Genetically Modified (GM) crops are plants that have been genetically altered using advanced techniques to develop new characteristics such as increased yield, improved immunity, resistance to pests, and enhanced nutritional values. There are several types of GM crops worldwide, including soybean, corn, cotton, canola, and rice. In India, only GM cotton is permitted for commercial agriculture, and many are undergoing field trials.
While GM crops have the potential to offer numerous benefits such as improved yield, reduced pesticide use, enhanced nutritional content, and improved food security, their use has been a topic of controversy. Concerns have been raised regarding the potential risks to the environment and the health of consumers. Environmentalists warn that the widespread use of GM crops could alter the genetic makeup of the ecosystem they belong to, posing a potential threat to biodiversity. Moreover, the genetic alteration of other species can create invasive species, which can lead to the destruction of an entire ecosystem.
Governments and international organizations are utilizing laws and regulations to regulate the use and trade of GM crops due to the ability of this technology to both solve and create problems. The regulatory framework for GM crops is a complex and ever-changing field, as scientific and technological advancements occur daily. Regulations for GM crops involve a multifaceted interplay of scientific, economic, social, and ethical factors, as well as considerations of international trade and intellectual property. By understanding the laws and regulations around GM crops, we can gain a better appreciation of the opportunities and challenges of this promising technology.
Regulatory Framework for GM Crops
Numerous national and international regulations, laws, policies, and rules govern the use, trade, and release of GM crops. Each country has individual laws that govern GM crops, as the diversity and ecosystem of each country vary significantly. At the international level, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the primary governing body that oversees the transboundary movement of Living Modified Organisms, including GM crops. This protocol outlines rules and procedures for handling, transporting, and releasing Living Modified Organisms across national borders.
In addition, the World Trade Organization (WTO) plays a vital role in regulating the trade of GM crops. Member countries of the WTO must adhere to the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, which sets standards for food safety and plant health. These standards are crucial in ensuring that the trade of GM crops is safe and does not pose a risk to human health or the environment. By adhering to these regulations, we can ensure that the use of GM crops is safe, sustainable, and beneficial to society as a whole.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) oversee the primary regulatory framework for GM crops at the national level in India. The approval process for GM crops in India is a multistep process that includes risk assessment, environmental impact assessment, and public consultations. GEAC evaluates applications for GM crop approval, and the final approval is issued by MoEFCC. The regulation of GM crops in India aims to strike a balance between the benefits of GM crops and the potential risks to the environment and human health.
In addition to these primary regulatory bodies, several laws directly or indirectly regulate the use and impact of GM crops in India. Some of these laws include:
The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is the primary legislation in India that governs environmental matters. This act provides the main legal framework for the regulation of GM crops in the country. Under this act, the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) derives its power to regulate the use and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in India. To oversee the laws and regulations related to GM crops, MoEFCC has established the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Environment Protection Act. The Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export, and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms, or Cells (1989) are also governed by this legislation. These regulations aim to ensure that the use and release of GMOs do not pose a threat to the environment and human health.
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 is another important legislation that regulates the use and access to biological resources, including GM crops, in India. This act requires prior informed consent for access to biological resources and mandates the equitable sharing of benefits that arise from their use. To oversee the implementation of this law, the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) has been established. The NBA plays a crucial role in regulating the use of GM crops in India by evaluating their potential impact on biodiversity and ensuring their conservation and sustainable use. The authority also ensures that the use of GM crops does not adversely affect the environment, and takes measures to mitigate any potential risks. By implementing the Biological Diversity Act, India aims to protect its rich biological resources and promote their sustainable use for the benefit of its citizens. This act also contributes to the global efforts to preserve biodiversity and ensure its sustainable use.
The Seed Act, 1966 and Seed Rules, 1968 govern the production, certification, and distribution of seeds in India. They mandate the registration, labelling, and certification of seeds and establish quality standards for seed production. The Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants, 2017 outline a comprehensive safety evaluation process for GM crops. These guidelines require detailed information on the genetic composition and potential risks associated with GM crops, as well as safety protocols for handling, transportation, and disposal. The guidelines also mandate rigorous safety testing to ensure that GM crops are safe for human consumption.
The Future of GM Crops and Current World Needs
GM Crops are increasingly seen as a promising solution to the challenges posed by a growing global population, rising food demand, and climate change. With their ability to provide a range of benefits, such as greater yields and resistance to pests and diseases, they have the potential to feed the world’s expected population of 9.7 billion people by 2050 without putting undue strain on the environment. In addition, research is being conducted to develop GM Crops that are more resilient to climate change, such as those that can withstand drought, flooding, and extreme temperatures, or grow in saline soils.
Moreover, GM crops also have the potential to improve human health, as they can be genetically modified to possess additional nutrients that the original crop lacks. For example, rice is being developed with added vitamin A to address malnutrition in developing countries. However, there are concerns that GM crops may have long-term negative effects on the environment and human health, as this is a relatively new technology and there are few studies to prove that they do not pose unintended consequences on biodiversity, soil health, and the larger ecosystem. Additionally, the ownership of intellectual property rights to GM seeds by agribusiness corporations may result in an economic war and unethical practices that could lead to a monopoly or duopoly. It is essential to ensure that the benefits of GM crops are balanced against their potential risks to the environment and human health.
The future trajectory of GM Crops is expected to be influenced by a multitude of factors, such as the urgent need to address global food shortages, combat the effects of climate change, and improve human health. However, it is also imperative to consider the long-term implications of genetic engineering on the environment, biodiversity, and human health. As such, careful and thorough evaluation of the potential risks and benefits of GM Crops is necessary to ensure that they do not cause unintended harm to the ecosystem and society at large.
The potential impact of GM Crops is complex and multifaceted, with a range of legal, ethical, and scientific considerations that must be carefully weighed. On one hand, GM Crops hold the promise of addressing pressing global issues like food security and climate change, but on the other hand, they also carry risks and uncertainties that must be taken seriously. To ensure that the development and deployment of GM Crops are responsible and sustainable, a robust legal framework must be in place, supported by rigorous scientific studies and evidence. This framework should take into account a wide range of social and environmental factors, as well as potential unintended consequences and unknown risks.
Despite these challenges, the development and innovation of GM Crops are essential to meet the needs of a sustainable future and address global challenges. By working together and finding innovative and sustainable solutions, we can harness the potential of GM crops responsibly and ethically.
Author(s) Name: Pradhyumn Kumar Ajmera (Nirma University, Ahmedabad)
 ‘Food, genetically modified’, World Health Organisation <https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/food-genetically-modified> accessed 10 February 2023
 Jennifer Hsaio, ‘GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?’, , Harvard University, <https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/gmos-and-pesticides/> accessed 10 February 2023
 Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 <https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/4316/1/ep_act_1986.pdf> accessed 10 February 2023
 The Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export, and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989
 The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 <https://www.indiacode.nic.in/handle/123456789/2046?sam_handle=123456789/1362#:~:text=India%20Code%3A%20Biological%20Diversity%20Act%2C%202002&text=Long%20Title%3A,connected%20therewith%20or%20incidental%20thereto.> accessed 10 February 2023
 The Seeds Rules, 1968 <https://seednet.gov.in/PDFFILES/Seed_Rule_1968.pdf > accessed 10 February 2023
 Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants, 2017 <https://geacindia.gov.in/resource-documents/biosafety-regulations/guidelines-and-protocols/Guidelines_for_the_Safety_Assessment_of_Foods.pdf> accessed 10 February 2023