gm-cotton

In news: Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) asked the Maharashtra Government to initiate action to stop cultivation of illegal Herbicide-Tolerant variety of Bt Cotton (Ht-bt cotton).

GM crops: 

  • Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods
  • In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. 
  • Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide), or improving the nutrient profile of the crop. 

Current scenario:

  • In 2011, India grew the largest GM cotton crop at 10.6 million hectares. As of 2014, 95 percent of cotton grown in India was genetically-modified.
  • According to the Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee (constituted by Department of Biotechnology) unapproved cotton was grown in the cotton-cultivable area in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana, and Punjab during the 2017-18 season.

HT Bt cotton:

  • The HTBt variety adds another genetic modification to the Bt cotton crop - it makes the crop resistant to a commonly-used herbicide.
  • HTBt plants allow farmers to spray herbicides to get rid of parasitic weeds in the farm without harming the main crop. 
  • Using this variety could save the farmers from having to put in extra labour in pulling out weeds, which deprive the cotton plants of vital nutrients and reduce yield.

Bt Cotton: 

  • Bt cotton was created by adding genes derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces over 200 different toxins, each harmful to different insects.
  • When certain insects attack the Bt cotton plant, they get killed. Such pest-resistant crops do away with the need for broad-spectrum insecticides, which harm natural insect predators in the farm.
  • Bt. cotton is the only Genetically Modified (GM) crop approved in 2002 by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for commercial cultivation in the Country and, therefore, cultivation of other unapproved GM crops are banned in India. 

GEAC: Genetic Engineering Approval Committee

  • All GM crops in India need to be approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for regulating the manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms or genetically-engineered organisms (GMOs) and cells in the country.

Functions:

  1. To appraise activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
  2. To appraise proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
  3. The committee or any persons authorized by it has powers to take punitive action under the Environment Protection Act.