Saturday, December 5, 2015

Indian decision on GMO foods premature? Who will own the responsibility for health damages in future generations?

Genetically modified crops are mired in controversies during the last two decades with many questioning their safety at least in foods consumed every day. The fact that more than 80% of foods consumed in the US are either based on GM materials or contain one or more ingredients derived from GM materials does not confer legitimacy on its cultivation or production in other parts of the world. Because of the anti people attitude of the safety authorities in that country, biotech giants have been given a free ride and in spite of 90% of the consumers demanding clear labeling on food packs containing GM foods, there is no mandatory regulations yet in place, binding the industry to be transparent in label declaration. Those who advocate GM foods take the stand that the modified food is "substantially" same as the original one while those opposing point out the unpredictability vis-a-vis the new modified crop in terms of any safety hazard. That is why many impartial observers feel that conducting large scale human trials, in multiple centers through global cooperative endeavor, only can resolve this issue once for all. But such studies being time consuming and highly expensive the GMO industry is not willing to do that. Under such a situation the reported decision by GOI to permit trials of a few crops undergoing genetic modification in the Indian soil may be untimely. Here is a take on this contentious issue as per some reports. 

"21 new varities of genetically modified (GM) crops such as rice, wheat, maize and cotton have been approved for field trials by the Narendra Modi government, say reports. According to these reports, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — consisting mostly of bio-technology supporters — rejected just one out of the 28 proposals up for consideration. Six proposals were rejected for want of more information. The move comes while the Supreme Court is in deliberation on the safety of GM crops. GM crops is a contentious issue in the nation as it faces opposition from activists who say it is dangerous for the environment and the health of its citizens. While backers say the high yielding GM crops can address hunger issues and also bring down prices of food and commodities.  The issue is also a political one with the BJP supporting growing GM food whilst the Congress opposing it. The then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had rejected a move to grow BT brinjals in 2010, with the BJP calling it a 'wrong' decision. Only Bt Cotton is allowed to be commercially grown in India till now."

Whatever is the reason that prompted GOI to permit field trials in India, there are strong indications that some GM crops could be of doubtful safety credentials. Some of the findings which are reported so far have highlighted the following risks which may or may not be true in all cases:
GM food can cause kidney problem, ovarian disease and obesity- according to some findings of Washington university in 2004. Pesticide methoxychlor used for crop protection produces symptoms of health damage after 3 generations. Atrazine-herbicide, another GM crop protectant produced in situ during the gene modification process, produced off springs with infertility, kidney and prostate problems, cancer, shortened life span with rats. It is a travesty of truth for a senior minister in the government, in charge of environment protection to declare in parliament that no scientific evidence exists regarding non-safety of GMO foods!. In some crops due to genetic manipulation specific chemicals with pesticidal properties are incorporated and it is suspected that these chemicals can show its damaging effect after 50-70 years. No human experiment showing absolute safety of GM foods has yet been carried out. Any health problem that exists to day and not diagnosed through current methods of testing may turn out later that it is due to consumption of GM foods. The famous Italian study on GM soya using rats,over a duration of 24 months found undesirable changes in their liver, pancreas and testes. Another study in Australia in 2008 showed low fertility, low body weight in rats fed on GM foods while similar studies in Russia showed significant stunted growth and unusually high mortality.  In 2012 French scientist researching on GM corn for two years found that it caused mammary cancer, liver and kidney diseases. Alarmingly in the UK scientists observed that transgenic genes have the ability to get into the blood stream across the GI tract indicating the dangers inherent in consuming GM foods containing such genes. These findings, though not very substantial or conclusive, still raises some concern and unless safety studies with humans are carried out to prove these apprehensions are real, GM food production must be kept in abeyance.


No comments: