The Kerala Government and many environmental activists oppose field trials of genetically modified crops in Kerala, saying these will endanger biodiversity. But some experts hold the view that the State should make gainful use of biotechnology. Our readers respond:All about greed
Scientists have found that GM crops can contaminate non-GM crops, and they are still studying the short-term negative effects of GM plants, let alone the long-term consequences. It is a scary thought that in a few decades, the world may lose most of its natural species of food crops, adopted, adapted and developed over thousands of years through farmer innovation, natural changes and application of science. We are replacing them with an unproven, irreversible technology, barely 50 years old, owned and patented by a handful of corporations. Working as an activist for sustainable farming and protection of small farms in the U.S. farm belt, I experience the negative effects of GM crops every day and realise that the introduction of GM crops is more about power, control and greed than about feeding the world or maintaining ecological balance or securing the future of mankind.
Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty
Louisville, Kentucky U.S.Growing needs
Many people have disposed of their traditional farm lands. A few have committed suicide owing to debt. It is, therefore, evident that the usual mode of farming will never serve to satisfy the needs of the State. Food production in the State is reducing at an alarming rate whereas the population is increasing steadily. So, the State should adopt new methods to produce enough food to feed everyone.
Considering the scenario, the introduction of genetically modified crops can solve the pressing need for food for everyone.
It is in the Eighties that research on genetic modification began. By 1996, the first commercial cultivation of GM crops started. There was a lot of concern among consumers, activists and even experts about the safety and ethics of this technology. But it was thrust on the people in the developed world, mainly in the U.S.
Now, it is understood that the ‘single gene transfer technology’ is outdated and will not give the desired results claimed by the scientists. A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that genetic contamination is a predictable impact of GM technology and it can even lead to loss of some species at the global scale. Scientific studies have also brought out the fact that GM food can lead to many health disorders.
Another important aspect is that the whole business of GM seeds is controlled by MNCs and their subsidiaries. On one side, trade policies are making farming unsustainable and are killing farmers. When Governments start losing control over agriculture production too (seed is the most important input), farmers will be hurt and food production will be affected. Food security will be under threat if such a situation arises.
Kerala has to be more careful since we are already a food deficit State and it is realised that the situation can be improved only through protection and development of our rich biodiversity. GM seeds are a threat to this heritage. Usha S.
ThiruvananthapuramGood for State
Some concerns about new allergens and harmful genes creating havoc with the ecosystem are real. However, GM crops have been successfully cultivated in several countries during the past one decade. Research in agricultural biotechnology in developed countries has been tracking the potential dangers of transgenic crops. Therefore, there is ample empirical evidence to allay the environmental concerns.
Farming has declined in Kerala owing to several factors such as small farm holdings, low productivity, unsustainable incomes and so on. The larger issue is if the farmers in Kerala should be denied the benefits of GM crops because of opposition that is largely ideological and dogmatic? Do not the advantages of transgenic crops such as improved productivity and decrease in use of insecticides and pesticides vastly outweigh the possible dangers to the environment? The dependency on MNCs for supply of seeds can be reduced if organisations such as the ICAR scale up their R&D efforts.
Therefore, field trials of GM crops can be conducted subject to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court.
As viruses are used as carriers of genes in genetic engineering, and as viruses tend to mutate, GM seeds, crops and food can cause deadly uncontrollable diseases in humans. GM crops will contaminate natural crops and all other plants endangering indigenous seeds developed over centuries. GM crops will foster dependence on a corporate seed supply. Most GM seed manufacturing multi-national companies prohibit farmers from saving their own farm-produced seeds for the next season and from sharing the seeds with other farmers.
GM crops will usher in ‘Terminator’ and ‘Traitor’ technologies. The former are seeds modified so that the plants that they grow will produce only sterile seeds. The latter technology produces GM crops that need to be sprayed with certain chemicals in order to grow properly. GM crops have increased the use of deadly chemicals everywhere. GM crops are all patented. Transnational corporations own most of the agricultural biotechnology patents and a majority of these are controlled by pesticide corporations. These companies will use their patents to block research that does not suit their interests.
GM crops will destroy the rich and complex biodiversity, especially of tropical rainforest systems, get into the food web and destroy the ecological balance.
The proposed bio-safety measures are unrealistic as we lack the expertise, equipment, infrastructure, legislation and regulatory systems to implement them.
Considering all these dangers, we should apply the precautionary principle which advises us not to proceed when there is no certainty of the safety to health and environment.
The attempt to conduct field trials of GM crops in the paddy fields of Palakkad should be opposed. The effects of using these crops are not yet properly studied or tested.
GM crops may prove very dangerous to the rich bio-diversity of Kerala. They can change to a large extent the organic structure of our soil. Those in support of field trials argue that as paddy plants conduct self-fertilization, the characters of the seed will not spread from the trial fields to other fields. But it is obvious that there are many ways in which the genome characters can spread to other fields.
We must be aware of this genetic pollution. Even human beings may fall victims to this pollution through bio-magnification. The extension of genetic engineering strategies to food crops needs a more detailed study. Biotechnological advances are essential, but any attempt to pollute soil and destroy biodiversity should be discouraged and opposed.
Bibin S. Nath
If we allow GM crops to contaminate our rice and vegetables, we will be destroying one of our greatest assets. This will also kill a thriving industry. Hence, growth of biotechnology, even with its potential, is only useful for a few biotechnology industries and pharma companies and should be restricted in the State. The firms may be allowed to do research, but they should not be allowed to manipulate the genes. This is dangerous and suicidal for the people of the State. We know what has happened to our food and health after pesticides were used. But GM food can cause irreversible damage, which is why precaution is needed. Moreover, we need to produce more natural and ecological food by supporting our farmers.
Nowadays in Kerala, agriculture has become a no-income generating occupation and farmer suicides are also high. In this scenario, GM crops will offer farmers better reward for their work and will also help in meeting the needs of the increasing population. But there are concerns among the public regarding the negative effects of GM crops such as whether they will affect the biodiversity of the State or not. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), all the currently available GM crops in the international market have passed all risk assessment tests. But some health effects of GM crops and their effect on other crops are worth noting. So before introducing them into the market, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has to seriously conduct a study regarding this. The successful use of some GM crops in Europe and the failed Bt cotton project in Orissa are before them. Deepa Nair M.S