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The Perils of the Genetically Modified Food

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Food and Agriculture

Genetically Modified food is the focus of one of the biggest controversies worldwide. Protests against GM foods and for their regulation are being held around the globe. Although scores of articles/papers are available on the subject both advocating its importance and usefulness as well as others that are against this concept, only very rarely is a true perspective been given to the whole issue. What we need to understand here is that unless the underlying motive is something other than the gratification of one’s own narrow selfish interests, whether at an individual level or at a collective level, no amount of scientific advancement can rescue us from our difficulties. As a matter of fact, these advancements, when accompanied by the utilitarian spirit bring disastrous consequences. To handle such an advanced technology a higher level of consciousness, than that at which the present humanity stands, is needed.

 What is Genetically Modified Food? Once scientists could decipher the DNA coding of organisms they supposedly found out various codes for particular characteristics of the organisms. Nature itself has its own way of mutating certain characteristics of an organism to other. After these findings, scientists conducted various lab experiments to alter the genetic structure of organisms by either introducing foreign genes or removing certain codes from a gene. When this technology is applied to seeds to acquire certain “desired results”, the obtained result is termed as Genetically Modified or engineered seeds. This genetic engineering is done with certain characteristics or specific results in view such as:

 Higher Yield, Pest resistance, Herbicide tolerance, Disease resistance, Cold tolerance, Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance, Nutrition

To obtain all the above mentioned characteristics, selected foreign genes available in various living organisms i.e. plants, animals and even human beings are then artificially transferred by the process of cisgenesis. Without going into the actual details of these processes, as links to various sites would be given at the end for further study of details, the following are some of the hazards involved in this process:

Higher Yield: This has been proven and is being more and more recognized globally that to create abundance without producing adverse consequences in some other field or form is unlikely. The truth of the above proposition becomes clear when one closely examines and takes into account all the adverse effects of these seemingly “higher-yield” crops in areas such as human health, ecology, environment, humus content of the soil or the soil fertility etc.

Pest/Disease/Herbicide Tolerance: To make a crop resistant to various foreign attacks, the seed is engineered to produce its own toxin with a view to do away with the necessity of spraying pesticides. Advocates of this feature find it an economically viable method, but they tend to overlook the fact that when the crop itself becomes so toxic and lethal to pests, how it could possibly have favourable effects on human health. Already there are reports of pests becoming resistant to such toxins and consequently making it necessary to engineer new variety of crops with higher potency of toxins. There have been comparative studies of behavior of animals regarding fields cultivated with GM crops and the ones without it. It is found that instinctively animals tend to avoid the GM crops and enter only the fields without GM crops. It is an irony that with the advent of supposedly a higher faculty, the mental faculty, human beings fail to clearly distinguish between the two and try to promote something that even an animal has the instinct to avoid.

Drought/Excessive Water/Cold/Frost Resistance: Another alteration in seeds is made with the view to develop resistance into crops to certain weather extremities. But apart from other direct or implicit effects, these crops tend to fail miserably when the weather patterns are somewhat different from the ones for which these seeds have been programmed. The seeds provided by nature have inherent ability to adapt themselves to the changing weather patterns or the climate of a given area. Even when at times there are certain disturbances or irregularities in the weather patterns, these natural seeds can very well withstand all such disturbances, while the GM seeds fail miserably to respond to any such changes. Consequently GM farmers often have to incur huge losses.

Nutrition: To cope up with the problem of malnutrition or to enhance nutritional value of certain crops, the crops are engineered to produce more vitamins and some other nutrients. Here too, it is difficult to say whether this has any positive value, as the breaking down and absorption of such nutrients in human body is a very complex affair and a completely different field of study. There are a large number of reported cases where even after the injection of the deficient nutrient, the body doesn’t accept the nutrient and continues to show the deficiency of that nutrient. A documentary – Truth about Vitamins – elaborates at great length the futility of all such external health stimulants or boosters, as the psychology of the individual plays a key role in the generation or utilization of such nutrients in human body. In one of his books, Jeffrey M. Smith makes the following observation: “Changes in the DNA – both intended and accidental – can influence a plant’s nutritional content….Altered nutrition can lead to unanticipated side effects. Cows fed GM Roundup Ready soy, for example, produced milk with increased fat content. This illustrates a cascading effect, where one problem leads to other.” (Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith, Page 69)

Opinions and findings of some of the researchers/investigators in the field

 “Michael Pollan: The unspoken challenge here is that if we don’t get over our queasiness about eating genetically modified food, kids in the Third World will go blind. ..Yet the more one learns about biotechnology’s Great Yellow Hope, the more uncertain seems its promise – and the industry’s command of the moral high ground. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether golden rice will ever offer as much to malnourished children as it does to beleaguered biotech companies.

Vandana Shiva: The selling of vitamin A rice as a miracle cure for blindness is based on blindness to alternatives for eliminating vitamin A deficiency, and blindness to the unknown risks of producing vitamin A through genetic engineering…

Devinder Sharma: A majority of the acutely malnourished people that the proponents of Golden Rice claim they want to help cannot afford to buy rice from the market. If these poor people cannot buy ordinary rice, how will they pay for golden rice. ….the problem cannot be solved by providing nutritional supplements through GE rice.

Grains of Delusion: The main agenda for golden rice is not malnutrition but garnering greater support and acceptance for genetic engineering amongst the public, the scientific community, and funding agencies.” (Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey M. Smith, Pages 243-44)

Mahesh Bhatt: In a documentary – Poison on the Platter – Mahesh Bhatt: well-known filmmaker and social activist, launches a scathing attack on biotech multinational companies and their nexus with regulatory bodies for unleashing what he describes as ‘bio-terrorism’ in the country. Bhatt said, “in their mad rush to capture the multi-billion dollar Indian agricultural and food industry, the biotech MNCs are bulldozing warnings by scientists about the adverse impact of GM foods on health and environment, and hurtling mankind toward a disaster, which will be far more destructive than anything the world has seen so far, simply because it will adversely affect every single living creature on this planet”.

Bhatt’s film makes a mockery of Government of India’s claim of not allowing import of any GM foods in the country as it conclusively demonstrates that supermarkets in India are flooded with harmful food stuff and biotech MNCs are cashing on the ignorance of unsuspecting consumers in India. “Indians are unfortunately kept in dark, and the corporations are hatching strategies to cash in on their ignorance. Poison on the Platter is, therefore, an attempt to generate awareness among consumers and kick start an informed debate on the issue”, said Bhatt.

Ajay Kanchan: Trials of GM foods on lab animals across the world have repeatedly shown that they cause bleeding stomachs, and adversely affect brain, lungs, liver, kidney, pancreas and intestine. They have been even linked to higher offspring mortality and infertility.

Are we ready to eat a food that has the potential to stunt our growth, impair our immune system and adversely affect all our vital organs”, asks Ajay Kanchan, director of the documentary, adding that “It’s shocking that instead of protecting the interests of farmers and consumers, regulatory bodies in India are pandering to the greed of biotech MNCs like Monsanto, whose track record is littered with lies, deceptions and notorious ability to corrupt the regulatory bodies all over the world”.

Jeffrey M. Smith: “I can say with absolute confidence that there is irrefutable and overwhelming evidence that genetically engineered foods are harmful and that they are not being evaluated properly by the governments of India, United States, the European Union, or anywhere in the world.” Said Jeffrey M. Smith, Founder Director, Institute of Responsible Technology and author of two widely respected books on health impact of GM foods – Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, adding that “this is one of the most dangerous technologies ever introduced on earth, and it’s being deployed in our food supply.”

Devinder Sharma: Noted food policy analyst Devinder Sharma said, “India is fast becoming the world’s biggest dustbin for this risky and unwanted technology. We are being told that these crops are essential for feeding the growing population, but there is not even one GM crop that produces higher yields. In fact, many of the GM crops produce less than the existing crops. And yet, as many as 56 foods crops are being genetically modified in India.” In spite of a number of independent scientific studies pointing out the potentially damaging impacts of Bt crops, Government of India is about to approve the first food crop, Bt brinjal. “So far we were told that by proper washing the veggies you could get rid of the harmful pesticides residues. That may not hold true anymore, because with genetic modification, the toxins will be right inside the vegetables”, Sharma added.

Pushpa M. Bhargava: In India, the only commercially cultivated GM crop Bt Cotton, has so far proved extremely harmful for human beings and animals. Hundreds of farmers working in Bt Cotton fields developed skin allergies that were not known before, while thousands of cattle, sheep and goats that went for grazing there died in no time. “What we need is a moratorium on release of any GM crop and sale of any GM seed for at least next 5 to 7 years, till their safety is assured through stringent and impartial tests, because what’s at stake here is not just our health but our very survival”, said Dr Pushpa M. Bhargava, Founder Director, Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology and Supreme Court’s nominee in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).” www.poisonontheplatter.com

A study has shown that the cultivated areas worldwide using Genetically Modified seeds have risen from 4.3 million acres in 1996 to around 426.9 million acres in year 2011 and the progression is exponential. How greed and the commercial mentality with the help of the so called scientific advancements have brought the whole of human life to the verge of extinction. If drastic measures are not taken this will lead to the extinction of the human species. The signs of this are clearly visible.

Series Navigation<< A comparative study of Indian and Western agricultural system and the impact of Green RevolutionThe Present Situation – Various Practices Adopted in Processing and Dealing with Food at various stages >>
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