Friday, April 2, 2010

The Great Indian GM (Genetically Modified) Food Debate

It is not easy for a country like India to produce all the required food for her population, which is close to 1.17bn. And as the population increases the availability of land reduces, which will result in to the massive deforestation. If people don’t have enough land to live, how they can use enough land for agriculture? Due to the long neglect and disrespect towards farmers, now a day’s people are unwilling to take agriculture as a profession.

In addition to that now a day’s government is creating special economic zone where ever they can. Many of these Special Economic Zones are coming up in the fertile lands; I can’t understand why chemical, automotive, software plants require fertile lands? They can use the lands where the soil is not good for agriculture. If companies are finding it difficult to set up infrastructure in such places, government should come forward to help them.

In this scenario, no special powers are required to predict that the area available for agriculture will fall in the future and so as the output. In the sixties when we faced this disastrous situation, where the food safety of the country was depending on the imports, Green Revolution solved our problem. Later we were even able to export rice and other agricultural products to other countries. But now after more than three decades we are again facing the problem again.

Many recommend Genetically Modified crops as a solution, but this new technology is facing wide spread opposition from various civil society groups and NGOs. According to the definitions - GM food derived from the genetically modified organisms (GMO). The changes are introduced to their DNA by genetic Engineering.  GM products first hit the markets in the early 1990’s- first in Soybean, corn, cotton seed oil etc and later animal products – like pigs which engineered to produce Omega-3 fatty acids.

These food products are in market for the more than 15 years. In 2004 a review by ‘US National Academies of Sciences’ and later in 2008 a review by ‘Royal Society of Medicine’ states that – To date, no adverse health affects are attributed to Genetic Engineering, have been documented in human population. But other organizations like ‘Organic Consumers Association’, ‘Greenpeace’ etc says that health risks posed by GM products and its environmental risks are not adequately investigated.

According to the ‘UNEP’ report about the last food crisis - which affected numerous countries from Egypt to Haiti and Cameroon to Bangladesh - there was a 50- 200% increase in commodity prices. This food crisis also added another 44mn people to the under nourished category. According to the report the reasons for this crisis are Speculation in food stocks, Extreme whether conditions, low cereal stocks, growth in biofuels which competes for cropland and high oil prices.

Of course the other reasons will be the poor public distribution system and low yields.

In these situations the new technologies like GM crops may find a new role in ensuring the food security but the fears associated with GMP’s are not so less important. After the widespread opposition from state governments and NGOs Minister of State for Environments and Forests- ‘Jairam Ramesh’ put a moratorium on the environmental release of Bt Brinjal. This product has a foreign gene named ‘Cry 1 Ac’ from soil bacterium, which is supposed to insert insect resistance to Bt Brinjal. The interesting thing is that the environmental release of Bt Brinjal developed by ‘Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co Ltd (Mahyco)’ was earlier approved by GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) on October 14, 2009. Now what public have to think? - Government is rejecting their own committee’s findings and approval.

The things related food safety are critical to the survival of human beings, lacks of people are already died due to famine and malnutrition. Many times it was not due to absence of food but our notorious inefficiency in Public Distribution System (PDS). Even if GM foods are prooved highly successful if we are not ready to enhance the PDS, the situation will remain as it is.

All the things related to the GMF (Genetically Modified Food) products have to be thoroughly tested and have to make sure that it will not adversely affect human begins. But this doesn’t mean that we should reject GM technology and GM foods altogether. In these days Genetic Engineering is using in a verity of fields - from industrial to agricultural sector. One of the advantages (claims) related to the Genetic Engineering is that – it will reduce/avoid the usage of pesticides required in agricultural sector. It is good to remember that various pesticides are already proved disastrous for both humans and nature. Do you remember the name of any chemical pesticides which proved good to human health?

In the first generation GM crops may not be that much successful, it may give inconsistence results and even reduced yields. But which technology hits the market as a perfect one? Any one remember what was the size of computers when it was introduced in the later half of 1940’s, and what is its size now? How many trial and errors happened during the invention of electric bulb? It is the fate of every technology; it will slowly prove successful after the not so impressive first results. (I am not saying that every technology proved successful in the end).

In fact what governments should do is, instead of raising concerns about the GM products of private companies they should set up adequate lab, and field trial facilities. If the result is not satisfactory to the government they can deny the license for environmental release. In any case government has to make good investments in this sector and create a definite policy for Genetic Engineering. All these things are released to market after spending crores dollors, in R n D, so the price of it will be high. If government is not ready to commit massive investment in this sector and overhaul the PDS system, the situation will remain as it is.


You can find Indian governments policies related to Genetic Engineering (GE) here - Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India

1 comment:

  1. Its High time that all the controversy regarding Genetically Modified crops be put to rest and use these tried and tested products in our country also. Till now there's no proof of any adverse affect on humans because of the use of GM crops , so I don't see any reason why we should not be implementing this here.