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Monday, December 04, 2006

GM crops: seeds of contention

Genetically modified (GM) crops, the technological-agricultural marvel, is prophesized to rid the world of hunger, malnutrition and starvation. Yet in spite the promises of better future, the uprooting of GM paddy from fields near Ramanathapuram by activists and farmers, only points to fact that under the saintly guise lies a darker facet of GM foods. The GM crops and their technology, itself has created a large number of controversies: ranging from those of ecology to the global economy. In India a large part of the population is still dependent on agriculture for survival, as result the GM crops pose a particularly murky scenario here.

The GM crops developed till now, have been created with two basic goals in mind, firstly to increase production output and secondly to provide more nutrition for the consumer. Yet it has failed to deliver on both counts. The genetic engineering used in these crops has led to change in soil fertility and the creation of ‘super weeds’ which threaten to destroy entire fields of crop. Also, most of these GM crops can be grown through seeds that are ‘produced’ by various agri-tech companies, these seeds have to bought every sowing season, because the ‘terminator’ technology used in these crops renders the seeds produced by the crops infertile. However, what even more startling is the fact that, even the varieties that have been augmented to provide more nutrients, especially vitamin A, require that the consumer to eat about 12 pounds of rice to meet the daily nutrient requirement.

Taking the slight benefits of better resistance to crop diseases into consideration, why has GM crop become so important? The answer to this lies in the fact that a large number of conglomerates have spent millions of dollars on developing these GM crops. With the intellectual property rights regimes of the WTO being implemented in India, these companies have a lot to gain from the large agriculture sector of our country, all they have to do is to introduce their seeds into the market. With the government’s current foreign investment wooing spree, it is not surprising that agriculture minister has called the protest at Ramanathapuram, “Trying to block technology, you are trying to ruin agriculture in Tamil Nadu.” Maybe the Secretary should look at the effects of the last ‘great’ technological jump in agriculture, the Green Revolution, and its after effects(loss in soil chemistry, loss in production, loss of biodiversity, loss of water resources to name a few), before prescribing a corporate cure that is more dangerous than ills of our agriculture sector itself.
Link: see the newspaper report on 13/11/06
Link: Grain site

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