"Poison on the Platter"
- A Voice against Genetically Modified Food with Respect to India


S. Rahul
Netaji Subhas Institute Of Business Management

Objective: - To raise voice to the growing protests against genetically modified food in the country.

Introduction: - there have been a number of news items in papers with regard to genetically modified foods all over the world. India is now on the threshold of accepting genetically modified foods. We have entered into an agreement with the USA on agriculture biotechnology. What are the implications of this agreement? What will be India's gains due to this agreement? What are the further implications with regard to our research results, natural biodiversity and natural genetic wealth?

The biotech revolution in agriculture has been termed as the Second Green Revolution by Former President of USA, George Bush on his visit to India, and variously as the Evergreen Revolution and Gene Revolution by others. In the face of this hype has caution been thrown to the winds? How is it being ensured that genetically modified foods will be safe for human consumption? Proponents of genetically modified foods use the ' principle of substantial equivalence' to justify their claim that there is no need to certify that genetically modified foods are safe, just as there is no need to justify that natural foods are safe.

What is Genetically Modified Food: - it refers to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques. These plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as improved nutritional content, etc. The enhancement of desired traits has traditionally been undertaken thru' breeding, but conventional plant breeding methods can be very time consuming and are often not very accurate. Genetic Engineering, on the other hand, can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy. For example, plant geneticists can isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance and insert that gene into a different plant. The new genetically- modified plant will gain drought tolerance as well.

Advantages of Genetically Modified Foods: - India's population is increasing day by day and ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. Genetically Modified Foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:

* Pest resistance: - Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards, and run-off of agriculture wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can poison the water supply and cause harm to the environment. Growing genetically modified foods can eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.

* Herbicides tolerance:- for some crops, it is not cost- effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a time- consuming and expensive process, that requires care so that the herbicide doesn't harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically- engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed.

* Disease resistance: - there are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically- engineered resistance to these diseases.

* Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: - as India's population is growing and more land is being utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in location previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.

* Pharmaceuticals: - medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in India. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes. These vaccines will be much easier to ship, store and administer than traditional injectable vaccines.

Criticisms against genetically modified foods: - environmental activists, religious organizations, public interests groups, professional associations and other scientists and government officials have all raised concerns about genetically modified foods, and criticized agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight.

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt has added his voice to the growing protests against genetically modified food in the country. Thru' his home production, 'Poison on the Platter', Bhatt conveyed an anti- genetically modified food message and stressed that Indian consumers deserved more than verbal assurances regarding the safety of genetically modified food.

Incidentally, BT Brinjal is the first genetically modified food ready for release in India and is also making inroads to Orissa. BT Cotton has already become a controversy, as thousands of cattle have died after grazing on BT Cotton fields, while farmers and those handling the cotton have come down with severe allergies.

The filmmaker added that the hazards of genetically modified food would dwarf catastrophes such as nuclear attacks, floods, cyclones and world wars. The film, which raises the question of whether India is genetically modified foods free, has Bhatt heading to a supermarket and pointing out packets containing corn and soya imported from US. More than 70% of these crops are genetically modified in US, he points out.

Several renowned doctors in the country have initiated a consumer awareness campaign, "I am no lab rat," against genetically modified foods, citing health problems. They have vowed to intensify the campaign in the coming months so that the Government of India sets up a safety assessment protocol to look into the safety of such food items. The movement against genetically modified foods is gathering momentum at a time when the biotech industry is seeking to introduce the first genetically modified food crop in the form of BT Brinjal, created by inserting a bacterial gene with antibiotic- resistance genes so that the plant produces its own poison against a certain set of pests.

Scarcity of safety tests: - how can the public make informed decisions about genetically modified foods when there is so little information about its safety? The lack of data is due to a number of reasons, including:

* It's more difficult to evaluate the safety of crop- derived food than individual chemical, drug, or food additives. Crop foods are more complex and their composition varies according to difference in growth and agronomic conditions.

* Publications on genetically modified food toxicity are scarce. Infact, no peer-reviewed publications of clinical studies on the human health effects of genetically modified food exist. Even animal studies are few and far between.

* The preferred approach of the industry has been to use compositional comparisons between genetically modified and non- genetically modified crops. When they are not significantly different the two are regarded as "substantially equivalent", and therefore the genetically modified food crop is regarded as safe as its conventional counterpart. This ensures that genetically modified crops can be patented without animal testing. However, substantial equivalence is an unscientific concept that has never been properly defined and there are no legally binding rules on how to establish it.

Currently, toxicity in food is tested by chemical analysis of macro/micro nutrients and known toxins. To rely solely on this method is at best inadequate and, at worst, dangerous. Better diagnostic methods are needed.

Conclusion: - Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the India's hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labeling. Many people feel that genetic engineering is the inevitable wave of the future and that we cannot afford to ignore a technology that has such enormous potential benefits. However, we must proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment as a result of our enthusiasm for this powerful technology.


* www.google.com

* The Telegraph dated:- 27.03.09

S. Rahul
Netaji Subhas Institute Of Business Management

Source: E-mail March 28, 2009


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