Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Genetically modified agricultural crops and animals are increasingly being produced though there is stiff resistance amongst the consumers, some health experts and environmentalists. While non-food crops produced through genetic engineering may find acceptance if significantly higher productivity is achievable, when it comes to applying this technology to food crops great deal of circumspection is called for, considering many unanswered questions regarding their safety to humans. Bt Cotton, the most celebrated GM agricultural crop, adopted widely in a few countries including India, still remains an enigma as increased yield has not been uniformly achieved, raising serious concerns about its sustainability under different environments. As for food crops soybean, corn, papaya, tomato, potato, rapeseed, sugar cane, sugar beets and rice have GM versions and USA is the major country that uses GM technology for a variety of crops including corn and soybean. More than 75% of all food products marketed in that country have one or the other GM ingredients!

Genetic engineering involves isolation of a gene having a desirable trait and incorporating it into the genome of the selected plant through a gene gun. Once part of the recipient, the newly inserted gene becomes part of the genome of the recipient and is regulated in the same way as its other genes. Major purpose of GM technology is to increase the resistance of crops to pests though there are other objectives also. Many countries ban entry of foods containing GM ingredients even in trace amounts to protect their diversity. In India Bt cotton was cleared in 2002 and there are conflicting assessments regarding its impact but in less than 7 years India has become the second largest producer of cotton in the world. According to some reports there are at least 11 GM food crops now being studied in India for eventual commercial production.

Of all the crops why brinjal was sought to be subjected to GM technology is still not clear, it being one of the least significant vegetable crops in the country. Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO), a subsidiary of the global seed giant Monsanto of USA, in collaboration with T N Agri varsity and UAS Dharward developed the Bt brinjal and got it cleared by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of GOI based on tests which many consider as inadequate. The reputed European expert in molecular biology, Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini, in his testimony before the Supreme Court categorically questioned the scientific validity of the test protocols used by MAHYCO and stressed the dangers posed by Bt brinjal which contains different alkaloids and 16-17 mg of insecticide. In animal studies diarrhea was commonly noticed besides other biological changes. With hundreds of varieties of brinjal grown in the country, adverse consequences of uncontrolled commercial cultivation the GM variety on Indian soil cannot be under-estimated.

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