncertain about how GMOs affect various aspects of our lives, including human health, the environment, soil quality, groundwater, and the food chain.
  • Genetic contamination from GMOs could fundamentally affect the very seeds we rely on for future crops.
  • Farmers often find themselves at the mercy of large corporations when they adopt GM crops, which can increase the overall cost of farming and even lead to indebtedness.
  • Regulations surrounding GMOs aren’t always effective, and there’s often a conflict of interest because the safety data and field trials are conducted by the same companies with commercial interests.
  • The process of regulating GMOs lacks transparency, which adds to people’s concerns. For instance, the refusal of regulatory bodies to release safety testing data only fuels mistrust.
  • A recent incident with BT cotton highlights the risks involved. Farmers faced losses when pests attacked the very crop that was supposed to resist them, leading some to switch back to non-GMO varieties.

Concerns / Challenges

  • Many people oppose GM crops because they simply don’t trust them and want to proceed with caution. The feeling is that there’s a lack of transparency in how regulations are made, and there’s a worry about conflicts of interest.
  • In India, the same organizations that want to sell GM crops are the ones responsible for testing their safety in field trials. This creates a conflict of interest and adds to the mistrust.
  • The data surrounding GM crops is kept under wraps, which adds to the sense of unease. People worry that if these corporate-controlled crops flood the market, we’ll lose the variety of foods we currently have.
  • The pesticide industry is also seen as a major roadblock to reform. Instead of prioritizing safety and sustainability, their main goal seems to be profit, and they’re not afraid to influence policymakers to protect their interests.

Advantages of GMO Crops

  • It improves production and raises the farmer’s income. 
  • It reduces the use of pesticide and insecticide during farming that might be great moves 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.

Way Forward 

  • Technology needs supportive policies to fulfill their promises and truly benefit people.
  • Our government should invest in better infrastructure and make funding more accessible to encourage innovation.
  • India must revamp its regulations to speed up approvals and simplify research processes.
  • It’s crucial to support homegrown gene editing research to provide affordable treatments for all.
  • Before implementing any new treatments, we must ensure thorough testing for safety and effectiveness through clinical trials.
  • A collaborative approach between government, industries, and research bodies can fast-track clinical research effectively.
  • Using gene editing responsibly could address many of India’s healthcare challenges, offering tailor-made solutions at reasonable costs.

Read Also: Genetically Modified Insects

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