7 PM |A case of wholehearted biotechnology adoption: On GM crop|28th January 2020

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Context:Bt Cotton in India.

More in news:

  • Hundreds of farmers gathered in Hiwri village of Yavatmal district in Maharashtra on January 5, 2020 in their attempt to prove the unapproved variety of cotton (HTBt) gave higher yields at a more reasonable cost as compared to the approved [insect-resistant] variety (Bt cotton).
  • The Supreme Court on January 6th issued a notice in the matter of illegal planting of non-approved Genetically Modified (GM) crops (Bt. Brinjal, HT. Bt. Cotton, etc) by Shetkari Sangathan, a union of farmers, and others.

Cotton in India:

  • Cotton is an immensely important crop for the sustainable economy of India and livelihood of the Indian cotton farming community.
  • It is cultivated in about 312 lakh hectares across the world and in around 117 lakh hectares in the country. Thus, India accounts for around 37.5% of the global cotton area and contributes to 26% (i.e 6.20 Million MT) of the global cotton produce of 23.92 Million MT.
  • Cotton continues to enjoy a pre-eminent and the most favoured fibre status among the Indian textile mills, as the major raw material for the textile industry.
  • India is also the only country in the world that grows not only the four cultivated species of cotton but also their intra-and-inter-specific hybrids on a commercial scale.
  • The textile industry, which consumes the cotton, as its principal raw material, contributes about 4% to the GDP and is the major exchange earner for the country.
  • Hence, growth and development of cotton and cotton based textile industry has a vital bearing on the overall development of the Indian economy.

Bt Cotton:

Text Box: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO):
•Genetically Modified Organisms, are the ones in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way as to get the required quality.
•The technology is often called ‘gene technology’, or ‘recombinant DNA technology’ or ‘genetic engineering’ and the resulting organism is said to be ‘genetically modified’, ‘genetically engineered’ or ‘transgenic’.
  • Bt cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to bollworm. Thus, Bt cotton is an insect-resistant transgenic crop designed to combat the bollworm.
  • Bt cotton was created by genetically altering the cotton genome to express a microbial protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
  • In short, the transgene inserted into the plant’s genome produces toxin crystals that the plant would not normally produce which, when ingested by a certain population of organisms, dissolves the gut lining, leading to the organism’s death. 
  • Bt cotton was officially commercialised in India in 2002 to control its illegal sale and repel two main species of bollworms that attack cotton: the American BW (ABW) and the Pink Bollworm (PBW). The aim was to ‘protect’ performance, while decreasing the use of insecticides.

Process of Genetic Engineering:


(Ht)Bt cotton:

  • This is the third generation Bt cotton variety where there is an addition of ‘Cp4-Epsps’ gene from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which produces a modified protein that allows the plant to withstand herbicide glyphosate.
  • Farmers are not able to spray glyphosate on normal cotton because the chemical does not distinguish between the crop and weed, but the herbicide tolerant Bt (HtBt) cotton remains unaffected by glyphosate.

Mechanism to allow cultivation of GM crops in India:

  • Genetic Engineering Approval Committee(GEAC) is apex body under Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for regulating manufacturing, use, import, export and storage of hazardous microorganisms or genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and cells in the country.
  • GEAC 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.
  • The safety aspects of genetically modified crops are assessed by the Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBSCs), Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) and Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) constituted under Rules 1989 of Environment Protection Act (EPA) – 1986 based on Biosafety Guidelines and the Standard Operating Procedures
  • The Government of India follows a policy of case-by-case approval of transgenic crops.
  • As per the guidelines framed by the ICMR, safety assessment is designed to identify whether a hazard, nutritional or other safety concern is present

Laws about unapproved seeds:

  • Legally, sale, storage, transportation and usage of unapproved GM seeds is a punishable offence under the Rules of Environmental Protection Act 1989.
  • Also, sale of unapproved seeds can attract action under the Seed Act of 1966 and the Cotton Act of 1957.
  • The Environmental Protection Act provides for a jail term of five years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for violation of its provisions, and cases can be filed under the other two Acts.

Views against Bt Cotton:

  • Genetically Modified (GM) pest resistant Bt cotton hybrids have captured the Indian market since their introduction in 2002. These now cover over 95% of the area under cotton, with the seeds produced entirely by the private sector. 
  • In 2020, India is expected to be the world’s largest cotton producer, surpassing China in output. However, India’s productivity (yield per unit area), is much lower than other major cotton-producing countries, meaning a much larger area is used for cotton production.
  • India is the only country that grows cotton as hybrids and the first to develop hybrid cotton back in 1970. Hybrids are made by crossing two parent strains having different genetic characters. These plants have more biomass than both parents, and capacity for greater yields. They also require more inputs, including fertilizer and water. Though hybrid cotton seed production is expensive, requiring manual crossing, India’s low cost of manual labour make it economically viable. 

Facts regarding Bt Cotton in India:

  • Indian farmers have voted for choice of seeds with biotechnologies by planting hybrid cotton biotech seeds on over 90% of the country’s cotton acreage.
  • They choose from over 800 hybrid Bt cotton seed brands from over 40 Indian and global seed companies, with five approved ‘in-the-seed’ insect protection Bt cotton technologies and non-Bt varietal cotton seeds. Farmers have not shown any preference for planting non-Bt cotton seeds including the quantity supplied along with the Bt cotton seed by seed companies as per regulatory guidelines.
  • Cotton Corporation of India data show that the highest production of 398 lakh bales of cotton in India was achieved in 2013-14, valued at around ₹72,000 crore. Additional incomes were generated from cotton seeds oil (1.3 million tons) and cotton seed oilmeal (11 million tons) worth ₹13,000 crore and ₹22,000 crore, respectively. The Bt cotton seed market is about ₹3,000 crore, making it hardly 2.5% of the total value generated.
  • Indian farmers who were using varieties for years switched to hybrids in the mid-1980s mainly because of the enormous benefits. Cotton Advisory Board data show that India’s cotton yields which were at 169 kg/hectare in 1980-81 increased to 278 kg/hectare in 2000-01 and then 542 kg/ hectare in 2016-17.
  • India produces hybrid cotton seed because of the availability of labour to carry out the hand pollination at reasonable cost.

Way forward:

  • The solution is planting rainfed short season high density (SS-HD) cotton as developed at CICR, Nagpur, and other institutions — cotton that could double yields, avoid pink bollworm infestations and hence reduce insecticide use and obviate the need for Bt technology.
  • Further, in the era of globalization where indigenous varieties has become a tradition, witnessed in the ever increasing demand of muslin cloth, indigenous varieties should be promoted. Also, infrastructure should also be promoted for local weaving and spinning, along with creating demand through e-commerce.


Without doubt Bt-cotton in India provided a lot of impetus to the Indian textile sector thus creating a lot of employment around, but the gains made were short term in nature, manifested in the recent upheaval in our agriculture sector. Now, it’s time to move over to a better and equitable upgrade to Bt-cotton and perhaps resort back to indigenously grown cotton which would create equity for farmers and sustainability to environment.


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