Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why we don’t need genetically modified crops in India

Dr G. Sivaraman | August 10, 2014, 06.08 am IST
Picture for representational purpose.
Picture for representational purpose.
Genetically Modified (GM) plants have created rigorous debates not only in India, but worldwide. GM Crops are a new living organism and the universe has not been acquainted with this for millions of years.  The potential adverse and unintended effects of GM plants to the agro system and the safety of foods are the main causes of concern.
The global icons in the field of genetic engineering like Prof Michel Antoniou, Prof Seralini and Prof Pushpa Bhargava have stated that we cannot determine the outcome of the conjugation of different genes. There is a possibility of unintended effects which could be harmful to:
1) The organism that the researcher intends to modify;
2) The health of animals or humans who may use the organism;
3) The environment; and
4) Biodiversity.
GM is a living technology and has the ability to be irreversible and uncontrollable, unlike the hybrid and chemical interventions in agriculture.
At the outset, any research or new interventions should satisfy the real necessity while the lacuna should be established. As far as GMOs are concerned, there is no actual need for this in our country. Here in India, the problem lies with the distribution of food and not with its production. The reasons positioned by pro- GMO technocrats such as higher yield in harvest, pest & herb resistance have never been satisfactorily proved by the scientific community around the world.
The bio safety of the new organism also has not been dispassionately established.  The biosafety document of the BT brinjal, submitted to MoEF, four years ago cleverly concealed the ambiguity of its inference in every part. Nearly 30% difference in the alkoloidal content between wild and BT Brinjal, was obscured with tag line …“substantially equal”.
Later  the standing Parliamentary committee and technical expert committee examined the entire research documents and finally rejected them. Even the WHO warrants every nation to do systematic examination while allowing GMOs in their food chain with respect to allergenicity,, gene transfer and cross contamination. Apart from that, the current challenge for India’s health scenario is the management of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension ischemic heart diseases and carcinoma.
The introductions of GMOs in the food crops have a strong chance to spoil the synergy of plant molecules, and secondary metabolites and thereby certainly spoil the functionalities of the staple food. There is no foolproof data available that GMOs can be kept intact of these synergy, while a new gene has been engineered.
Another aching news is that a few GM manipulations have been started in Indian traditional herbs like ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), bramhi (Baccopa moneerri) and nilavembu (Andrographis paniculata). To improve the quantity of particular fractional extracts of the medicinal plants, researchers are trying this Frankenstein technology.
Without knowing traditional Ayush therepeutics and pharmacokinetics, (which is purely based on taste of the herb structured with synergy of secondary metabolites) the contemporaries’ intervention spoils the traditional traits and the IPR of our plants will be questionable. For an ayush physician, medicinal plants are not mere therapeutic chemical yielding factories
The answer to minister Prakash Javadekar’s question on why people want to stop scientific studies is very simple: Field trials involve a deliberate open air release of GMOs, which are untested and are merely new organisms in nature. This poses high risks due to the inherent nature of the technology. There are numerous examples of contamination resulting from field trials.
The whole world is moving towards an eco-friendly lifestyle in many areas. India is one among the few countries having large biodiversity zones with a huge potential to go organic.
In 2002, BT cotton was officially introduced to India.  At that time the cost of cotton seeds was `20-40/ kg. But now the cost of 450 gms of cotton seeds is `1,800. If the same hike continues to happen among GM foods, what will be the state of grassroot level poor Indian? Another thought for this Independence Day is that we will be hoisting the tri-coloured national flag made of genetically modified BT Cotton owned by a big American corporates and not with Gandhiji’s swedeshi.

(The writer is with Poovulagin Nanbargal and can be contacted at

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