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.

While 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 said 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 whereas 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.

Do you have questions for the FDA? Click here.

Water pollution in China and India

On August 2nd, 2013, I re-blogged an article ‘The greening of China’ in my blog titled ‘Optimistically green China‘. While China intends to go greener, another renewable energy, hydropower, cannot be overlooked. A study by Sean Gallagher, a Beijing-based British environmental photojournalist mentioned that ‘renewable energy has no negative consequences’ is a myth, busted in a guest post by him at National Geographic.

water pollution in china and indiaKeeping renewable energy aside, what’s even more concerning is the pollution of the water systems in China. A new video by The Economist that hosts Mr John Parker, tells us how exactly this has happened and its implications.

Not to mention the smog that’s making China rethink on the strategies to host Olympics, an air pollution disaster. The World Bank has a multi-year, multi-sector study that estimates the physical and economic cost of air and water pollution in China. It speaks of water scarcity and what remains too is polluted, the impact of which is significant.

Watching India lying next to China, in terms of demographics, I wonder if India is taking sufficient measures to avoid such a situation. India Infrastructure Report 2011 and Water in India: Situation and Prospects, a report by UNICEF puts forwards the harsh realities that exist and the measures that are being taken.

India cannot be categorized as a water scarce country like China, but it sure does fall into the ‘water-stressed’ category. Although scarcity is also an effect of natural phenomenon like drought, it sure can be avoided if water resources are not over-polluted or over-used. Water can be kept safe for drinking through proper waste disposal and sanitation. In my blog ‘Water mining and its consequences‘, I mentioned how water mining can also lead to water shortage, so that’s one other aspect we can deal with to avoid future scarcity.

Read more:

Performance audit of water pollution in India

Introducing, Ludwick Marishane.

I bet at least one of you who’s reading this hates to have a bath. Well, if not every time, SOMEDAY, you must have wanted to not bathe.

Ludwick Marishane, is the guy who invented water-less bathing lotion, just because he did not like to bathe. Sounds funny, but it has a potential to have profound implications in areas where water is scarce. For some of us, not wanting to bathe is an utter denial of luxury, but not for all.

Well, that is just not it, the lotion creates a biodegradable film that cleanses and moisturizes the skin. Go green!

See how he did it: Ludwick Marishane: A bath without water | Video on TED.com

Why do we waste so much?

“You should eat everything that is served in your plate! Don’t waste anything.”, said my mother and she has been saying it ever since I was an infant. Many of us can relate to this in one form or the other, from one person or the other.

Ever wondered why we waste so much? Why do we waste food, water or anything for that matter? Is it something innate to us? What could possibly be the psychology behind such a behavior?

When I was about 20 years old, I heard a yoga instructor say, “Your stomach is not a garbage bin, if you don’t need it, don’t push it inside you, do not eat it. You are causing more harm that good.” She was right, in a way. Only problem I think with this piece of advice is that it needed an iteration of the question ‘why?’ Why did we feel obligated to not waste food? Why is it morally right to not waste food? If we have to waste food, why do we harm our own bodies for being morally right? Why do we create so much food needlessly? What do we think when we do all this?

My main point was that our perception of waste is relative to our experience of scarcity, and for most of us, things like water, food and energy do not feel scarce, even though, taken globally, they are. In so far as there is a solution, it may lie in simulating the experience of scarcity. I do this incidentally once a year when I visit my in-laws in India, where I learn to live with water shortages and power cuts, even in a relatively developed and affluent part of one of their main cities, Bangalore. – Jonathan Rowson, RSAblogs

Did this ever happen to you? Did you ever experience scarcity? I have. We had a 24 hour water supply for a few days, when I moved to a new place. The new society was yet to have a good foundation of rules. After our society was fully populated, new rules were made. Water was then only supplied for two hours, one hour each, morning and evening. We felt the scarcity. It was uncomfortable. We bought new storage tanks to store water. My mother made sure that nobody wasted water in the house. She’s been always the same, she must have experienced scarcity long back but we, the ones who have not ever lived in a world like she has, do not know of scarcity but we are experiencing it now. She always coaxed me into building things from waste, to save resources. She, like many mothers or people alike out there have continued this legacy, for the good.

A layperson may ask, “We have so much water in the oceans, then why do people say ‘Save Water’?

Everyday, something or the other strengthens my belief in this quote from the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still: “People change at the precipice.”

“Fifty-four percent of the world’s food wastage occurs “upstream” during production, post-harvest handling and storage, according to FAO’s study. Forty-six percent of it happens “downstream,” at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.”

Read more: Food waste harms climate, water, land and biodiversity – new FAO report