There is a vegetable vendor who parks his pushcart near Ulsoor Lake every morning at seven o’clock. Many of us regular walkers buy fresh vegetables from him.
A woman who had just bought greens from him told me, “He says it’s organic 🙂 ”.
I said, “You can’t believe that! You wouldn’t have bought them if he had said they weren’t, so he told you that.”
She shook her head in disgust. “Food is a mess – pesticide-covered veggies, wax-coated apples, gourds injected with something to increase their weight – and I hear, even bhindi soaked in green liquid so it looks fresh…”
I know. And I can add to the list, but don’t want to, because I’ll end up feeling sad for all of us, more so for the little kids being fed this stuff.
And now it seems there’s one more thing to worry about.
Two months ago the government dismissed objections of activists against growing genetically modified crops in India as being “speculative”. Our government is now pro-GM crops.
Why does it bother me?
Because I’m not sure that genetically modified vegetables are completely safe, though I haven’t come across convincing research that shows they aren’t.
Bt brinjal is the GM crop often discussed in our country. It is created by inserting a gene from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, into brinjal. An animal gene put into a vegetable – what might this mean to a vegetarian?
To be fair, if vaccines were introduced today, people would react with horror to having attenuated bacteria injected into their babies. Are we overreacting to Bt brinjal? Why are we?
This is the story in brief.
- Monsanto, a company that develops GM foods, holds the patent for Bt brinjal seeds, because they have spent money on its research.
- Farmers cannot use seeds from an earlier crop, but have to buy them from Monsanto each time because they don’t germinate.
- Monsanto has taken farmers to court in the US over patent infringement, so their overriding concern is obviously money, profits.
Do we trust this company’s research pertaining to the safety of consumers?
We don’t. Because it looks like a case of influential businessmen/governments, versus ‘activists’ (the catch-all, slightly pejorative, term for anyone who questions the legitimacy of anything big business wants to propagate).
Then, there are hundreds of articles talking about the dangers of GM foods, which are trashed by others who are pro-GM foods.
Many people in Europe are opposed to GM foods. The European Union has strict regulations for GM foods. Testing, labeling and monitoring of GM foods are mandatory.
An often-quoted statistic is that the US has 66.8 million hectares under biotech crops like maize, soybean, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya and squash. How can we be sure there are no as-yet-undetected adverse effects on consumers? The way it was discovered that Bisphenol A, a chemical known to harm us, especially babies, leaches into drinking water/milk carried in plastic bottles? And this came to light decades after plastic bottles were in use.
Whom should we believe? As yet, no one. And the government shouldn’t have rushed into this either.
Cotton farmers I have had a chance to speak to – from Belgaum, Gulbarga, Dharwad and Haveri districts – don’t like growing Bt cotton mainly because they can’t use seeds from earlier crops; nor do they find them better in any way. And today’s newspaper reports that one variety of Bt cotton seeds (Kanaka) has produced no crop at all!
These seeds came from Mahyco, a subsidiary of Monsanto.
As the usual argument in favor of GM crops is ‘food shortage’, perhaps we ought to improve our Public Distribution System so the existing food stocks reach people for whom they are intended. We may never need to consider Bt crops then.
As Gandhiji said,
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”