Thursday, March 15, 2012


The controversies surrounding GM foods never seem to be ending with increasing polarization taking place all around regarding their safety. Though countries like China, with authoritarian governments at the helm have adopted GM foods with out bothering about the feelings of their populations, there are many others categorically rejecting these unnatural versions of food as unsafe or not proved unequivocally safe. Recent Bt Brinjal incidence in India has shown how sensitive people can be to issues concerning food safety and environmental protection though this is a country with high degree of illiteracy! Contrast this with the situation in the US where literacy is very high but 80% of market foods contain GM food ingredients. This anachronism can be explained away by the irony that despite being a democratic country the US government does not mandate the industry to declare the GM origin of the ingredients on the front of the pack label denying its citizens the fundamental right to know what they are eating!  Against this background the attitude of people in a country like the UK where citizen's right is highly valued, is worth knowing and this has been highlighted in a recent survey. Here is a gist of the conclusions of this study:

"Twenty nine per cent of those polled said GM food is good for the economy. A similar number- 27 per cent - disagreed with the statement and 44 per cent said they didn't know. Just over half agreed that GM food helps people in developing economies. Twenty four per cent agreed that the foods are safe for future generations - a fall from 31 per cent in 2010. The proportion who believe there to be safety risk also fell, from 39 per cent to 27 per cent, leaving more people sitting on the fence. The men were more pro-GM than the women but levels of varied depending on the potential use of the technology. For instance 64 per cent of those quizzed were supportive of a rice group with built in vitamin A that could stave of malnutrition and blindness. But just 22 per cent agreed with the production of carnations coloured violet through genetic modification. Sir Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Science Association, said the survey showed 'a pretty high awareness of GM food' and considerable interest in the subject, with two-thirds of respondents interested in it."

Amid all these arguments and counter arguments, a basic issue has been obscured, that is about the personal freedom of the denizen to choose and consume what he wants with full knowledge of its advantages and deficiencies. It is here that governments world over must concede the inevitability of letting their citizens know in a clear and transparent manner what is offered to him by the market and front of the pack labeling must be made mandatory whether one likes it or not. Industry must not be allowed to hijack this right of the consumer through lobbying and money power. The above survey cannot be interpreted, as the GM lobby is trying to do, to mean that consumers are increasingly accepting GM foods but it only exemplifies their dilemma in coming to any conclusion in absence of "conclusive" data regarding the safety of GM foods to humans and the environment beyond a shadow of doubt. 


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