GEAC Current Affairs

More tests required for release of GM mustard: GEAC

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has demanded more tests for genetically modified mustard- Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH -11) for “commercial cultivation. It has called for ‘field demonstrations’ of GM mustard in an area of 5 acres at two or three different locations across the country to study possible impact transgenic crop could have on honey bees and seeks additional data on these and other pollinators and also on soil microbial diversity.

Background

The demand for renewed field demonstrations comes year after GEAC had given final clearance for GM mustard (in May 2017). This clearance was mired in confusion after government held it as inadvertent error. It was put on hold after Environment Minister, who has the final say on matter, held that wider consultations and further tests were needed on the release transgenic mustard to settle the issue.

There has been strong opposition from various organisations and also from within government to the approval given to GM mustard. Even high-powered panel on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI) in recently released report said 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 before their accepting commercial cultivation.

Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH -11)

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

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. However, Environment Minister gives final approval for GMOs.

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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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