The Dalwai committee on doubling farmers’ income has suggested India should adopt latest genetically modified (GM) technologies in important non-food crops since use of GM in food crops is an issue under debate. In a draft report, released for public comment on Tuesday, the committee said GM technology is an important aspect of long-term research. The committee, headed by Rainfed Area Authority CEO Ashok Dalwai, said since over 95% of the genetic diversity of the country has yet not been tapped, conventional breeding programme may be depended upon in case of food crops and the genetic diversity available outside India may also be accessed for this purpose.
Of the several GM technologies, Genome Editing may be considered after diligent examination in case of food crops, when specific trait is not available to undertake conventional breeding, it said. “Since use of GM in food crops is an issue under debate, the latest technologies could be assessed and adopted for important non-food crops as of now. Simultaneously, the apprehensions about safety of GM-based food crops can be addressed and the issue settled at the earliest,” it said.
Terming the GM technology as a powerful tool for developing future crop varieties with in-built genetic resistance to various biotic and abiotic stresses for reducing crop losses and enhanced input use efficiency, yield potential and quality traits, the committee said using the technology “will be crucial for the food and nutritional security of the country, and therefore, research on them must be continued with the aim of developing safer, more productive and nutritious food crops.”
However, it cautioned, this should be done in a more transparent and socially inclusive manner for wider public acceptance. Also, concerns of the opponents of GM technology should be addressed to allay fear on food safety, environmental and economic security before deploying this technology in food crops, the report said.
It acknowledged the contribution of Bt cotton in improving the yield and production of the fibre crop in the country. About 90% of India’s cotton acreage of 12.26 million hectare was under Bt cotton varieties in 2017-18 crop year (July-June). Bt cotton was the only GM crop approved for cultivation in India in 2002 with the introduction of Monsanto’s GM cotton seeds. The UPA government in 2010 did not allow commercial release of Bt brinjal even after the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) gave its consent. The NDA government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is yet to decide on the GEAC’s recommendation for release of GM mustard, developed by former Delhi University vice chancellor Deepak Pental.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium that produces toxins harmful to a variety of insects, mainly bollworms. Bt cotton was created by introducing genes from the bacterium into the cotton seed, creating a crop resistant to bollworms. The introduction of Bt cotton led to a dramatic increase in production across the cotton producing states, and soon Bt cotton took over most of the acreage under cotton cultivation, the report said. Cotton production rose from 8.62 million bales in the pre-Bt year of 2002-03 to 34.9 million bales in 2017-18, helping in reducing imports and growth of exports.