Genetically Modified Vegetables

GM crops could very well be non-vegetarian.

Genetic (transgenic) engineering involves inserting a gene from one species (plant/bacterium/animal) into another. It is downright weird because it changes the original species in now known and established harmful ways, yet is not acknowledged to be harmful by the proponents of GM.


Genetic engineering research is most often carried out on animals such as pigs, mice, sheep, farm animals and fish, and on plants such as the tomato, tobacco, and corn. Biotechnology is now crossing animals with plants, leaving the vegetarian confused. For example, to improve the shelf life of tomatoes they are genetically altered with the antifreeze gene from the Arctic Flounder, a long-lived fish. It is next to impossible to distinguish these non-vegetarian tomatoes called Flavr Savr (flavour saver) from the natural ones. However, normal tomatoes soften, shrivel up and spoil soon whereas the GM ones remain “fresh” for up to 45 days.


Similarly, scientists of India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) in their Field Research Laboratory at Leh with the help of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) have identified the cold tolerant gene and Osmatin gene and transferred them into tomato plants through tissue culture and genetic engineering, thus producing transgenic tomatoes. After the National Committee for Bio-Environment Safety clears the transgenic tomatoes they will be commercially farmed so that the troops deployed in the region can consume them.

GM potato varieties have also been developed by the Simla-based Central Potato Research Institute. One such modification is with Ama-1, a storage albumin protein gene sourced from Amaranthus hypochondriacus (an ornamental plant commonly known as Prince-of-Wales feather or Prince’s feather) by the Delhi-based National Institute for Plant Genome Reserch, is used to develop a GM potato variety. (Albumin is any protein/serum – bovine, human, egg, etc. with water solubility.) Some of the GM potato varieties being worked upon are Kufri Badshah, Kufri Lauvkar, Kufri Chipsona-1, Kufri Sutlej and Kufri Pukhraj.


BT cotton, BT brinjal, BT this and BT that…


As is evident, India has not been far behind in producing hybrid foods –genetic engineering started here in 2002 with BT (biotech) cotton called Bollgard being introduced by the multi-national company Monsanto which claimed the death of 1,800 sheep that grazed on the crop in Andhra Pradesh during 2006. The gene inserted into the BT brinjal is the same that was used to genetically modify the cotton. So BT brinjal is another GM (genetically modified) crop in which the DNA of the brinjal has been irreversibly altered by introducing the extra gene Cry1Ac which is a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. Inserted genes can interfere with natural genes and result in toxicity (lung, kidney and liver damage) as has shown in studies abroad.

Nevertheless, along with BT brinjal, BT rice, BT okra and BT tomato may also hit the Indian market soon. The total area in India under biotech crops covered increased to 10.6 million hectares in 2011 from 7.6 million hectares in 2009. The ten BT crops awaiting commercial cultivation are brinjal/egg plant, cabbage, castor, cauliflower, corn/maize, groundnut, okra, potato, rice and tomato. Moreover, other BT crops being developed are banana, melon, citrus fruit, wheat, gram, Bengal gram/chickpea, pigeon pea, mustard, rapeseed, coffee, and tobacco. The aim is to make the crops resistant to pests, viral and fungal diseases, drought, water-logging and salinity, plus delay the ripening process.


In 2010 approximately 15 million farmers grew GM crops in 29 countries. By 2011 the top 10 countries commercially producing GM crops (covering 1 million hectares) were:

1 USA 69 million hectares
2 Brazil 30.3 million hectares
3 Argentina 23.7 million hectares
4 India 10.6 million hectares
5 Canada 10.4 million hectares
6 China 3.9 million hectares
7 Paraguay 2.8 million hectares
8 Pakistan 2.6 million hectares
9 South Africa 2.3 million hectares
10 Uruguay 1.3 million hectares


India is the fourth largest adopter of biotech crops and the Government is going all out to ensure that GM products and processes are introduced into the country soon: some years ago the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on all field trials and commercial release of biotech crops; the Department of Biotechnology set up a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI); and a new set of guidelines, standard operating procedures and protocols for safety assessment of GM plants and foods has been adopted by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). In September 2010 the Government of India announced that the GEAC would be rechristened as Environment Appraisal Panel under the proposed BRAI. Later that year it was finalised that the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation under the Ministry of Health would control BRAI only with regard to clinical trials of pharmaceutical drugs, not over genetically modified foods.

In 2010, the Kerala government which is empowered to protect bio-diversity of the state, challenged the GEAC’s decision to allow open field trials of GM rubber in Kerala and did not permit them to take place. The state has also opposed BT brinjal and BT cotton.

The drawbacks are not worth the claimed benefits which are in themselves doubtful, e.g. evidence shows that modified crops yields are generally lower than their conventional counterparts. Unrelated genes of organisms including bacteria, spiders, scorpions, etc. being inserted into cells of other organisms to develop new irreversible characteristics besides making vegetarian foods, non-vegetarian, result in enormous health risks for those who consume the BT produce. Unless Government of India realises the potential harm and immediately halts tests and production of all GM food, there will soon be no truly vegetarian or even safe foods available in the country.

Doctors for Food and Bio-safety have submitted a memorandum to the Union Minister of Health urging that the release of GM crops be immediately halted because “BT brinjal is a first-of-its-kind food with the BT gene and is allowed nowhere else in the world.” They further pointed out that BT brinjal has antibiotic (neomycin and streptomycin) resistance marker genes which when consumed would result in resistance to many life-saving drugs making them ineffective. They have also rightly opposed the development of GM medicinal herbs like Jivanti, Brahmi, Ahwagandha and Creat.

The French Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIGEN) conducted an independent analysis on the BT Brinjal developed by Monsanto’s Jalna-based Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (MAHYCO) which concluded in 2009 that it was unfit for human and animal consumption.

Seven public consultations and months of campaigning by Greenpeace and other organisations pointing out that GM food poses a grave risk to human health and environment resulted in a moratorium on BT Brinjal in February 2010. However, the battle is not over and it seems that the BT Brinjal is simply put on hold. A 2009 editorial in Beauty Without Cruelty’s magazine Compassionate Friend had also strongly condemned GM crops on cultural, religious and ethical grounds.

Please click here to read an informative letter and factual annexure dated 4 March 2012 reproduced in Common Cause January-March 2012 issue. Addressed to the Prime Minister, it is written by Justice VR Krishna Iyer, former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and 16 eminent citizens who strongly oppose GM Crops and Nuclear Power Plants.


…implications


India’s Biological Diversity Act 2002 states if companies want to genetically modify indigenous varieties of seeds and plants (for research or commercialisation purposes) they must obtain prior consent. That never happened and Monsanto and MAHYCO may face charges of biopiracy (a fancy word for theft) because between 2005 and 2006, the companies along with several agricultural universities in India, inserted a bacterial gene into the indigenous brinjal genome to create a genetically modified version named BT brinjal.

Farmers should be consulted and remunerated when companies use indigenous crop and seed varieties that local farming populations have cultivated and protected for generations. This is their right, a right that the United Nations-led global Convention on Biological Diversity recognised almost two decades ago.

Given the massive profits involved multinationals such as Monsanto do exactly what they desire in countries such as India – and they are helped by government’s weak political will to protect its trove of biodiversity and agricultural sector. They have got away with things they wouldn’t in their own countries. For example in August 2011, agricultural biotechnology firm Bayer CropScience paid out a settlement of $750m to thousands of rice farmers in USA who alleged that a strain of the company’s genetically modified rice had contaminated their varieties of rice.

Monsanto India, a 72.15% subsidiary of the Monsanto Company in USA, is the only public-listed entity out-side America. Dekalb hybrid maize seeds are GM, and already India’s largest selling brand. Roundup glyphosate herbicide, another main product here is also extensive used by our farmers. In 2012 the updated French study found “severe toxic effects” of pervasively used Monsanto herbicide Roundup and GM corn.

In April 2011, the GEAC met a team of experts who threw no light on safety reviews, but gave the go-ahead for limited release of BT brinjal. While assuring further discussions, but taking no decisions on undertaking any more tests or studies, the Chairman of the GEAC, rejected limited release.

The very next day the Orissa state government made it clear that commercial farming of any genetically modified crop, including brinjal, would not be allowed in the state. Earlier, Bihar stalled transgenic maize field trials. Bihar cited a “bitter experience of private hybrids on account of non-formation of grains”. And, in 2010 Kerala which is empowered to protect bio-diversity of the state, had challenged the GEAC’s decision to allow open field trials of GM rubber and did not permit them to take place. The state is also against BT brinjal and BT cotton.

Groups met GEAC in May 2011 seeking a ban on further field trials, but GM crops that continue to be tested are brinjal, rice, okra, cauliflower, cabbage, castor, groundnut, tomato, sorghum, potato, rubber and maize; also Transgenic Bollard-II Cotton and Transgenic Corn which are both in Level-II field trials.

Greenpeace sought public consultation on BRAI’s bill saying it was unconstitutional because if passed by Parliament, BRAI would become an unquestionable, autocratic body, run by the proponents of genetically modified foods, and worse still with the states having no right to intervene.

Subsequently, the new policy included seeking permission from the respective state governments where such trails were proposed, but, to cite an example: contrary to its initial opposition, in November 2011 it was reported that Madhya Pradesh was considering field trials of GM maize. However, with consent of the MP government, GEAC had already permitted Monsanto to carry out BRL-2 trials and Syngenta to carry out BRL-1 trails in the Directorate of Weed Science Research (DWSR) an Indian Council of Agricultural Research facility in Jabalpur.

In November 2013 the Maharashtra state government granted 15 applicants NOCs to carry out confined field trials of GM crops after obtaining formal approval from the GEAC.

Again in 2015, the government of Maharashtra granted no-objection certificates for open field trials in GM herbicide-tolerant rice lines (MAHYCO), rice hybrids (BASF), BT rice (Bayer Bio Science), BT-cum-herbicide-tolerant maize (DuPont Pioneer), channa that resists the “pod borer” pest (SUNGRO, a MAHYCO subsidiary), BT brinjal (Bejo sheetal and Ankur Seeds) and cotton.


According to the NY based crop biotech advocacy group, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) India had the fourth largest area planted under GM crops. The acreage in India had far surpassed China’s 3.9 mh, and equalled that of Canada’s 11.6 mh.


We know who benefit…


Those who monetarily benefit from getting the Government to accept BT brinjal in our country are doing what it takes by garnering political and public support. Multinationals like Monsanto, and Indian companies like Avesthagen who are working on integrating conventional plant breeding with biotechnology together with scientists who have and are researching on BT crops are putting tremendous pressure on our politicians to ignore the drawbacks and resultant harm. Some have even suggested that GM crops can help organic farming by being designed to resist pests. (Organic produce could not only be GM, but even now the organic fertilisers utilised in their production could very well have ingredients such as bone, blood and other animal body parts. In short, organic only implies that no agrochemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, rodenticides, complex fertilisers, etc. have been utilised.)

Greenpeace says that independent scientists have proved laboratory rats that ate BT corn suffered from liver and kidney damage so there is no telling what will happen to humans who consume BT crops. In Australia rats that were fed GM peas suffered from lung inflammation and reduced immunity. Let us however not forget that the American agencies promoting GM crops in India a big way are Monsanto, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Cornell University, etc. whose mission is to make farmers absolutely dependent upon them in so much as they would eventually have to purchase seeds from them. Corporations create such bizarre foods, not with the view of helping farmers or solving food crisis, but for their own benefit of obtaining patents. No wonder farmer suicides in India are on the rise.

It is significant that a trip for a newspaper article sponsored by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project-II (ABSP-II) of the Cornell University (supported by the USAID) states that various studies conducted on BT brinjal for safety include acute toxicity and feed studies in rats, rabbits and goats were conducted at Advinus Therapeutics at Bangalore, the effect on health of broiler chickens at Central Avian Research Institute at Izatnagar, feeding studies in lactating crossbred dairy cows at the GB Pant University and also in fish at Central Institute of Fisheries Education at Mumbai.

It was not possible to segregate normal rice and corn from the rice and corn engineered to produce drugs for pigs. The Starlink corn containing an allergen was only meant for animal feed in America, but it some how got mixed up with the other corn and believe it or not, landed up in corn products of Japan, UK, Canada and some European countries. Bayer’s GE rice also escaped from their trial plots closed down in 2001 and was found in Europe and New Zealand in 2006. And GE rice from China is being found in Europe.

 

Monsanto’s GM crops containing pesticides kill honey bees. Therefore in 2011, the company purchased the world’s largest bee research firm called Beeologics. They felt the solution will be achieved by producing GM bees! Little wonder that Monsanto has been rated as the worst for its ongoing work to threaten human health and the environment.

In 2014, an American company, J R Simplot Co produced GM potato which got the approval for commercial planting from the US Department of Agriculture. In the 1990s GM potatoes had failed, so to ensure acceptance health benefits were focused upon – that the new GM potatoes (named Innate potato) would contain less of a cancer causing chemical!


Genetic Roulette


One of the world’s leading authorities on the health dangers of GE food, Jeffrey M Smith’s second book “Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods” and film expansion discloses what we already know – genes are taken from a specie and forced into another, resulting in two main types of GE foods:
• Herbicide-tolerant crops: plants engineered to withstand heavy herbicide spraying without sustaining damage.
• Pesticide-producing crops: plants engineered to produce their own pesticides – so if a bug bites one, its stomach explodes and it dies.

Based on compelling evidence Smith is convinced that one of the primary forces driving a high rise in cases of autism, type 2 diabetes, Celiac disease and Alzheimer’s disease in America is GE foods.

In most parts of the world the following are common GE products: soy, corn, canola oil, alfalfa, sugar from sugar beets, cottonseed, some zucchini varieties, Crookneck squash and Hawaiian papaya.


The Institute for Responsible Technology reported that scientists had undertaken genetic engineering by breaching species barriers. Some of them were:

• Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bullet-proof vests.

• Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.

• Arctic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.

• Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.

• Potatoes were developed that glowed in the dark when they needed watering. This was also done by implanting florescent genes from jellyfish.

• Human genes were inserted into corn to product spermicide.


In addition to inserting human genes in corn, human genes were also engineered with sugarcane and rice, field trials for which were underway some where in the world.

 

Nature gave living organism barriers to protect themselves against the introduction of DNA from a different species, so genetic engineers found ways to force the DNA from one organism to another. These include:

• Using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA.

• Coating DNA onto tiny metal pellets, and firing it with a special gun into the cells.

• Injecting the new DNA into fertilized eggs with a very fine needle.

• Using electric shocks to create holes in the membrane covering sperm, and then, forcing the new DNA into the sperm through these holes.


GM Labelling


In July 2011, after a 20-year struggle Consumers International and its member organisations, celebrated victory as regulators from more than 100 countries agreed to label GM foods. It happened at the annual Codex summit after the US dropped its opposition to GM labelling. (The Codex Alimentarius Commission is made up on the world’s food safety regulatory agencies.) The new Codex agreement secures the consumer’s right to know and means that any country wishing to adopt GM food labelling will no longer face the threat of legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

However, labelling produce as GM is not the only answer for vegetarians. It would no doubt give vegetarian consumers a choice of whether or not to eat the items. But another important aspect is that they should be informed whether the gene inserted is of animal or plant origin and for this labelling standards need to be adopted fast. If this is not known, it gives us another good reason not to consume the so-called vegetables and grains because they may even have been engineered with human genes as has been in the case of Japanese researchers inserting a gene from the human liver into rice. American companies are also genetically engineering rice with human genes, one of them as treatment for diarrhoea. In fact such cannibalism has no limits, nor is it restricted to certain countries or corporations only. Experiments have been and continue to be conducted in France and Canada too and at some universities. Barley, maize, corn, soy bean, tomato are all being impregnated with human genes. Edible viruses, vaccines and drugs to treat animals and humans are also being experimented upon by introducing them in crops, e.g. the genes from the rabies virus in tomatoes to produce an edible vaccine and human genes to produce insulin in corn, tomato and rice. So-called ‘healthy’ purple tomatoes containing two genes taken from the snapdragon flower have also been developed in England by a researcher of the John Innes Centre in Norwich and tested on mice that were made susceptible to cancer and found that they showed a significant extension of lifespan. Tweaking foods is some thing scientists are now widely experimenting upon, especially to control appetite (stomachs deceived into feeling full) and in turn obesity; they are also trying to modify foods with medicines that control cholesterol, etc.

In comparison to biotechnology developed for crops against insects and weeds, research to make foods more nutritious through genetic modification is new. In addition to the purple tomato, items recently focused upon in countries abroad have been staples such as rice, cassava, and bananas, as well as vegetable oils engineered to have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Some scientists are working on engineering ingredients in beer and white wine to boost levels of antioxidant resveratrol, a heart healthy compound found especially in red wine. Others are finding ways to engineer healthful fats and produce nutritionally dense foods with increased levels of iron, zinc and Vitamin A. Such experiments go on and on despite health risks or ethical concerns being addressed. Like it or not, an astounding 160 million hectacres of genetically modified crops have already been planted in 29 nations and imported by countries that don’t grow them.

All biotech companies are putting great pressure on research organisations to come up with know-how of GM products irrespective of how very harmful their consumption is, e.g. 50% of the rats fed GM soy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, died. With reference to such experiments, a leading Russian biologist has stated that the method of gene introduction is not correct and has gone on to say that plasmids of bacteria which are very dangerous because they are prone to disruption, temperature, pressure and enzymes, are inserted in the cells of organisms. Therefore when GM food is consumed, the plasmids of the inserted gene enter human systems and can reach any organ, the white blood cells and even the foetus.

“Commerce without morality and science without humanity”


In short, GM crops are “commerce without morality and science without humanity” as outspokenly stated by Prince Charles. These unnatural foods result in contaminating the vegetarian-ness of vegetables and other agricultural produce. Consumers need to strongly object to GM crops on cultural, religious and ethical grounds before it is too late and join the “I am no lab rat” campaign spearheaded by the Coalition for a GM-Free India. People also need to object to any and all technologies used to ‘alter’ seeds and plants like those developed under the head of bio-agriculture.

It is significant that in January 2012, the German chemical group BASF abandoned efforts to sell genetically modified products in Europe, including its Amflora potato, because of overwhelming opposition to the technology. Unfortunately BASF began focusing on markets in Asia and America so we in India need to watch out for their other potatoes including a disease resistant variety called Fortuna and a disease-resistant variety of wheat! Eventually in February 2014, the Ministry of Environment & Forests, for reasons best known to them, confirmed that field trials of GM crops would be supported by them.


The above was a clear sign of the difficulties for the biotechnology industries in Europe including in areas like nanotechnology and animal cloning. And it was hailed by environmentalists as yet another nail in the coffin for GM foods in Europe. However, also in February 2014, after 13 years, 6 scientific opinions and 2 legal challenges, an insect-resistant type of corn (the third GM crop to be authorised) was on the verge of being approved by the EU despite opposition from 19 of 28 member countries – and the European Parliament.


In August 2013 when opposition to GM foods began mounting in 60 nations, protesters literally destroyed fields of GM Golden Rice in the Philippines. (Other crops trampled thus include grape vines in France, sugar beets in Oregon USA, potatoes in Belgium and wheat in Australia.) Research on Golden Rice began before the turn of the century and although it has been fostered by multinational agro-giants like Monsanto and Syngenta, and global NGOs like the Rockefeller, Ford, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, it remains controversial and faces stiff public resistance. Luckily Golden Rice is not likely to be readily accepted by consumers because the fact remains that brown rice which is nutritionally far superior to white rice is shunned by most rice eaters. In India it has been termed “a Trojan horse” and a “hoax”.


It is worth noting that the same 2013 article from which above information was gathered stated: “Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialisation, biotechnology has failed to significantly increase US agricultural yields, according to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which says that organic agriculture often tops the productivity of GM crops on a per acre basis. Nor has genetic engineering cut the use of agro-chemicals, as promised. Reuters reports that popular genetically modified varieties like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans actually require more herbicide than their conventional cousins, due in part to the development of resistant “super weeds” that need ever-more-toxic dousing to kill them… The technology has been a wildly lucrative profit centre for biotech companies like Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta – and their shareholders. Whether it can profit the rest of us with more abundant, safe and nutritious food remains to be demonstrated.”


“Avoid GM Food”


The Hippocrates Health Institute website states that doctors and animals alike tell us to avoid genetically modified food. The following extract explains their stand:


“The farmer grinned as he told the visitor, “Watch this!” He called his pigs, which ran frantically towards him to be fed. But when he scooped out corn and threw it on the ground, the pigs sniffed it and then looked up at the farmer with confused expectation. The farmer then scooped corn from another bin and flung it near the pigs, which ran over and quickly devoured it. The farmer said, “The first corn is genetically engineered. They won’t touch it.”


“It is not just pigs that swear off genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in South Africa. Chickens won’t eat genetically modified (GM) corn. Most buffalo in Haryana, India, refuse cottonseed cakes if made from GM cotton plants. Geese migrating through Illinois only munched sections of the soybean field that was non-GMO. When given a choice, elk, deer, raccoons, and rats all avoided GMOs. And even during the coldest days of Iowa winter, squirrels, which regularly devour natural corn, refused to touch the GM variety.


“No one knows why the animals refuse GMOs, but according to a 2009 statement by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), when lab animals do eat GM feed, it’s not pretty. “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” says the AAEM policy paper, which specifically cited infertility, immune problems, accelerated ageing, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs, and the gastrointestinal system, among the impacts of eating GMOs. “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects,” they wrote. “There is causation…” Although we humans don’t have a natural sense to stay away from GM foods, AAEM’s position indicates that we should take a lesson from the animals. This renowned medical organization, which first recognized such dangers as food allergies, chemical sensitivity, and Gulf War Syndrome, called on all physicians to prescribe non-GMO diets to all patients.” They also called for a moratorium on GMOs, long-term independent studies, and labelling.”


Soon after the above revelation, a landmark study proved that claims by GM firms (funded by themselves!) that toxins got destroyed in the gut were totally false because toxins implanted into GM food crops to kill pests were reaching the bloodstreams of women and unborn babies. The research alarmingly found 93% of blood samples taken from pregnant women and 80% from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of the chemicals. This new study was carried out by independent doctors at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec, Canada. It is not known what adverse effects the toxins have on the unborn foetuses.

In July 2012 Vitality magazine revealed that although there have been no human clinical trials, experts have concluded that there is sufficient evidence from animal feeding studies to remove GMOs altogether because after doing so dramatic health recoveries have been reported. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine “recommends that all physicians should prescribe non-genetically modified food for all patients and that we should educate all our patients on the potential health dangers, and known health dangers of GMO food”. They have state that “GMOs appear to trigger the immune systems of both mice and rats as if they were under attack. In addition, the gastrointestinal system is adversely affected, animals age more quickly, and vital organs are damaged. When fed GM foods, lab animals can also become infertile, have smaller or sterile offspring, increased infant mortality, and even hair growing in their mouths”.

September 2012 saw Russia suspending the import and use of Monsanto’s GM corn after a study suggested that the corn may cause cancer.

 

A 2013 Australian study conducted at the Institute of Health and Environmental Research (published in the Journal of Organic Systems) stated that pigs fed genetically engineered soy and corn showed a 267% increase in severe stomach inflammation (photos revealed stomachs having turned into mush) compared to those fed non-GMO diets. In males, the difference was even more pronounced: a 400% increase. It was explained that GM corn has deadly insecticide in each and every kernel. If an insect eats it, it dies due to damage to its digestive system. The insecticide permanently remains in the corn kernels and has similar adverse results on all mammals that consume it.

 

Evidence from this study adds to scientific proof already obtained in many countries, like the one in which rats fed a diet of GMOs grew horrifying cancer tumours and suffered premature death. There is no doubt that GMOs are totally unfit for human and animal consumption.


This must be the reason why fruit like cube or square melons, perfectly shaped ruby red grapes, and pears grown in narrow necked glass bottles, are being promoted at exorbitant prices in Japan in particular – but without declaring if GM or not. Perfectly formed fruit like square melons can be easily grown if the flower is carefully encased in a box of the desired shape and size, but the plants could very well have been genetically altered like the Flavr Savr tomatoes mentioned in the beginning of this article.


Better Late than Never!


Since 2005 BT cotton had been causing “crop failure” resulting in a loss of Rs 2,000 crore annually. Therefore, Maharashtra government’s agricultural universities with the help of private companies, in August 2012 began phasing out BT cotton beginning by banning with immediate effect the sale and distribution of cotton seeds by MAHYCO. It was felt that farmers will be better off using traditional varieties of cotton seeds. Strangely, exactly a year later (August 2013) it was stated that 90% of the cotton grown in India was BT cotton and that the yield of cotton in the country had increased, but no data had been separately maintained on the production rate or yield of BT cotton!

Few are aware that children are made to carry out artificial pollination in the BT cotton fields of North Gujarat and elsewhere. In fact, 70% of child labour violations occur in the agriculture sector despite the existence of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

In November 2012, possibly because the Union Minister of Agriculture supports GM crops, the Maharashtra state government had modified its stand by setting up a 10-member committee under the scientist Anil Kokodkar to evaluate impact of GM crop field tests and to consider proposals from companies who want to conduct such tests. However the state does not have a clear cut strategy on GM crops. On one hand it has taken GM seed manufacturers to task over quality, and on the other hand it is seeking to allow field tests.


In-between a Parliamentary committee on agriculture demanding not only a ban on field trials on all GM crops, but also a thorough probe into why BT brinjal (and for that matter BT cotton) first came to be approved by GEAC. (Maize was the second GM crop approved, and as many as eight others – rice and vegetables – are at different stages of trails.) The committee implied that top scientists who felt GM produce was safe and fit for human consumption were colluding with the seed and biotechnology industry. This was again proved when Australian scientists shared their GM banana technology with Indian scientists even though India is the world’s largest producer of bananas, a well established, nutritious fruit.

In April 2013 Greenpeace declared that of those who responded to their opinion poll “Is genetically modified food necessary for India’s food security” 97% said that GM food is not a necessity. Looking back, the government had failed to introduce BT brinjal and were unable to pass the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill – both solely because of public opposition. And, last but not least, people did not want persons who favour GM crops to be empowered by government to take decisions in this regard. Greenpeace rightly felt that the need was for a law that protected our food and agriculture from dangerous technologies like GM (and Monsanto) in place of the flawed BRAI.

 

However, seeking to overcome resistance from the state governments of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and West Bengal, the Ministry of Science and Technology (Government of India) quietly introduced the BRAI bill in Parliament in April 2013 “to promote safe use of modern biotechnology”. Promoters would not be regulators; the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment & Forests were not included; and the bill does not allow Right to Information in order to protect “confidential commercial information”. It seemed to be a lost battle for us in India with the government allowed to make farmers grow GM seeds which would result in adversely affecting not only the environment but also our health. But then in July 2013 the Supreme Court appointed panel (Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests reviewed and gave recommendations on the BRAI Bill) failed to reach a unanimous decision. Five members of the Technical Expert Committee recommended an indefinite ban on GM food crops whereas one dissented. It is therefore still uncertain whether GM crops will be commercially released in India.


Meanwhile, more and more countries are rejecting Monsanto… in June 2013, while backing away from Europe, Monsanto declared that they would not be seeking approval for their new GM seeds in Europe because no one there wanted them for cultivation. However, the fear is that this much hated, moneyed and powerful corporation may surreptitiously introduce their seeds in the region just as it is believed, they have in the past, done elsewhere. It is good that Hungary destroyed entire shipments of GM seeds. But, GM soy and corn continue to be grown in America and are thrust upon countries like India and China despite unethical corporate control over food sources, loss of biodiversity, adverse impact on environment, and known and unknown health hazards upon humans and animals. In November 2013 China rejected US corn cargo due to unapproved GMO variety of grain, but it was reported that the strain (MIR 162) was likely to be approved soon! Most Chinese fear that GM crops, namely corn and soy, cause infertility and therefore refuse to let their children eat them. The government’s campaign of 2014 to promote GMOs came when meat consumption had risen to an all time high.

It was a big surprise and set back in February 2014 when the Union Minister for Environment & Forests cleared with immediate effect GM crop trials by approving the March 2013 decision of the GEAC to allow more than 200 successful gene modification trials for rice, wheat, maize, castor and cotton. Trials of GM rice would be conducted by Bayer Bioscience, MAHYCO and BASF India. (In January 2014 the newspapers reported that MAHYCO and Arcadia Biosciences of US had announced that they had developed salt tolerant rice and that the technology enabled plants to produce increased yields under saline water and soil conditions thus expanding the range of acreage for crop production.) In addition MAHYCO would grow GM wheat; Monsanto India would test GM maize; Hyderabad-based Directorate of Oilseeds Research would conduct GM castor re-approved field trials; and, GM cotton varieties would be grown by Bayer, BASF and MAHYCO. This was soon followed by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) scientists mooting for these field trials without NOCs (non-objection certificates) from state governments. Last but not least, it was obvious that the political party whose reign was coming to an end had made these decisions in a desperate attempt to win votes – even those in favour of GM believed the clearance was half-baked, while those like us who are against GM, felt that the decision was in violation of the Supreme Court’s directions.

 

The newly elected Government at the Centre cautiously put 15 GM crop field trials on hold despite a spate of articles in various publications promoting GM crops for food security and blaming the Government for being anti-science! With 70 more applications for field trials pending, not only the Government of India, but state governments didn’t want GM either.


Compromises


Meanwhile in UK, researchers genetically edited plants – editing was better accepted than modifying them because no foreign genes were introduced to alter fruits when editing. Changes to the characteristics of fruit were made by small genetic tweaks designed to increase or decrease the amounts of natural ingredients that their plant cells already made. In fact, the researchers claimed that genetically edited plants, modified through the insertion, deletion, or altering of existing genes of interest, might even be deemed as non-genetically modified.

In USA too several companies are also modifying crops using techniques that are outside the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Department or use new methods like “genome editing” that were not envisioned when the regulations were created. It seems that by inactivating a gene, the crop would be no different from which could be obtained through natural mutations and conventional breeding.

By 2017 a technique called Crispr was established that produced super crops by gene-editing. Claimed to be different from GMO foods, these are altered foods nevertheless.

In December 2014, the EU member nations reached a compromise on GM crop policy. Till then all nations had to honour approvals which involved the European Food Security Authority to present a risk-assessment report to the European Commission, which then took a decision that had to be approved by a “qualified majority”. Therefore, nations resisting GM had managed to hold up approvals like that of a GM maize variety since 1996. Now onwards, member states have the power to overrule EU approvals of GM crops in their jurisdictions. Unfortunately, this compromise will fast-track GM approvals and make the global acreage under GM rise above the existing 81% for soy and 64% for cotton.


There is a not so subtle a push to undertake more GM trials in India too, particularly brinjal. Spreading via cross pollination, brinjal and mustard plants will positively all turn GM just as BT cotton. Non-GM cotton seeds are unavailable and GM ones are expensive, so most of the time spurious BT cotton seeds are sold to poor farmers whose crops fail. India has become the largest exporter of BT cotton not because of increased output as such, but because the area across irrigated regions has dramatically increased. No different to the soy story of Latin America.


Poignant Documentaries


Two award-winning films Cotton for my shroud and Candles in the wind focus on India’s once prosperous, self-sufficient farming community now turned into beggars. This is because the government distributed BT cotton seeds which did not work here. In the 1990s nearly 8 million cultivators quit farming and between 1997 and 2010 more than 2 lakh committed suicide. Monsanto seeds kept failing, and the government reintroduced 200 billion rupees worth of the same seeds! Called the Green Revolution and supposed to be great, but all it resulted in was ruin for farmers and unbelievably hard struggles for their widows and families.


Just viewing these films should make the government ban BT crops immediately.


Draft FSSAI (Genetically Modified or Engineering Foods) Regulations, 2021


With reference to these draft regulations, within the permitted 60 day period BWC submitted suggestions for inclusion.


We requested that the definitions of the following should be clarified with regard to animals, that none of them should be used on any living animals, birds, eggs, fish or insects.


Genetically Engineering (GE)
Genetically Modified (GM) or Engineered Food
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
Genetically Engineering Organisms (GEO)
Living Modified Organisms (LMO)


Moreover, there should be no breaching of species barriers by inserting any animal, bird, fish, insect or even human gene into plants.


As regards GM Food Labelling, even if the GE ingredient is less an 1%, it should be labelled as containing it.

Page last updated on 14/02/22