Wednesday, January 16, 2013


When does one change one's view after years of taking a definitive stand on an issue? Either after becoming a turn coat due to considerations other than merit or getting convinced genuinely that the stand taken was wrong based on new information generated. GM foods, by any stretch of imagination, cannot be considered a closed issue because there are turn coats galore in this materialistic world who are ready to "confess" about their guilt in "opposing" these versions of food products made by genetic manipulation. It does not matter how many such turn coats appear on the scene confessing their mistake in opposing these foods, the truth can never be suppressed. The argument that not even a single person has died so far eating a GM food is irrational and illogical just like saying that no single death has been reported of death any where in the world due to obesity! Logically world need not bother about obesity if such arguments are accepted! It is dangerous to allow such specious arguments to cloud the issue and gloss over it. Here is a typical "view" now being aired by pro-GM lobby players to "convince" the world that GM food is absolutely safe!

In the speech, a founder of the anti-GM food movement issued his personal apology to the planet for the harm done to world food production. Oh, and he also said GM food is without risk to food safety. The money quote: "I don't know about you, but I've had enough. So my conclusion here today is very clear: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm." And: "You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM." Lynas used "unflinching language and tone" in the remarks, according to Bloomberg News, which is where I first learned of this speech. It was downloaded 125,000 times in the three days after it became available. My take is Lynas demonstrated impressive knowledge of science and current GM events around the world. "We are coming to a crunch point, and for the sake of both people and the planet, now is the time for you (the anti-GM lobby) to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably." And don't think he's gone corporate. Lynas documents how opponents have raised the cost of bringing any GM crop to market that only big corporations can do it. "It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I've just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialization, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance, " he said. "There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about. As for food safety risks, he says the public has been fooled into misconstruing reality. Germany's deadly 2011 E. coli outbreak was equal to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with 53 deaths and 3,500 victims of kidney failure and the source was organic beansprouts. Lynas says the people who chose organic to avoid "trivial risk" from pesticides or fertilizers are the one who ended up making fatal decisions. The author has a few good things to say about organic, but wants people to understand it freezes agricultural practices at about 1950, just as the Amish practices stop at about 100 years earlier. His message is we cannot afford to stop there or not use technology to feed a world population of more than 9 billion by 2050. Totally disconnecting food safety from the GM food issue is not going to be easy. Many GM stories you see in the news these days are about obscure patent issues or the intricacies of federal processes. I've chased these myself only to find there was never going to be any "Perry Mason" moment about food safety. However, food safety studies are going to go on forever. One of my colleagues pointed out that a recent Nova Scotia study has found Monsanto's GM cucumbers cause the added problem (or maybe benefit) of causing "total groin hair loss and chafing in sensitive areas."  (Okay, that was Canadian satire.) What it does mean, I think, is that we are going to raise the bar for what makes a GM food story a food safety story. It is the only way we can make sure we are expending time and resources on the right food safety targets. And as I think about it, maybe we need to go back and look at all those illnesses and deaths caused by organic practices and look at whether the public is properly weighing risks".

It is a foregone conclusion that human survival depends very much on increased food production through safe and efficient technology and agricultural scientists will have to evolve such technologies sooner than later to keep up production in tune with growing population. But to argue that GMO route is the only one to achieve production increase cannot be accepted as of now unless there is unanimity about its safety on long term consumption. The specious argument that no death has been reported due to consumption of GM foods cannot be a credible proof for universal acceptance of these artificially fabricated food materials. To continue this logic why is that tobacco was banned when not even a single death was reported due to only cigarette smoking? Why is alcohol consumption discouraged when no single death was directly attributed to drinking of alcoholic products? Why is there restriction on caffeine consumption when millions drink coffee and cola beverages and no one has proved that caffeine has killed any one in the history of mankind? If there are millions of clues and indicators regarding the possible risk of consuming GM foods on the long term which may not be directly due to GM foods but due to collateral damages, can these foods be really acceptable? All countries cannot emulate the US and if this country wants its population to be under the ever dangling sword in the form of threat of impending calamity from GM food consumption one day or the other it is their business. Future history will prove how responsible those countries not allowing unrestricted use of GMO foods are in protecting the health of their valuable citizens!


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