Genetically modified foods are foods derived from genetically modified organisms.
- “Genetically modified organisms are those in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occurs naturally”.
- GM stands for ‘genetic modification’ or ‘genetically modified’. It’s the process of altering the genes of a living thing. Genes carry the instructions for all the characteristics that a living thing inherits. Genetic modification allows us to produce plants, animals and micro-organisms with specific qualities.
- “The transfer of genes from one organism to another unrelated organism, producing “genetically modified organism” or “transgenic animal/ plant. Any food produced this way is known as GM food”.
- Food that contains an added gene sequence/deleted gene sequence.
- People have been breeding animals and new varieties of plants for hundreds of years to develop or avoid certain qualities. Traditional methods of breeding involve mixing thousands of genes.
- Genetic modification allows just one individual gene, or a small number of genes, to be inserted into a plant or animal. This enables them to be used in new and very precise ways. Such plants or animals are known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- GM foods are foods that contain or consist of GMOs, or are produced from GMOs.
- The technology often used is called “Modern biotechnology”, “Recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”
REASONS FOR GENETIC MODIFICATIONS
Following reasons for genetic modification
- Improved yields
- More resistant to disease
- Less likely to be damaged by insect
- Tolerance to herbicides
- Better Nutritional value
- Increased shelf life
- Better climatic survival by increasing tolerance to drought, Flood or frosty condition to allow use of previously inhospitable land.
- Higher crop yields
- Reduced crop costs
GM FOODS IN INDIA
- GM foods are derived from plants whose genes are artificially modified, usually by inserting genetic material from another organism, in order to give it a new property, such as increased yield, tolerance to a herbicide, resistance to disease or drought, or to improve its nutritional value.
- India is probably the best known variety of GM rice is golden rice. Golden rice involves the insertion of genes from a plant both daffodils and maize have been used — and a soil bacterium to create a grain that is enriched with Vitamin A.
- India has approved commercial cultivation of only one GM crop, Bt cotton.
- No GM food crop has ever been approved for commercial cultivation in the country.
- However, confined field trials have been allowed for at least 20 GM crops.
- That includes varieties of GM rice which would have improved resistance to insects and diseases, as well as hybrid seed production and nutritional enhancements such as golden rice.
- The cons of GM foods are that they may cause allergic reactions because of their altered DNA and they may increase Antibiotic Resistance.
EXPORT OF GM RICE (IMPLICATIONS FOR INDIA)
- India is the world’s top rice exporter, earning Rs. 65,000 crore in 2020 by selling 18 million tonnes of grain (organic rice), about a quarter of which is premium basmati.
- Among the 75 countries which buy Indian rice, West Asian nations, the US and the U.K. are the biggest importers of basmati, while the majority of non-basmati goes to African countries and neighbours Nepal and Bangladesh.
- For Indian farmers, the nightmare scenario could be what happened in the US in 2006, when trace amounts of a GM rice variety were found in shipments ready for exports.
- Trading partners such as Japan, Russia and the EU suspended rice imports from the US, hitting farmers hard.
- Under pressure from the rice export lobby at the time, India drafted policies to ban GM rice trials in the basmati belt. However, farmers from other parts of the country, especially those aiming for the nascent but growing organic rice export market, worry that their products could face contamination.
- Unauthorised HtBt Cotton and Bt Brinjal are already being grown commercially, with hundreds of growers blatantly defying the governmental ban.
India’s top rice scientists seem to have moved away from conventional GM rice research for the time being.
- Recently, first varieties of non-GM herbicide tolerant rice were launched which can also be directly seeded, thus saving on water and labour costs (Pusa Basmati 1979 and Pusa Basmati 1985).
- The IARI (Indian Agricultural Research Institute) is also working to create drought-tolerant, salinity-tolerant rice strains through New gene editing technology (Site Directed Nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2 which is yet to gain regulatory approval — which allows for tweaking the rice plant’s own genes without introducing the genes of any other organism.
- In the face of such new advances, the regulatory regime needs to be strengthened, for the sake of domestic as well as export consumers.
- Technology approvals must be streamlined and science-based decisions implemented.
- Rigorous monitoring is needed to ensure that safety protocols are followed strictly, and enforcement must be taken seriously to prevent the spread of illegal GM crops.
According to the Coalition for GM Free India, the discovery of 500 tonnes of Genetically modified (GM) rice in a consignment that India exported to the European union countries in June 2021 has led to the “loss of reputation of India and its agricultural market’’.
However, India pointed out that GM rice is not grown commercially in India, let alone exported, and promised a thorough enquiry by its agricultural exports authority, the Agricultural and Processed and Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).
LABELLING OF GM FOODS
- The Price look up (PLU) code mentioned on fruits help to identify if the fruit was genetically modified, organically grown or produced with chemicals, fertilizers, fungicides or herbicides.
- For fruits grown with chemicals, the PLU code on the sticker consists of four numbers.
- Organically grown fruits has five-numerical PLU prefaced by number 9 and genetically modified fruit has a five-numerical PLU prefaced by the number 8.
- For e.g: A conventionally grown banana would be 4011, an organic banana would be 94011 and a genetically engineered banana would be 84011.
BENEFITS OF GM FOODS
GM foods are useful in controlling the occurrence of certain diseases. By modifying the DNA system of these foods, the properties causing allergies are eliminated successfully.
These foods grow faster than the foods that are grown traditionally. Probably because of this, the increased productivity provides the population with more food. Moreover these foods are a boon in places which experience frequent droughts, or where the soil is incompetent for agriculture.
At times, genetically engineered food crops can be grown at places with unfavourable climatic conditions too. A normal crop can grow only in specific season or under some favourable climatic conditions. Though the seeds for such foods are quite expensive, their cost of production is reported to be less than that of the traditional crops due to the natural resistance towards pests and insects.
This reduces the necessity of exposing GM crops to harmful pesticides and insecticides, making these foods free from chemicals and environment friendly as well. Genetically engineered foods are reported to be high in nutrients and contain more minerals and vitamins than those found in traditionally grown foods. Other than this, is these foods are known to taste better.
Another reason for people opting for genetically engineered foods is that they have an increased shelf life and hence there is less fear of foods getting spoiled quickly.
CONCERN ASSOCIATED WITH THE CONSUMPTION OF GM FOODS.
The biggest threat caused by GM foods is that they can have harmful effects on the human body. It is believed that consumption of these genetically engineered foods can cause the development of diseases which are immune to antibiotics.
Besides, as these foods are new inventions, not much is known about their long-term effects on human beings. As the health effects are unknown, many people prefer to stay away from these foods.
Manufacturers do not mention on the label that foods are developed by genetic manipulation because they think that this would affect their business, which is not a good practice.
Many religious and cultural communities are against such foods because they see it as an unnatural way of producing foods. Many people are also not comfortable with the idea of transferring animal genes into plants and vice versa. Also, this cross-pollination method can cause damage to other organisms that thrive in the environment.
Experts are also of the opinion that with the increase of such foods, developing countries would start depending more on industrial countries because it is likely that the food production would be controlled by them in the time to come.
- ENVIROMENTAL HAZARDS
- Unintended harm to other organisms: pollen from B.t. corn caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars.
- Reduced effectiveness of pesticides just as some populations of mosquitoes developed resistance to the now-banned pesticide DDT; many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to B.t. or other crops that have been genetically modified to produce their own pesticides.
HUMAN HEALTH RISKS
Many children in the US and Europe have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. A proposal to incorporate a gene from Brazil nuts into soybeans was abandoned because of the fear of causing unexpected allergic reactions.
Unknown effects on human health: A recent article published in Lancet examined the effects of GM potatoes on the digestive tract in rats. Moreover, the gene introduced into the potatoes was a snowdrop flower lectin, a substance known to be toxic to mammals.
Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process. Yet consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high that small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for GM crops.