Food for the Future
Are we ready for the food of the future? India has become the first country in the world to allow large-scale field trials of genetically modified Brinjal with the go ahead
given to four hybrid varieties of it. At present, Bt cotton is the only commercially exploited GM crop. The trial of Bt brinjal is being conducted under supervision of Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR).
In 1996 KFC’s outlet was attacked in Bangalore because the chicken it was serving was fed GM maize. There is lot of fear among intellectuals too about GM food. GM crops are created by the process of genetic engineering where a specific piece of DNA is
taken out of one organism and transferred to another. This modification allows scientists to develop a plant resistant to diseases, pests and stress like droughts or heat. It also increases crop yield per hectare and reduces the cost of the produce. The alteration
of DNA is the main fear and raises ethical questions; hence the delay in conducting the trials. At present GM vegetables and fruits like soybean, maize, papaya, potato and canola are consumed in several countries including the US.
GM is an age old tradition .The wheat which we eat today is a cross between wild wheat and goat grass modified over a period of time. But there is a strong anti-GM lobby. Their main argument is that GM crops could raise health risks like cancer. Also
it would lead to monopoly of large MNC’s who sell these products. Another factor is the over secrecy of the government to part
with the data to the environmentalists.
Bt cotton was given the go ahead in 2002 and the result is that India is now second to China in cotton production. The crop which was lost to pests earlier is now more resistant. But the question remains as to whether the GM crops could affect the bio-diversity?
Will there be adverse reactions if proteins from outside are introduced in the food chain? A recent study conducted has shown that over a period of time the pests can become resistant to Bt, an active ingredient .
Most GM crops use this gene to become resistant to pests. Almost 40%of GM crops in India use this Bt gene.
Besides Andhra Pradesh government has advised farmers not to allow animals to graze on post Bt cotton fields after goats and sheep grazing on it were found dead in two of its districts. The company Mahyco- Monsanto Biotech India Ltd has issued that no
such complaints have been received by it from other states where Bt cotton is grown. The Andhra government has informed the Union Ministry of environment and forest and the ministry has ordered a probe.
In this age where land is shrinking and per hectare yield required is more, the GM crops come as a boon for not only farmers but also save land from deforestation. Albeit there is another side to this coin. More and more people are switching back to
organic farming and products as a healthy option. So which is really the Food of the Future?