A person needs a deep understanding of genetics to appreciate the subject of GM crops (Op-Ed, Sept. 2). Only a few will realise that genetical modifications in the lab is a hastening of the process of evolution. Not many may appreciate that our wheat and rice have come from a chance crossing between wild grasses which took a long time for it to happen. Leapfrogging over the process of evolution by GM technology is the way to food security. It is amazing to note that the expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court gave a contrarian view.
Using GM technology in cotton and other such inedible staples is fine. But when it comes to edible crops, let us wait, watch, research and do lab-to-land tests for a few decades instead of gulping down what MNCs want us to believe and consume. When mutations take place over the centuries (during evolution), how can we be certain that studies/research conducted in the last two decades can prove that everything is hunky-dory?
As a fellow scientist and a molecular biologist, I found Dr. Padmanaban’s framing of the GM debate as science vs. antiscience to be a deeply polarised perspective that is by now comically clichéd. He appears to be unaware that there is a global movement of scientists and science-based organisations such as the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG) that have opposed GM plants for a variety of scientific reasons.
GM crop developers have been talking about developing crops with higher nutrition, the ability to fix nitrogen and with other improved traits for close to two decades but have failed to produce these. Until now, what we have are plants that express pesticide genes, Bt-toxin, and plants that are resistant to weedkillers (primarily glyphosate and glufosinate). These represent about 95 per cent of commercialised GM plants, with the remainder being minor crops engineered for traits such as virus resistance. The predominant application of this technology has been resistant crops that promote the sale of biotech/chemical company’s chemicals while paying lip service to altruistic motives like increasing yields to feed the world.
If one systematically reviews the literature, at the very least, one must acknowledge that there is “controversy” in the scientific literature regarding the health and environmental safety of GMOs, and an even closer look exposes the fact that the papers that fail to find problems with GMOs almost always are from authors with associations with the biotechnology industry, while those that expose problems are typically from scientists that are independent of such influences. It is the consensus of the organic farming movement around the world that GMOs are not compatible with organic farming. Furthermore, international reports such as The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) strongly question the utility of genetic engineered crops in meeting the challenges of the vast majority of farmers around the world and providing food security.
Instead of attempting to solve every problem with this one technology, it would make sense to ask the question, “what is the most effective, simplest, most elegant approach to the problem?” It is surprising for one of India’s respected scientists to be advocating abdication of food security of the nation to multinational corporations. Without food security, there is no national security, no national sovereignty.
Masanobu Fukuoka’s experience with natural farming is in his book The One-Straw Revolution, which Indian scientists must read and use to challenge in open debate if they support GM crops for India.