Jun 5, 2013

On this World Environment Day, let us resolve to keep GM out of our lives and environment.


Hungry has recently burnt 1000 acres of Monsanto's standing GM corn crop. 

The timing is perfect. Only a few days before the World Environment Day, Japan cancelled its import consignment of white wheat from the United States. This triggered a global alarm with the European Union declaring it will go in for stricter testing of wheat imports, and China, and the Philippines announcing they will be keeping a close watch. Meanwhile, South Korea to joined Japan in halting US wheat imports.

The global alert following Japan’s decision to stop US wheat imports arose after the US Department of Agriculture began investigation into the detection of unapproved genetically modified wheat plants in a crop field in Oregon. This particular wheat strain was actually developed by the agribusiness giant Monsanto, before it shut down its field trails in 2004. Nine years after the field trials were halted, the mysterious presence of GM wheat plants have triggered a worldwide alarm.

The theme of this year’s Environment Day is Think-Eat-Save. Nothing could better illustrate the theme than the need to protect and preserve staple foods and other agricultural commodities from the menace of GM contamination. No amount of regulation, considering that the US has an effective and rigorous mechanism of following biosafety protocols, has been able to stop polluting food. In America alone, the USDA calculates that between 2003 and 2007 there had been 712 violations of which 98 could be responsible for unauthorised crops being cultivated.

It is therefore time to first think.

GM crops are being promoted and pushed on the promise of increasing crop productivity, reducing the use of chemical pesticides and addressing hunger and malnutrition deficiency. On all these fronts, the GM technology has fallen flat. While there is no GM crop in the world which increases crop productivity, the promise of reducing chemical pesticides thereby making the environment much clean too has belied expectations. According to Doug Gurian-Sherman, a scientist with the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, the total usage of chemical pesticides have increased by 183 million kilos since the GM crops were introduced in the US in 1996.

In India, the story is no different. The only GM crop under cultivation is Bt cotton. Since approximately 50 per cent of the pesticides used in India are on cotton alone, the introduction of Bt cotton was expected to make a dramatic reduction in pesticides application. As per a study conducted by the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research, pesticides usage has gone up from Rs 649-crore in 2005 to Rs 880-crore in 2010 when roughly 90 per cent of the area under cotton in India was of Bt cotton variety.

In India too, there have been quite a significant number of violations in regulation of GM crop research trials. Some years back, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had directed the State Administration to uproot the GM maize field trails in Pusa. After Nitish Kumar raised objections, the Ministry of Environment & Forests has re framed its policy and made it clear that no GM crop trials will be held without the approval of the State Government. Since then, at least seven States – Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and Rajasthan – have stopped field trails of GM crops.

The other related theme of this year’s Environment Day is “Eat”.

Although food products made available for consumption comes laced with dangerous levels of adulteration, including contamination with deadly chemical pesticides, storage chemicals and ripening agents, GM foods too are a serious matter of concern as far as human health is concerned. Consumers can no longer take refuge behind the approvals being granted by the Food & Drug Administration as well as the Food Safety and Standards Authority. Awareness has to be generated at the mass levels so that people can themselves take control of what they eat.

The nation-wide opposition to the commercialisation of Bt brinjal – which, if approved, would have been India’s first GM food crop – resulted in a moratorium on the GM crop. This was a direct fallout of an effective campaign launched by civil society groups to educated and create awareness among consumers. The introduction in April in Parliament of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (BRAI) bill will take away such rights. Over-riding the provisions of Right to Information Act as well as certain clauses that restricts the intervention of civil courts will provide an opportunity for the GM industry to fast-track the commercialisation of its controversial products.

On this environment day, it is therefore important that we question the validity of such legislation. Several studies have shown the serious and harmful impacts of GM crops on human health, environment and biodiversity. More recently, in a path-breaking study the well-known French scientist Dr Gilles-Eric Seralini has conclusively demonstrated how dangerous the GM foods can be for human health. This damming research should itself make us sit back and think whether we need such foods or not.

In long-term feeding studies conducted on rats, Dr Seralini has found that rats fed with GM maize over a two year period, which corresponds to the entire human life span, the animals had developed huge kidney and mammary gland tumours, had problem with their body organs and showed increased mortality's. This research had created a huge international furore with the pro-GM industry scientists ganging up. But nevertheless in the midst of charges and counter-charges, what is being missed out is the need to replicate this long-term study on rats.

The third and the final segment of the theme is “Save”.

I think in addition to minimising food wastage, which results in approximately 40 to 50 per cent of the food produced globally going into waste bins, what is important is to also focus on unwanted food products being created in the name of technological development. At one time, the most popular pesticide – DDT – was considered to be absolutely safe. Prior to it, Agent Orange gas used by US in Vietnam too was touted as safe for human beings. More recently, trans-fatty acids were considered safe. Over a period, all these claims were found to be completely wrong and mischievous. 

Similarly, the safety of GM foods is also under the scanner. Hungry is latest to burn the standing GM crops. Instead of blindly following the industry prescriptions, what is important is to save ourselves from the harmful impacts of such unwanted and risky products. Let us therefore use this year’s Environment Day celebrations to create more awareness about GM foods. This can only happen if each one of use first thinks, then eats, and finally tries to save. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good information in USA I see most of the people are allergic to food and whole food is more popular