Thursday, January 1, 2015

Science and common man-Vested interest vs truthful facts vs human health

The world has not come to a consensus regarding the risks or advantages inherent in adopting genetically modified food crops. What is tragic is that there is a clear cut division between pro and anti GMO people whether consumers, scientists or policy makers on the safety of GMO foods. America is in the forefront in allowing unrestricted use of GMO technology and practically every food product in the market there is either based on GMO derived raw material or GMO ingredients. Their stand is that there is no substantial difference between natural and GMO derived foods and therefore no separate approval is necessary for using them as ingredients or as foods for consumption. Many other countries take a different stand and there is either a total ban or limited clearance for some of the GMO foods created by MNC giants like Monsanto through gene manipulation technologies. It is the unfortunate that the consumer is caught between the proverbial "deep sea and the devil", not knowing what is the truth?

There are three issues that confront policy makers before considering giving clearance to GM crops and a balanced decision is possible only when all facts and real truth are placed before them. Science is a truth chasing activity and scientists cannot be expected to say any thing but truth. Unfortunately it has been proved time and again that some scientists are "purchasable" at right prices! That is why there is a wide chasm in opinions within the scientific community itself. First consumer would like to know whether GM foods are safe to consume on a long term basis and whether the exiting knowledge is sufficient to make him accept these foods for himself as well as his family including kids. Second issue is whether there is really any advantage to the farmer in terms of economic gains so that the technology can be adopted in the field level. Finally the third stake holder viz the regulatory authorities need to know what advantages or dangers the country will have by switching over to GMO crops without any restriction or control, long term as well as short term duration.

What is the ground reality to day? First there is no unanimity among scientists that GM foods are as safe as they are made out to be and practically no human studies on a long term basis have ever been undertaken as of to day. What consequence consumption of diets predominated by GM foods will have for future generations is also a grey area. The contention that Americans have been eating GM foods since long is an argument that is not objective enough to pass a judgement on this issue. Second the claim of increased yield has not been conclusively demonstrated universally in any meaningful way though in some crops it might be true. Here again to claim that the net yield for the farmer would more because of reduced losses due to insects and other vectors probably will not be sufficient to convince any body. Third, the prevalent seed regeneration practices  which has been the traditional way of perpetuating agriculture in countries like India need to be replaced with a monopolistic seed supply system, makes the farmer captive slaves of international business corporates and this makes the farmers extremely vulnerable to price manipulations and expose him to a "siege" environment which is not a desirable change. 

Recently there was a massive meta analysis of data available in the public domain on GM crops and according to this study GM crops are good for developing countries, not for developed ones! Read the excerpts from this report below:

"The "pro" side in the debate over the benefit of genetically modified foods got a big boost from science this month, with an international study funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the European Union's Seventh Framework Program FOODSECURE concluding that GM crops are good for the economy and reduce the amount of pesticides used in agriculture.  The German study is the largest review ever conducted on the effect of GM crops on farming. It is a meta-analysis, meaning a rigorous study of the numbers inside past studies on the topic. The review included studies of GM crops conducted from 1995 to March 2014 that were published in English. Published Nov. 3 in PLOS ONE, the peer-reviewed, open-access publication for the Public Library of Science, the meta-analysis found that GM crops are a "promising technology." According to the authors, GM crops have reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent and increased farmer profits by 68 percent. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops, they reported. And in a conclusion that contradicts those who've argued GM crops are not right for the developing world, the authors found that yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Authors Matin Qaim and Wilhelm Klumper, both of Germany's Gottingen University, said they hope their research will help build public trust for GM technology. In a world that will be challenged to increased food production to meet future population growth, the study found GM crop yields can be increased by 14 percentage points more in the developing world than in the developed world. Pests and weeds are a bigger problem in developing nations, another reason GM technology brings bigger benefits there. Commercial GM crops include those that are modified to increase resistance to pests, to glyphosates or to herbicides used for weed control. The German study found that herbicide-tolerant crops have lower production costs, while insect-resistant ones do not. In that case, the need for less pesticide is offset by the higher seed prices, the study showed. 

The fact that this study had the blessings of European Union and the German government makes it a compelling report worth reading by every dispassionate denizen, curious about the subject of GM foods without being a party to the controversy. Whether this report satisfies the criteria enunciated by this Blogger above is subject o debate but one thing is certain that such periodic reports are no substitute to a world wide inter disciplinary scientific study involving some typical, more regularly consumed GM foods, without any controversy or difference of opinion, to conclusively establish whether GM foods are absolutely safe or  at least as safe as their natural counterparts or not. Till such time we have to live with such gimmicks going under the banner of scientific study!


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