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Caution sounded against GM foods and crops

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Bio-safety concerns: Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran releasing the Indian edition of the book ‘Genetic Roulette’ by presenting it to Kerala State Biodiversity Board Chairman V.S. Vijayan in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. Jeffrey M. Smith, author of the book, looks on. –
Bio-safety concerns: Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran releasing the Indian edition of the book ‘Genetic Roulette’ by presenting it to Kerala State Biodiversity Board Chairman V.S. Vijayan in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. Jeffrey M. Smith, author of the book, looks on. –

Special Correspondent

65 health risks have been reported: expert

Thiruvananthapuram: India is emerging as a big, attractive market for GM (Genetically Modified) crops and imported GM foods, amid increasing concern over the health hazards posed by these products, according to Jeffrey M. Smith, executive director of the U.S.-based Institute for Responsible Technology.

Dr. Smith, who was in the city on Tuesday to attend a workshop organised by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, said genetically engineered organisms posed an unprecedented threat to agriculture, environment and human health.

“Releasing GM organisms into the environment can lead to irreversible results that even outlast the effect of radioactivity and global warming. Animals fed on GM crops are reported to have died or developed diseases.”

Highlighting the demand for strict regulation on introduction of GM organisms into the country, he said studies had reported the possibility of antibiotic resistance and increase in allergies. “Human studies have proved that genes can be transferred to intestinal bacteria through GM food. GM peas developed in Australia and intended for India were found to cause dangerous reactions in mice and may have caused deadly human allergies.”

Dr. Smith said 65 health risks of GM organisms had been reported all over the world. “Assessments in India are not competent to identify most.”

Asked whether GM crops or GM foods were more dangerous, he said: “While importing GM foods can negatively affect the health of the population, allowing unregulated cultivation of GM crops will influence the environment and gene pool for future generations.”

He said intelligent decision-making was a short-cut to regulating GM products. “However, the ultimate solution lies in educating consumers and creating a tipping point for them to reject GM products. Political leaders, the intelligentsia and academic community should also be enlisted in the campaign against GM products to ensure continuity across changing governments and policies.”

Obama for labelling

Dr. Smith said the new U.S. President, Barack Obama, was in favour of mandatory labelling of GM organisms. “But the presence of pro-GM officials in his team raises concern about the new government’s approach to bio-safety issues.”

He said nine out of ten Americans were in favour of labelling GM products and 53 per cent of them would be ready to give up these products in favour of organic substitutes.

Earlier, inaugurating the event, Minister for Agriculture Mullakara Ratnakaran highlighted the need for India to be declared a GM-free country. Kerala, he said, had already announced its opposition to GM crops.

Terming GM crops unnatural, he warned that they could affect the natural equilibrium and ultimately lead to desertification. The Minister said rapacious multinational corporations were trying to bleed the environment for profit by appropriating seeds and food resources. This, he said, represented an affront to democratic values and a threat to national sovereignty. “Research studies on the impact of GM foods are still in their infancy.”

The Minister released the Indian edition of Genetic Roulette, a book authored by Dr. Smith. Chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board Dr. V.S. Vijayan received the first copy of the book. Member secretary of the board Dr. R.V. Varma also spoke.

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