[Art by: Tanishka Khurana]
Compiled by: Asmita Arora
Edited by: Sharanya Sinha
Genetically modified crops have been a hotly debated and controversial topic, worldwide. Ever since their introduction in our country in the year 2006, they have provoked reactions of all types, and from all sides.
So, what exactly are GM crops?
GM crops are agricultural plants where the DNA is modified through genetic engineering. The objective is to introduce new characteristic(s) to the plant species, ones which do not occur naturally.
GM crops offer certain advantages to the producer and the consumer, the chief of them being the advantage of crop protection, as these crops have an improved resistance against plant diseases caused by viruses or insects. Resistance is attained by incorporating the gene from a foreign organism (e.g. toxin producing gene obtained from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis i.e. Bt, in case of insect resistance) into the plant, leading to resistance. In case of Bt, the toxins are used as conventional agricultural insecticides, safe for human consumption.
But despite these benefits, there are still doubts. The critics ask: how do we know that the gene changed won’t impact other parts of the plant? What if a gene from an allergy inducing organism is put in an edible crop? How can you put a patent on what I eat? And how do I know the difference between a natural and GM crop?
In India, Bt cotton is the chief GM crop grown. Its seeds have increased the crop yield across India from pre-GM levels, though the Bt seeds are more expensive than regular seeds. On the flip side, there is the lack of information on the part of the government besides cases like Vidarbha, where farmers are now switching from cotton to soyabean.
Our country needs to revisit and revise its stand on GM crops. The whole process of trials should be made transparent and the common myths about GM crops should by cleared. Hundreds of crores are being spent on research for GM crops, and if we do not need this technology, we are just wasting our time and money.
PS: According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a lobby for biotech crops, cottonseed oil makes up 13.7 per cent of edible oil in India. But about 90 per cent of the cotton grown in the country is genetically modified Bt cotton.