GM foods: What’s all the fuss about?

Where there is food, there is population. Thanks to  Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist, US is the largest wheat exporter in the world. Also thanks to  M.S. Swaminathan, one of India’s top most exported commodities is cotton. Both these men are accredited as ‘Father of Green Revolution’ and ‘Father of Green Revolution in India’ respectively. Countries now export food and are not just talking about subsistence anymore. Where there is population, one needs food and hence by many GM foods are considered much needed in agriculture.

gm foodWhile a country like India is capable of exporting certain crops, it feels the heat of the shortage of certain grains. Marie Haga, the current head of Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) said “Food production needs to increase by 15 percent in the next 10 years.” Mark Lindley, a member of Humanist Association of Boston, US, said shortage is due to post-harvest mismanagement, while he raised concerns over rapid consumption of resources in populated countries like India and China.

Changing the traits of plants played an important role in the rise of agricultural produce. While plant breeding is as old as the first civilized colonies of humans, the first genetically modified food was commercialized only in the 1990s. So why the fuss now? Each of these techniques is a way to get better yields even in intolerable climatic conditions, better taste, better color, better life span and may be better size too. Yet there is no consensus on the use of the latter technique. The difference between the two is that science of molecular biology began only recently, that is in the 1930s.

With the knowledge of molecular genetics, scientists are now able to breed two different kinds of plant species. “You can now build a cell the same way you might build an app for your iPhone,” said Newman, chief science officer of Amyris, in the Guardian. As easy as it sounds, it is the hard work of scientists that has led to such technologies. Molecular genetics is an open group to play on. Plant breeding only allowed closely related species to be bred and that is where GM foods came in.

If you find yourself thinking why would people criticize genetically modified crops, one of the many reasons is ‘allergies’ and ‘toxicity’. No negative effects have been so far documented. The other reasons include the intellectual property fight and the effect of pesticide resistance. Through conventional wisdom, you probably know what a normal apple can do to you but how would you know what a GM apple will do? Concern over allergies called for GM labelling.

GM labelling in India was made mandatory in the month of January this year. Greenpeace, WWF and the Nature Conservancy are in the forefront of the debate, the first two concerned over regulation over the use of GM foods. Having done that, the process of GM labelling is not standardized and will be the next big hurdle for nations if they are to receive public acceptance of GM food.

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17 thoughts on “GM foods: What’s all the fuss about?

  1. smallftprints

    It is true that there are some benefits to GMOs. Unfortunately, there are also problems with them. For example, B.t. corn was genetically modified to increase resistance to pests and to herbicides. It basically produces it’s own Insecticide, a protein. This protein is poisonous to some insects and has also been shown to endanger Monarch Butterflies. In my opinion, it’s difficult to say whether or not GMOs are safe … and that’s part of the problem … we simply don’t have enough data to say, without a doubt, that they are safe for us and the environment. So, labeling is important … we have the right to know what’s in our food so that we can make the choice. I have to wonder why, if GMOs are so safe, companies like Monsanto spend so much money to prevent us knowing whether or not they are in products. Thank you for an informative article and a great discussion in the comments.

    Reply
    1. Anuja Sawant Post author

      Thank you for the comment. I agree that labeling is important. I think research needs to go on in this field. In the meantime, vertical organic farming seems to be an answer to scarce land and growing demands. Then there also is Aquaponics.

      Reply
  2. John Kamin

    Anuja, from the news stories I have heard thousands of Indian farmers committed suicide because they lost everything when their GM crops failed due to bad Monsanto seeds and at that time GM seeds were illegality in India. Can you shed some light on this? Not to mention all of the farmers that were bankrupted by Monsanto because their crops were contaminated by neighboring GM farms…

    Reply
    1. Anuja Sawant Post author

      John, that’s correct. It was called as the GM genocide. Farmers were pursued to buy GM seeds. Since they were expensive, they had to take loans. Now, these seeds had some kind of a ‘termination technology’ (sterile seeds) because of which the seeds from these crops could not be used again for growing new crops. So, it went on and the farmers owed huge amounts of money to the banks. Also, due to ineffective communication of the direction of use of these seeds, desired results could not be obtained. (Many farmers cannot understand English even now.)

      Monsanto introduced Bt cotton in Indian in 1995 and trials were conducted illegally. The Environment Protection Act (1989) has rules to regulate GM seeds because of which Monsanto was sued.

      Vandana Shiva’s article on this: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-seeds-of-suicide-how-monsanto-destroys-farming/5329947

      A recent news (bad news) is that the new minister, Moily, wants to allow the field trials for GM crops, which was put on an indefinite moratorium since 2005. Can field trials contaminate the soil? (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-12-27/news/45626933_1_field-trials-aruna-rodrigues-such-trials)

      Reply
      1. Anuja Sawant Post author

        Can GM food field trials contaminate soil?

        “No-objection certificates have been issued to 28 applications for GM crop trials from seven private companies and the Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research. Each field trial must take place in “confined conditions” on the farm of a state agriculture university.”

        http://www.telegraphindia.com/1131227/jsp/nation/story_17725096.jsp#.Ur7f6vQW3nh

        http://www.firstpost.com/india/with-moily-in-charge-field-trials-for-gm-crops-could-be-okayed-soon-1309289.html

        Reply
    2. Anuja Sawant Post author

      John, from a discussion going on on Grist, I have found out some more information. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh raised some concerns over Bt Brinjal yesterday. He spoke of monopoly, need for independent regulator and consensus amongst the scientific community. He also spoke about the success of Bt cotton and that it is was not so for farmers in Maharashtra. (Maharashtra is where the suicides took place. I now wonder why the farmers killed themselves.)

      http://www.firstpost.com/politics/some-fears-on-bt-brinjal-legitimate-need-debate-ramesh-1354059.html?utm_source=ref_article)

      After this I can say that I have no idea why the farmers killed themselves. Bt cotton is not the reason for it because it was a success. I don’t know know what happened.

      Regarding the terminator gene I mentioned, my bad. I just read a document by the Ministry of Environment & Forests and found out that such a gene doesn’t exist.

      http://www.envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/geac/bgnote.pdf

      Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/29/11652.short

      More articles:

      http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/01/26/the-myth-of-indias-gm-genocide-genetically-modified-cotton-blamed-for-wave-of-farmer-suicides/

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2011/05/18/every-30-minutes-an-indian-farmer-commits-suicide-biotech-is-not-to-blame/

      http://www.agprofessional.com/news/150665905.html

      Reply
  3. John Kamin

    People writing articles about GM food really need to do their research and stop saying that there is no evidence of ill effects from GM foods. There have been many studies done that show gastric inflammation and ulcers due to a GM diet, allergies, toxicity well above normal levels and into dangerous levels, increase in the size and weight of yuterii, reduced immune system response, the generic mutation of gut bacteria which causes them to produce pesticides within your body, and many others. Some of those results were found by the GM companies themselves, but were silenced and then came out through whistle blowers. The Science is conclusive. GM companies just don’t want you to know that. Then there’s the damage to the environment and cross contamination of other plants… Please look into it and start writing about those facts.

    Reply
    1. Anuja Sawant Post author

      John, thank you for the comment. After your comment, I did some research again. I’m going to share a few links on the evidence of ill effects of GM foods, in this reply.

      -An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety
      research: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Nicolia-20131.pdf

      -In 1996, an allergic reaction to GM soybeans was recorded but the product was abandoned after it was found out, even before making it available to the public. Regarding horizontal gene transfer to the gut bacteria, yes, it needs further studies. It is said that medically compromised people are vulnerable to it. (http://www.ibtimes.com/gmo-health-risks-what-scientific-evidence-says-1161099)

      -The lack of evidence may be because no epidemiological studies in human populations have been carried out to establish whether there are any health effects associated with GM food consumption. (http://www.ensser.org/increasing-public-information/no-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety/)

      I think GM foods need a moratorium.

      This blog post received a lot of attention and many gathered to share their point of views in a group called ‘Green’ on LinkedIn. (https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=67451&trk=anet_ug_hm)

      Reply
      1. John Kamin

        There was a study done in Europe on children who have consumed GM foods and they found that in all cases those children had nearly lethal doses of BY toxin, insecticides and pesticides in their blood. I will find that article and post it.

        Reply
    1. Anuja Sawant Post author

      Thanks for sharing the link, Dirk. :)

      There have been more than 200,000 farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra in the last decade, out of which more than 70% farmers belong to the 11 districts of Vidarbha region. This is mainly because of the infertility of the land, lack of ample amount of water resources, lack of new technologies and due to the negligence of the state government towards the farmers’ needs. The main crop in Vidarbha is cotton, but the farmers growing it do not get their share from the government, which leads to the high distress among them, leading to the massive suicides.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidarbha

      I saw a movie on it once: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabhricha_Paus

      Reply

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