The Controversial Crop: Boon or Bane?

Posted on November 1, 2010 in Specials

By Pratik Goyal:

Currently in the world more than 925 million people are undernourished, out which more than 237.7 million are in our subcontinent (source). And midst of all this, a new technology was invented which promised light at the end of this tunnel. This technology is Genetic Modification and it might possess with itself a hope for the current as well as future times for the problem of Hunger. But ever since its invention, it has been always been clouded by disputes and controversies. The GM crops has been in talk in the scientific community and dilemma of governments throughout the world and it has drawn both criticism and support all over the world from the different communities, scientists, farmers, leaders of government and few anti-genetics groups who gain more sympathetic support rather than basing their protest on scientific evidence.

India is no exception and we too have been gripped by the controversies of a specific GM crop, the BT Brinjal, for more than one year now. Basically in the brinjal or eggplant a gene is introduced which increases its resistance against the pests. This can help in lowering the use of harmful pesticides. In India the controversy started last year in October when government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) cleared BT Brinjal for commercial release with a promise of higher yield and lower dependence on pesticides. This decision was supported by both Science & Technology Minister, Mr. Prithviraj Chavan and Agricultural Minister, Mr. Sharad Powar. But the final say was of the Environment Minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh. BT Brinjal was opposed very blatantly throughout the country from scientific community and the farmers.

The major reasons for disapproval of Bt. Brinjal were safety issues and unforeseen circumstances which may have arisen due to Gene Modification. One of the cons of this BT protein which is used to modify the brinjal seed is that this gene can be harmful to other organisms and its effect on different layers of ecosystem needs to be comprehended very thoroughly. Evolution of pests against the resistance offered by GM crops cannot be neglected. The evolution of these GM crops also cannot be predicted and results of cross pollination of this variety of brinjal with other variety is also taken into account. The long term effects of GM crops on humans are also unknown as no clinical trials have been done, which is also the reason why all countries have banned the use of GM crops for consumption.

While the corporate see it is a great investment opportunity, people are looking at GM crops as another evil consequence of globalization. But in a country like ours, even if GM crops are allowed for consumption, the consensus among people is that it should be under government regulation because private sector would defeat the very basic purpose of GM crops, which is cost saving and reaching out to the lowest segment of society.

If the Indian Govt. approves of the GM crops then it would be the first in its league to do so. The pros and cons must be weighed well before decisions are taken.

Image courtesy: