GEAC Current Affairs

Government forms committee to probe illegal cultivation of HT Cotton

The Department of Biotechnology in Ministry of Science and Technology has constituted Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee (FISEC) to investigate matter of illegal cultivation of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) or BG-III cotton in four states.

Background

The committee was constituted after there were several media reports and complaints regarding illegal or unauthorised cultivation of HT cotton in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The cultivation of HT cotton (BG-III) is not approved by country’s biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of Ministry of Environment.

The unofficial estimates put the extent of unauthorised cotton to be about 20% in the country. The commercial cultivation, sale, cultivation and seed production of unapproved HT cotton is punishable offence under Seeds Act 1966, Seed Rule 1968, Seeds (Control) Order 1983 with regard to Environmental Protection Act, 1986 and Environmental Protection Rules, 1989.

HT Cotton

Herbicide-Tolerant (HT) Cotton also known as BG-III cotton is innovation in Bt Cotton as it takes care of weeds problem at much lower cost as compared to physical labour required for weeding. It contains Round-up Ready and Round-up Flex (RRF) gene. The RRF herbicide-tolerant trait was developed and commercialised by US-based multinational seed giant Monsanto.

Harmful effects

The herbicide-resistant gene in HT cotton can spread through pollen into biodiversity system leading to transformation of weeds into super weeds on large-scale. It will threaten growth and yields of all crops in future and also increase cultivation costs and lead to health hazards.

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Muddle over GEAC’s approval for GM mustard DMH-11

It was reported earlier in May 2017 that Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had cleared transgenic mustard, DMH-11 for commercial cultivation. However, records of that GEAC meeting which was made public now do not record any such approval. Though GEAC gave its approval for commercial cultivation of DHM-11, but the final release will be only after approval of Environment Minister.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

GEAC is apex body under Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for regulating manufacturing, use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms or genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and cells in the country. It is also responsible for giving technical approval of proposals relating to release of GMOs and products including experimental field trials.

GM Mustard DMH-11

DMH (Dhara Mustard Hybrid)-11 is genetically modified variety of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) mustard. It was developed by Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University under Government sponsored project. It was created by using “barnase/barstar” technology for genetic modification by adding genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard self-pollinating plant. It contains three genes viz. Bar gene, Barnase and Barstar sourced from soil bacterium. The bar gene had made plant resistant to herbicide named Basta.

Comment

If it gets final approval from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), GM mustard DMH-11 will be first GM food crop to be commercially cultivated in India. Right now, only GM cotton is allowed.

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