Saturday, August 28, 2010


GM foods controversy is becoming more and more complicated as new reports about their safety or other wise emerge from studies across the world. The great Indian circus on Bt Brinjal culminating ultimately in denying permission to Monsanto company to sell the seeds of this GM crop in the country cannot be easily forgotten. Recent ban by the judiciary in the US in banning Bt Sugar Beets planting is another land mark decision that is going to give ammunition to the antagonists of GM foods world-wide. That GM foods have become an integral part of the day to day diet of the American consumer is well known because the lax policy of the food safety authorities in that country does not insist on mandatory declaration of use of GM ingredients on the label. One of the most debated issues in this raging controversy is environmental dangers inherent in unlimited and uncontrolled use of GM seeds and the worst fears about this danger is confirmed by the spread of GM versions of Canola plants as weeds in some parts of USA.

"How much of a problem this might be is subject to debate. But critics of biotech crops have long warned that it is hard to keep genes — in this case, genes conferring resistance to common herbicides — from spreading with unwanted consequences. "If there's a problem in North Dakota, it's that these crop plants are becoming weeds," said Cynthia L. Sagers, a biology professor at the University of Arkansas, who led the study. Results were presented Friday at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Canola, whose seeds are pressed to make the popular cooking oil, is a type of oilseed rape developed by breeders in Canada. In the United States, it is grown mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota, though cultivation is spreading. The roadside plants apparently start growing when seeds blow from fields or fall out of trucks carrying the crops to market. In the plains of Canada, where canola is widely grown, roadside biotech plants resistant to the herbicide Roundup have become a problem, said Alexis Knispel, who has just completed a doctoral dissertation on the subject at the University of Manitoba. Some farmers, she said, have had to return to plowing their fields to control weeds — a practice that contributes to soil erosion — because they can no longer use Roundup to control the stray canola plants. She also said the proliferation of roadside canola would make it difficult to keep organic canola free of genetically engineered material. Monsanto, the developer of Roundup Ready canola, one of the modified plants, said the new findings were neither surprising nor worrisome. Even before biotech crops were developed, canola grew on roadsides, it said; now that 90 percent of the canola planted by farmers is engineered, it would be reasonable to expect a similar percentage in roadside samples".

What is galling is the attitude of the protagonists of GM foods in taking this episode lightly and justifying such happenings as "expected". The moot question is whether they want to destroy the natural germ plasm once for all by replacing the entire natural crops with their GM version. It is well known that less than 10% of the Canola oil produced in the US comes from normal seeds, remaining being accounted for by the biotech variant of this crop. What happens if at a future date Bt Canola seeds are to be found unsafe in the long term? Will any body have any option to arrest the spread of the GM version in the wild and go back to the traditional seeds? How such a situation is going to affect the agricultural practices in the neighboring countries which do not want GM crops in their area? With each passing day, the gradient of the slide down into unknown and unchartered territories is becoming steeper and steeper and climbing back from a potential disaster will become that much more difficult.


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