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Issues and Challenges of Sowing Bt Brinjal and (Ht) Bt Cotton

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    25th Jun, 2019
  • The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has sought a detailed report on the sowing of unapproved genetically modified (GM) cotton and brinjal in Maharashtra.
  • Recently, more than 1,000 farmers have publicly sown unapproved transgenic cotton and brinjal in Akoli Jahangir village of Akot taluka in Akola district.

Issue

Context:

  • The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has sought a detailed report on the sowing of unapproved genetically modified (GM) cotton and brinjal in Maharashtra.
  • Recently, more than 1,000 farmers have publicly sown unapproved transgenic cotton and brinjal in Akoli Jahangir village of Akot taluka in Akola district.
  • Organized by the farmer’s union Shetkari Sanghtana, the gathering was aimed at demanding introduction of Herbicide Tolerant (Ht) Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, which, farmers said, reduces the cost of production.

About:

What are Genetically Modified (GM) crops?

    • GM is a technology that involves inserting DNA into the genome of an organism.
    • To produce a GM plant, new DNA is transferred into plant cells. Usually, the cells are then grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. The seeds produced by these plants will inherit the new DNA.
    • One of the methods used to transfer DNA is to coat the surface of small metal particles with the relevant DNA fragment, and bombard the particles into the plant cells.
    • Another method is to use a bacterium or virus. The viruses and bacteria transfer their DNA into a host cell as a normal part of their life cycle. For GM plants, the bacterium most frequently used is called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The gene of interest is transferred into the bacterium and the bacterial cells then transfer the new DNA to the genome of the plant cells.

What is Bt Brinjal?

  • Bt Brinjal is a GM crop created by inserting Cry 1Ac gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into Brinjal.
  • The insertion of the gene gives Brinjal plant resistance against lepidopteron insects like the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) and Fruit Borer (Helicoverpa armigera).
  • Upon ingestion of the Bt toxin by the insect, there would be disruption of digestive processes, ultimately resulting in the death of the insect.

What is Bt Cotton?

  • Bt cottonis an insect-resistant transgenic crop designed to combat the bollworm.
  • The first two generations of Bt have seen introduction of ‘Cry1Ab’ and ‘Cry2Bc’ genes from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), into the cotton seed, which make the crop resistant to the attack of pink bollworm.

What is (Ht)Bt cotton?

  • This is the third generation Bt cotton variety where there is an addition of ‘Cp4-Epsps’ gene from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which produces a modified protein that allows the plant to withstand herbicide glyphosate.
  • Farmers are not able to spray glyphosate on normal cotton because the chemical does not distinguish between the crop and weed, but the herbicide tolerant Bt (HtBt) cotton remains unaffected by glyphosate.

Background:

Important Committees and Recommendations in context of GM Crops:

  1. Task Force under the Chairmanship of Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, 2003: The Task Force recommended the establishment by an Act of Parliament an autonomous, statutory and professionally led National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority.
  2. Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, in its new report, “Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops — Prospects and Effects made the following major recommendations:
    • The government must not allow field trials of GM crops till there is a strong, revamped, multi-disciplinary regulatory system in place.The Committee studied the regulatory system in different countries and found that the one in Norway is the best.
    • A thorough probe must be conducted into the permission given for the commercialisation of Bt Brinjal right from the beginning till a moratorium was imposed in 2010.
    • The government should examine the research reports and assessment by independent scientists of Bt Brinjal by any agency other than the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which gave approval on its own assessment, to avoid conflict of interest.
    • Re-evaluation of all research findings in Bt cotton seeds in the light of studies that highlighted inexplicable changes in the organs and tissues of Bt-cotton seed-fed lambs.
    • Mandatory labelling of products from GM crops.
    • Unchecked import of GM products should be stopped
    • Organic farming should be encouraged.
  1. High-powered panel on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI):

It made the following observations:

    • Genetic Engineering is ‘powerful’ tool for developing future crop, but for now it should be adopted only for non-food crops.
    • For transgenic food crops, questions on its safety must be addressed and settled first.
  1. Governments task force on biotechnology (2004) recommended:
    • No GM crop be allowed in biodiversity rich areas.
  1. Majority of SC appointed technical expert committee (in the PIL over GM crops), recommended:
    • A ban on genetically modifying those crops for which India is a center of origin or diversity. (Ex: Brinjal)
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