GM Hazards

Bharat Dogra

The Modi government has taken the course charted by the Congress to please the Uncle Sam and American multinationals. Perhaps they have no other option to promote their ambitious growth strategy. Despite continuous opposition to GM Crops across the world from the scientific community, successive Indian governments have been desperately trying to introduce GM Crops. ‘‘It is well known, that the US world like to control food production around the world by marketing patented GM seeds. The MNCs that sell GM seeds that are protected by intellectual property rights also sell agro-chemicals’’.

Recently Pushpa M Bhargava, founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and one of the leading experts in this field, has presented a significant critique of GM crops (The Hindustan Times). In this he has stated:

o    There are over 500 research publications by scientists of indisputable integrity, who have no conflict of interest, that establish harmful effects of GM crops on human, animal and plant health, and on the environment and bio-diversity.

o    Ninety percent of the member countries of the United Nations, including almost all countries of Europe, haven't permitted GM crops or unlabelled GM food.

o    In the United States, where GM food (such as corn and soya) has been consumed for over 15 years, there has been a continuous rise in the incidence of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. While this does not establish a cause and effect relationship, it does not rule out this possibility.

More specifically, on the experience of growing the only GM crop Bt cotton in India so far Prof Bhargava says,

o    Out of over 270,000 farmers' suicides, a substantial number has been of Bt cotton farmers.

o    In Andhra Pradesh, there have been deaths of thousands of cattle that grazed on the remnants of Bt cotton plants after harvesting of cotton.

o    Resistance to pests in Bt cotton has developed over the years.

o    There has been a marked increase in the number of secondary pests such as mealy bug, and

o    The soil where Bt cotton has been grown over a prolonged period has become incapable of sustaining any other crop.

This review by a foremost expert who was appointed by the Supreme Court of India in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to protect safety concerns is supported by the opinion of many leading scientists and groups/panels of scientists on the health hazards and other risks of GM crops.

An eminent group of scientists from various countries who constitute the Independent Science Panel have said in their conclusion after examining all aspects of GM crops—"GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns, that if ignored could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now."

How can Indian government ignore such clear scientific opinion on the hazards of GM crops provided by an international group of eminent scientists? What this statement says very clearly is that GM crops are not safe and these can contaminate all other normal crops as well. In other words all farmers will be affected by these hazardous crops. Even those farmers who totally reject GM crops will have to face their hazards.

The threat from GM crops becomes very serious and of a permanent nature when one remembers that it is almost impossible to fully recall GM crops which have been released once. As Professor Susan Bardocz has noted, "GM is the first irreversible technology in human history. When a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is released it is out of our control; we have no means to call it back...."

More recently 17 distinguished scientists from Europe, USA, Canada and New Zealand wrote to the former Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh warning against "the unique risks (of GM crops) to food security, farming systems and bio-safety impacts which are ultimately irreversible." This letter adds, "The GM transformation process is highly mutagenic leading to disruptions to host plant genetic structure and function, which in turn leads to disturbances in the biochemistry of the plant. This can lead to novel toxin and allergen production as well as reduced/altered nutrition quality.'' But the Modis are more interested in promoting American business.

Vol. 47, No. 16, Oct 26 - Nov 1, 2014