[Notes] Science - Genetically Modified Organism [GMO]

Genetically Modified Organism [GMO]


A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals.

Genetically modified crops (GMCs, GM crops, or biotech crops) are plants, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. In most cases the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species.

The first genetically modified plant was produced in 1982, using an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant.

Worldwide Use of Crops:
USA has the largest planted area for the GM crops followed by Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada. The share of the rest of the world is quite less. But the other developing countries are also trying to adopt it. India has 5-6% of its agricultural area reserved of plantation of GM crops.

GM crops grown today, or under experimental development, have been modified with traits intended to provide benefit to farmers, consumers, or industry. These traits include-
·         improved shelf life,
·          disease resistance,
·          stress resistance,
·         herbicide resistance,
·          pest resistance,
·         production of useful goods such as biofuel or drugs,
·         ability to absorb toxins, for use in bioremediation of pollution.

1.   Harm to other organisms. For example genes and their effect included in a crop may turn out to be poisonous to insects (monarch butterfly poisoned by GMO corns).
2.   Critics say GMOs may cause health problems.
3.   Possible damages to the environment.
4.   Additional costs of labeling.

GM Crops in India:
The GM crops are mainly grown in the areas of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Gujarat and Karnataka. Bt(Bacillus thuringensis toxin) brinjal and cotton with few other crops were introduced in India. Bt cotton was very successful attempt as it increased the yield of cotton resulting in making india cotton exporting country instead of cotton exporting one. Bt cotton increased yields, profits, and living standards of smallholder farmers. The insects now had developed resistance against Bt cotton and thus decreasing the yield. Therefore, recently farmers’ suicide were attached with it.

On 1 January 2013, a new law came into effect that required all packaged foods containing any genetically modified organisms to be labeled to differentiate it with non-GM foods. This created outburst with reason that even USA doesn’t allow labelling as both(GM and non-GM foods) are healthy foods and labelling will increase the cost.

Recently, the final report by technical expert committee (TEC) put the indefinite stoppage on all open field trials of GM crops and conditioned special risk protocols.
The use of GM crops in india had been widely the topic of debate. Lets understand the pros and cons of it as determined by scientific experts.-

Those who support say following-
·         Earlier this month, India’s Parliament passed a bill aimed at delivering subsidized food to around 800 million people which means the production will increase and GM Increment in production will lead to more income of farmers and farmers suicides can be controlled and they can save their revenues.
·         The increase in production will lead to less farmers suicide and they will be able to pay their debts.
·         The health benefits for the poor farmers have also been increased especially the malnutrition can be removed.
·         Millions of people and cattles all over the globe are eating Bt corn for over 30 years thus health and environment problems nowhere exist.

Those who oppose it say following-
·         It had not shown the sustainable results in last 30 years as it had promised.
·         The cost of the GM seeds is growing rapidly.
·         GM products attract because of its intellectual property patents but the agriculture is about growing food.
·         The ‘organic farming’ is the alternate and the best way which can be used for agriculture. It even doesn’t require the insecticides. The EU also doesn’t use the GM crops but still have the production nearly equal to that of USA.
·         There have been increasing risks of environment and health because of  GM crops.

 Learn From China:Over this conflict, there are few things which we need to learn from our neighbor.
1.           China has almost 6000 PhDs in agriculture biotech alone while india has 8900 PhDs in all sciences put together. Thus the educational system must inspire students for further research works.
2.           In india, MNCs ultimately decide the style of agriculture. Thus the scientific power of the country mostly remains unnoticed. China gives their scientist a chance and freedom and if they do not deliver, china haul them up. This s how it goes with both, MNCs and country’s scientists.

What To Do?
We need all available agricultural technologies, including biotechnology, to meet the current and projected global demand for food, feed, fibre, and biofuels. Plant breeding and genetic modification should help.

The various concerns can be overcome if concerted efforts are made by government, public institutions, scientific community, private players and NGOs. We have built quite a rigorous regulatory regime. Field trials should not stop.

India cannot afford to go back at this stage after putting so much time, effort, energy and resources to build the requisite infrastructure and capacity.

A new centre for agriculture biotechnology was announced even in the last Budget, adding to the enormous public sector infrastructure at the Centre and the States. The stage is set for a robust biotechnology regime. Shunning it is surely not the best option.

We need to shed prejudice regarding Bt crops as somebody also said-

“GM crops don’t kill kids. Opposing them does.”

1.   articles of the hindu newspaper dated August 12, sept 2, sept 7…

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