Friday, January 22, 2010


The so called "Public Hearings" orchestrate by the Central Government (GOI) in India resembles a Circus Ring of yesteryear because of the predictability of the performance that is being offered. Genetic Engineering Approval Committee GEAC), over ruling stiff objections from within, recommended commercialization of Bt Brinjal, a GM crop with hardly any evidence about its safety for human consumption or to the environment and ignoring the adverse impact it will have on the vast majority of poor Indian farmers. In spite of the fact that the Minister for Environment is in possession of at least two damning reports against Bt Brinjal from international experts to whom the issue was referred by GOI itself, the precise intention behind these "public meetings" is obvious, that is, to accord approval under the pretext that "public has been consulted". On top of this the Agriculture Minister chips in saying that GOI would go by the recommendations of the "experts".

Our survival on this planet depends on adequate natural food and water, cleaner environment and a satisfied farmer. The threat to our living a normal life comes from mindless tinkering of the above natural systems under some or the other excuse. Latest to arrive on the scene is genetic modification of our traditional crops like staple food grains, oil seeds, fruits, vegetables and others by business interests with insatiable profit on their agenda. Obviously their justification is to increase food production to meet increasing demand by a growing global population. Why, one may ask, are a vast number of concerned people including worried scientists, who can discern the dangers of genetically modified foods (GM) to the citizens, environment and the farmer, are raising their voice against the present government policy of supporting such risky activities.
Well documented scientific studies have clearly brought out the grave consequences to the health of the consumers in the long run by directly consuming GM food crops. GM corn, soybean and others already being grown in countries like the United States are not directly consumed but processed into products that do not contain the dangerous ingredients created by genetic modification. Bt Brinjal, about to be cleared in India has significant levels of toxins present that will be ingested by the consumer which will have dangerous impact on intestine and other functions in human body.  International protocols have not been gone through by the developers of Bt Brinjal while assessing the safety of this GM crop and the recommendation of the Genetic Engineering Clearance Committee is premature and hasty. Supreme Court in India is still considering this issue and no clear verdict has come so far. If the government clears Bt Brinjal to day, soon to follow will be others, more than 40 in number, being readied for introduction in India through similar perfunctory assessment, putting the citizens in great jeopardy through cumulative poisoning. Government seems to be usurping the fundamental right of a citizen to know whether he is eating GM Brinjal by not putting in place a fool proof system of identifying such crops in the market.

The GM crops can contaminate normal crops when cultivated nearby, causing irrevocable damage to our 5000 years old cultivation and germplasm. What consequences such reckless action can have on the environment of the country cannot be predicted. Already there are studies indicating proliferation of many pests in the agricultural areas where GM crops are planted which can cause massive damage to other crops in the area through these pests. Many GM crops also need new and powerful weedicides to prevent crop damage, contaminating the environment including water bodies and the whole food chain with residues of dangerous weedicides with terrible consequence to all forms of life. Environmental dangers from GM sugar beets cultivated even in the US are still being debated legally in the supreme court of California.

Where ever GM crops are being cultivated, the farms are of big size, mechanized agriculture is in vogue and farmers are invariably rich to be in a position to thrive due to extensive government subsidy system. In India most farmers are impoverished with a couple of acres of land holdings with hardly any resources to invest on infrastructure and other high cost inputs. A significant percentage depends on rain for their survival and even a marginal drop in precipitation or unseasonal rains can affect the farm income driving them to suicide. With their own seed generation the agriculturists reduce the cost of cultivation but seeds for GM crops are not amenable to regeneration on successive generations making the farmer perpetually at the mercy of the seed supplier who can manipulate the astronomical price already being charged for the seeds further. Inputs like water, weedicides, pesticides to keep away new pests and unanticipated crop failure, cannot be borne by the Indian farmer, most of them considered marginal farmers. The seed supplier never accepts the responsibility for crop failure leaving the farmer high and dry, hiding under legal garbs and fighting the mighty seed supplier is beyond the resources of even a big farmer, let alone the vast majority of marginal farmers. 70% of the population that generates food for the country, if affected by such distortions, the consequences is not only for themselves but also to the entire population depending on the food supplies from rural areas.

Most GM foods pose several risks of unknown dimension as only one ill-designed human study has been reported in 2004 using 7 people and the conclusion of this study supports the vulnerability of intestinal microorganisms to pick up the external genes from the GM foods ingested. All other claims regarding safety are based on animal studies which cannot be accepted by any honest scientist. What type of health problems that can pose due to long term consumption of GM foods depend on the technique used and the source and type of gene introduced in the food. It can have direct adverse health effect, tendency to cause allergies, generate specific components with toxic effect, unpredictable adverse consequences due to inherent instability of the external gene introduced, reduced nutrition value with respect to some nutrients or pose unintended adverse effects of unknown nature. There are well documented studies linking genetically engineered foods to (1) cancer (milk fed GM hormones), (2) damage to kidney and heart in some cases, (3) damage to intestinal linings (GM potato) (4) severe allergies from proteins from the external genes introduced which are new to humans (GM soybean), (5) reduction of nutrients and phytochemicals useful for maintaining good health (GM Soya) and (6) antibiotic resistance by consumption of some of the GM foods exposing the consumers to dangers posed by pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, E.coli, Campylobacter and Enterocococcus, many of them capable of causing life threatening health disorders. Another serious concern to food scientists is the unacceptable levels of residues of more dangerous herbicides, necessarily to be used by the GM crop farmers which can contaminate other crops through soil, air and water. Many food raw materials may become unfit for consumption or processing if the levels of chemical herbicides are high.  Bt Brinjal MUST undergo multi generation safety studies with human subjects before it can be considered for commercialization.

GM crops are not developed for charity by the private seed companies unlike the developments under the Green Revolution regime in sixties and seventies where it was the government funded research done for the benefit of the farmers and promoted through government agencies with no profit motive. If GM is an accepted route for increasing food production, WHICH AT PRESENT IT IS NOT, research must be indigenous to evolve suitable variants of crops considered crucial to the country, with high productivity potential and safety, proven as per standard protocols by the government controlled institutions with a guarantee to safeguard germplasm of cultivated, wild and medicinal species and not endanger the balance of the living soil system. This confirmation must be upheld by representatives from the farming
and scientific community and not from vested commercial interests.



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