One of the biggest fears of those protesting against genetically modified crops is the lack of clarity about the impact this technology has on human beings and livestock. Even the supporters of the controversial technology concede this is a grey area.
These fears are magnified by reports of scientists being approached directly by seed marketing companies. Scientists in Gujarat, most of whom do not want to be quoted, attest to this. Research scientist (Rice) at Anand Agriculture University, Dr Atul Mehta has an inherent suspicion of the technology in the way companies approach scientists and universities for field trials.
“If your technology is clean, shout about it from rooftops, why go about it clandestinely? I am often asked to conduct field trials. There is a laid out protocol through Union and state government monitoring agencies for field trials of GM crops. Agricultural scientists can monitor and attest the experiment. Why do they violate this structure?” he questions.
Taking this argument further, Dr Mehta says nobody has studied the “effects of GM crops; how the gene will evolve over time; what is the impact on animals when this crop is fed to animals. Humans consume meat, milk and other animal products. How will this affect our health? It is like playing with fire”.
Gujarat president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh Magan Patel claims to have received reports from farmers cultivating Bt Cotton for the last decade that their bulls, feeding on this crop, have lost their fertility over a long period. Dr Mehta too claims to have read reports that several allergic ailments and neurological issues have come to the fore from those exposed to sustained use of GM crops.
“It can affect your hormones; with no outwardly signs; it may not even be harmful to everyone… depends on every individual’s physiology and metabolism,” he adds.
A spokesperson for seed marketing company, Monsanto India, clarifies that scientific and regulatory authorities such as the WHO, UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), UK’s Royal Academy of Sciences, OECD, US’ National Academy of Sciences, American College of Nutrition, French Academy of Medicine and the British Medical Association are among a number of prestigious groups that have found biotech crops as safe as conventional crops; and stated that foods from biotech crops are thoroughly evaluated through comprehensive testing for food, feed and environmental safety.
Twenty-five Nobel Prize recipients and more than 3,400 prominent scientists have expressed their support for plant biotechnology as a “powerful and safe” way to improve agriculture and the environment, the statement says.
However, in a press statement last week by convener of Coalition for a GM-Free India, Sridhar Radhakrishnan quotes the SC-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee, “…there would not be any compelling need for adopting technologies which are yet to be proven totally safe for biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health and which will encourage monoculture, an option best avoided.”