Friday, April 23, 2010

Cautious use of GM crops needed

The recently released report by US based National Research Council, which is affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences, came out with the findings that Genetically engineered crops have provided substantial environmental and economic benefits to American farmers, but overuse of the technology is threatening to erode the gains. The study seems to be the first comprehensive Impact assessment on the Genetically modified crops on American farmers, which was rapidly accepted and adopted since their introduction as early as 1996. The report found that the crops allowed farmers to either reduce chemical spraying or to use less harmful chemicals. GM crops also had lower production costs, higher output or extra convenience, benefits that generally outweighed the higher costs of the engineered seeds.

But many critics have already warned that the over- obsession with GM crops may cost dearly, in the form of erosion of biodiversity and possible harms/ hazards to the human health, environmental/ food chain imbalance etc. Already many western nations are facing the problem of super weeds and other resistant flora and fauna due to excessive herbicidal application combined with the planting/ sowing of GM crop varieties. In India also the revelation of Monsanto about the resistance breakdown of Bollgard II in many parts of Gujarat points to this fact. So a middle route can be suggested, with the optimum/ need-based planting of GM crops along with the traditionally existing varieties and crops.

The findings of the study is critical but it seems still the report is not likely to win over critics of the crops. Biotechnology and other modification techniques have to be assorted only for the pest management, nutritional benefits and to cope over the adverse effects of global warming. The report also mentioned that use of GM crops resulted in other environmental benefits like controlling soil erosion and contamination of water and other ecological bodies.

The report said that use of chemical insecticides had declined as BT crops have spread. In areas with heavy insect pressure, it said, the use of the crops has increased farmers’ income because of higher yields and reduced spending on insecticide. Though there is no doubt that there are sure gains on the ecological fronts, similar gains on the economic sides has still to be established in India in case of the only released GM crop, Bt Cotton. And on the food front, a long detailed investigation has to be carried out before blindly going with any new technology. Safety has to be given the first thought and the long term effects have to be taken care without jeopardizing the living creatures and environment. The report said that when genetically engineered crops were introduced, some had lower yields than conventional varieties, a finding often cited by critics. But the report said newer studies showed either a modest increase in yield or no effect.

The appraisal and approval of release must be well scrutinized by the concerned regulatory authority, and should not be given any chance of faultiness from either of the side, which may result in considerable repercussions in the future. In Indian case of Bt Brinjal also the immediate release has only been withheld due to the lack of transparency in testing / appraisal stage. But there is no doubt that Genetically engineered crops are here to stay and looks prospective for the total production increase with minimal cost.

As the land, water and other production resources are shrinking, global community is going to face the heat of food and nutritional security. So all the possible technological interventions should be adopted and applied for tackling the problems facing India and world at large. So a holistic approach must be adhered to while discussing any scientific technology in the interest of food production and humanity. A well debated fact based thought should be given to the GM technology or other Biotechnological tools of crop improvement involving the stakeholders and keeping intact the interest of the affected persons. Any technology is not completely bad or good, instead it might have some flaws. So the flaws can be worked upon and rectified for its better percolation in the target people.

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