Food for Thought – Barsanjit Majumdar

ARE YOU SCARED ABOUT FOOD PREPARED FROM GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROP, THINK AGAIN:

By Barsanjit Majumdar

The purpose of this posting is to give the readers some fact and evidence based information. Recently the protest against Genetically Modified Food (GM FOOD) is enjoying enormous popularity in many places world-wide including US. The truth is considering the projected world population of 9 Billion by 2050 we need to grow 70% more food and the GM FOOD might be the only way to feed the world. At present three quarters of worlds soybean crop, half the worlds cotton and a quarter of world’s corn are being planted in US, Brazil, Argentina and Canada and a large portion of these crop is GM. These countries are extensively using Food based on GM crop.

Certainly anyone could argue that as a unified human society if whole world could share its food resources then there never will be a food shortage. Yes, it is a very wishful thought but in today’s complex geopolitical landscape and dynamics it is not going to happen. So the only alternative is all corners of the world have to earn a near self-sufficiency status at least in terms of food in this projected population explosion. Therefore the food producing plants should grow in less than perfect condition i.e with less harvest time, less water, more salinity, non-optimal pH and temperature, less fertilizer even in pest infested land. Genetic manipulation of the plant is the only viable way to achieve this goal.

Some recent fear tactics against GM food is “it could cause cancer”. This is based on unsubstantiated evidence. It is simply poor science. For example a recent French study (Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, Vol 50, November 2012, Page 4221-4231) concluded that rat feed with GM corn suffered high rate of fatal cancer. This study has been harshly criticized by many independent scientists and laboratory because of its poor experimental design, poor statistical analysis, poor interpretation and use of an animal strain that is predisposed to the high occurrence of cancer (For more information see http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/25/scientists-smell-a-rat-in-fraudulent-genetic-engineering-study/).
This French group has been criticized in past for lack of scientific merit by European Food Safety Authority. Many Millions of people have consumed genetically modified Soybean, Corn and Rice but Epidemiological data do not support that people from these regions are suffering from higher rate of cancer compared to the region where GM food are not in use.

Another claim based on no scientific rationale. Prof Jack Heinemann and Prof Judy Carman from Australia claimed that using particular GM wheat could cause a serious human disease that mimics glycogen storage disorder a rare but deadly human disease. Their opinion (there is absolutely no evidence) is based on the fact that this GM wheat had been developed by shutting down the expression of a gene responsible for the synthesis of “Glycogen” by RNA interference (RNAi). This wheat has lower starch more grain with a lower glycemic index, healthier wheat. They claimed that the residual RNAi from the wheat may stop Glycogen production in human and could cause devastating consequences. But any scientist working with RNAi will know the lack of scientific rationale for this claim. RNAi in wheat is generated from the engineered genome of wheat under the control of a promoter. It is almost impossible that the RNAi generation machinery will cross the species boundary, pass and integrate into human genome.

We should not forget that there is a finite chance of plane crash every time we travel in plane. Another logic that many people are using is “Who knows what bad consequences the GM food could bring”. We should not forget that when our ancestors first discovered fire, the discovery of the 1st antibiotic penicillin, controlling the growth of cancer cell by radiation we did not know the consequences but today we cannot survive without those. The vaccines against polio and small pox that our body has received and made us immunized against these viruses are live but attenuated viruses of the same deadly counterpart.

We should realize that the real danger in Food is from the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide. The genetically modified crop plant could be less dependent on pesticides because of their inherent pest resistance activity by manipulation of the relevant genes. But, at the same time I agree that uncontrolled use of GM crop might also bring serious threat to the biodiversity of the endogenous plants and some Biotech corporation could use this as a cash crop through the use of Terminator Seed. Public awareness will be absolutely required in these areas.

In conclusion, I will say that many popular propaganda tool against Genetically Modified Food and their so-called Health Risk seriously lacking Scientific Evidence and Rationale and mostly based on Myth, Propaganda and the so called evidence based on Poor Science, inconsistent, irreproducible and not appropriately reviewed scientific data.

Disclosure: I have no financial relationship with any Biotechnology Organization engaged in the production and sale of Genetically Modified Crop. As an academic scientist all of the research programs in my laboratory at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio are funded by US Federal Government such as National Institute of Health and non-profit research organization such as American Heart Association.

Regarding the Author:
Barsanjit Mazumder Ph.D (Ex Student of Siksha Bhavan, VB)
Associate Professor, Center for Gene Regulation in Health and Disease
Department of Biological Science, Cleveland State University
2399 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115, USA
Ph: 216-687-2435, Fax: 216-687-6972
b.mazumder@csuohio.edu
http://facultyprofile.csuohio.edu/csufacultyprofile/detail.cfm?FacultyID=B_MAZUMDER

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14 Comments

  1. Shubhashis Mitra says:

    Well, a very sensitive area has been touched upon. A lot can be debated from various angles.

    But I would primarily like to focus on one particular aspect- that is the use of pesticide. It appears, and definitely rightfully that, slight genetic modification might make the crop safe from attack of insects and hence less pesticide will be required for GM Crops. I personally feel, this to be a hypothetical assumption, basically because insects have proved on numerous occasions that they can also modify their own genes rather fast to adapt to newer conditions. So a GM Crop, now in-accessible to an insect has every possible chance of being infected by the same insect with a modified gene structure; which may make the situation more complex again with newer kind of pesticides required! This assumption (or a kind of fear you may say) is not purely hypothetical too, as there are ample evidences of insects (up to viruses) developing their own defense mechanism against pesticides (and other medicines) by changing their own gene structures. This could be a possibility leading to more complications. The problem is everything would look safe until something like this happens, and that neither it can be predicted that such a case will arise. But the possibility of emergence of more deadly genetically self modified insects should not be negated as per historical evidence. Insects (read:Nature) has often proved to be more intelligent than human beings in gene-modification game. I would request Barsanjit Majumder to shed some light on this issue.

    The higher production rate of GM Crops however should be an accepted fact, and availability of sufficient food for the growing population world over should be a sufficient reason to support GM Crops.

    • Barsanjit Mazumder says:

      Sukul you have raised a very relevant issue in your comment. I would like to respond using the perspective of the relationship between the host (Humans, plants, any other animals) and the invading micro-organisms such as Bacteria, virus or macro-organisms such as pests. Indiscriminate use of pesticides, antibiotic, anti-viral compounds could initially kill those organisms and ultimately induce selection pressure to them. This selection pressure could activate the expression of many genes from this organism which could (i) destroy the efficiency of these compounds or (ii) could induce mutation in their DNA and ultimately make them resistant to these compounds. However, I would like to bring the Host (the target of infection) in the discussion now. When the genetic make up of the host is changed then it will bring a different kind of selection pressure and this will not be able to drive the change in the genetic architecture of the invading organisms so quickly like it will do for pesticides or antibiotic. Because the use of pesticides or antibiotic will create a life and death situation for the invading organisms point of view, millions will die immediately however few will learn to survive even in the presence of this compound and they will replicate and generate a resistant strain. This selection pressure will be very mild if the host could change its genetic make up so that those invading organisms will not get entry into the host. In this case only natural evolution could change the organisms, which will take very long time, and as a result the window of opportunity to deal with it will be very long and that is a good thing.

      For example, the malaria causing organism plasmodiums are gaining rapid resistance against the anti-malarial compounds by rapidly changing their genetic architecture and the common anti-malarial compounds are loosing their efficiencies rapidly. However, there are some human populations in Africa (mainly Sub-Saharan) who developed a natural resistance against the plasmodiums by acquiring a mutation in the hemoglobin gene. Till today there is no report that plasmodiums can overcome this resistance that is coming from host (remember, plasmodiums have two hosts one is the career host that is mosquito and the host being the target of infection that is human). But certainly this particular change also caused a bad thing such as sickle cell anemia due to the mutation in hemoglobin.

      For human, artificial change of the genetic architecture to create a disease resistant human is not a good choice at all and also extremely difficult without manipulating a human embryo. This will bring huge ethical issue. I hope that will never happen. However for plant that is a real possibility not only theoretical it is very much possible with our existing knowledge and for some instance of GM crop that is a reality. Hope this discussion will address some of the issue that you have raised.

      • Shubhashis says:

        Thanks Barsanjit. Your deliberation now helps me to understand more about uses of pesticides, gene-mutation and GM Crops. I am thankful for allaying my fear regarding GM Crops and the subsequent gene manipulation by the invaders- I understand the process to be very slow and hence less worrisome. If we can buy time on anything it is good for us.
        What I have read from newspaper just today that our Agriculture Minister Mr Sharad Pawar has pitched straight forward for GM Crops. In India only the GM Cotton Crop is being used (the straightline variety) and a field trial on more than 100+ crops and vegetables is going on. The important point he deliberated is on STRAIGHT LINE GM Crops, the seeds of which are re-usable year by year. He deplored the objective of private firms pushing in GM Crops whose seeds are not re-usable, and hence each time the seeds has to be bought from the companies. He has found out that only Government run institutes in India can develop these types of STRAIGHT LINE GM Crops, whose seeds can be re-used. Evidently the private firms are not interested in this for commercial purposes. Hence GM Crops has now become a big commercial issue as well.
        Barsanjit, can you deliberate a bit more on this!

  2. Nature keeps on rearranging, reorganising and changing its genetic characters according to its necessity to survive, which is reflected in the process called ‘Evolution’. Without that, we wouldn’t have seen the varied life forms from the prehistoric period. Fittest do survive and the experiments of Nature to produce the fittest are endless. the scientific experiments by men have provided breakthrough results regardibg genetic manipulation which definitely will be helpful in the overpopulated world. But the question is how much of that will be accepted by the nature. will it work life long or stop after a few generations?
    A very thoughtful write up and enjoyed the discussion with shukul a lot. Hoping for more.

  3. Shubhashis says:

    Madhumita,
    In their any venture to develop Genetically Modified tea plants?
    Or, are they already in use? In strictly scientific terms Biologists or Agriculturists have gone for modification in plants for a long time now, even in India!

    • Shukul,
      Work on Genetic Modification in Tea was in progress but had to stop due to non-clearance from the higher level. But the cloning for high yield and better quality by natural selection is the popular practice in tea. Moreover the high rate of vegetative propagation of tea plants is another advantage to follow the age old practice to serve the commercial purpose. Due to thoughtless destruction of forests around the gardens causes migration of various pests to the gardens menacinly. Recently Biopesticides are also being used, though not very popular yet.

  4. Tonu says:

    There are a number of good sources that highlight the dangerous side effects of using GMO. I am not a scientist in this field, but have interest in the topic for years. I have read up material and listened face to face and through telephone and video from people who are engaged on the topic both at the scientific level as well as on the ground at a farming level, at different continents, including a lot of material out of India itself.

    I could provide details from multiple sources to prove GMO is on the whole not necessarily beneficial for mankind in either solving hunger or poverty, though it is an excellent business tool for corporations to capture larger market share and monopolizing food sectors, driving small farmers out of business permanently.

    It also promotes mono-culture and dislikes bio-diversity. These are very large topics and outside the scope of a single response. This e-magazine is not geared to have all such material re-printed here, and neither is the readership expected to be engaged in any serious study of the findings. Those interested can easily find the pros and cons of these issues by looking around in internet and by developping direct contacts with people involved in it.

    Vandana Shiva is one source you should consider through her Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE). I had spoken with her for almost two hours, and edited and put it up years ago on an episode of Santiniketan podcast for those that were interested in her point of view. She is a world renowned person and recipient of the “alternative Noble Prize” and her mission in life is to fight mono-culture and GMO crop. She is not that hard to find, and she has published a number of books on the topic.
    
Debal Deb is another, with is Centre for Interdisciplinary Study (http://www.cintdis.org/. He has written a number of more serious books and his lectures and workshops in USA, Europe and India are known to people on the topic. I have personally spoken with him, exchanged views with him and usually end up calling him every few months to update myself.

    Most of the corporations, and Governments influenced by them – to provide one side of the argument. Most of the bio-diversity supporters provide the other end.

    In India, the handful of places where effects of GMO crop can scientifically tested, are all funded by US Biotech corporations and their Indian partners. Independent research on these issues are supported by a growing number of people and small NGOs and the fight is on, as far as India is concerned. The fight is also on in various other regions of the planet. A reader can check on these on his/her own initiative.

    I shall copy a public statement by David Suzuki and his foundation, which is prominently displayed on his web site.

    Those who do not know David Suzuki, just google it, or ask Ananda Tan Lee, son of Shyamali di. Shyamali di was a believer of, and a friend of, David Suzuki of Vancouver. She had asked me to pass him a book she wrote, and I had done so, some years ago.

    Anyhow, this is what the David Suzuki foundation puts up regarding GMO crop in Canada.

    QUOTE
    GMO’s — or genetically modified organisms — refer to the plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology. In conversation,GMO’s and GE foods refer to the same thing. They are foods created by mergingDNA from different species.

    The first GMO crop (the Flavr Savr tomato) was approved by the FDA in 1994. Since then, GE varieties of corn, soya, sugar beets and canola have become common local crops in Canada. In addition to locally produced crops, GE varieties of cottonseed oil, papaya, squash and milk products are imported from the USA into Canada. In a mere 20 years, GMO ingredients have made their way into most of the processed foods available on Canadian grocery shelves. Apples, potatoes and wheat are all in the lineup for approval.

    GMO crops, when first introduced, were touted as the answer to world hunger. The argument was that by developing pesticide and herbicide resistant crops, farmer’s would be able to increase their yields and decrease their costs. This has not proven to be the case. Instead, bugs and weeds have become increasingly resistant to the widespread applications of these chemicals, leading to increased use of both. More spraying means more costs for the farmers, more damage to the environment and more health concerns.

    On the flips side, it means more product purchased from the seed producer. The companies that develop and patent GMO seeds are the same companies that develop and patent the pesticides and herbicides to which the unique seeds are resistant. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world and owns about 86% of GMO seeds sown globally. It is also the parent of Roundup.

    The safety of GMO foods is unproven and a growing body of research connects these foods with health concerns and environmental damage. For this reason, most developed nations have policies requiring mandatory labeling of GMO foods at the very least, and some have issued bans on GMO food production and imports.

    In Canada we do not.

    Canadians are often unaware that the foods they choose contains GMO ingredients. It is this basic right to choice that is behind the growing movement to have GMO foods labeled. While environmental and food advocates lobby for labeling, other groups, like The Non-GMO Project, have created voluntary non-GMO certification to facilitate consumer information.
    UNQUOTE

    The issue of food security is deep and wast. While technology can solve some problems, it is a mistake to think corporations and big business will use such technology for anything other than profit and market monopoly.

    Had that not been the case, in these 500 years since steam engine was developed, the world should have turned into a paradise and there should have been no colonization of the planet and extermination of indigenous people and stealing of land in continent after continent, and destructions of the forests, mass extinction of species, and repeated world wars etc etc. All that came through breakthrough in technology for profit for few, at the cost of everybody else.

    It is worth remembering that only in the US, there are over 90 GMO crops being planted. And the US has virtually few small farmers left.

    In Brasil – there are more than 30 GMO crops used.

    In the entire EU, only 2 crops are accepted so far – but eight countries within EU has banned GMO irrespective of central EU safety board accepting the two crops. There is even a fight going on within EU from the centre to challenge individual country’s right to ban GMO. Poland is the latest addition to countries that banned GMO crop in EU.

    In the Americas, Bolivia has banned GMO crop. In Asia, Bhutan has invited Ms Vandana Shiva to help turn Bhutan completely organic, free of both GMO and as far as possible other pesticide dependent crop.

    Here is a link you might consider reading up, and seeing the attached video: http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/wwf-beds-with-monsanto-to-steal-public-lands-promote-gm-crops/

    Madhusree Mukherjee sent me the above link. She herself is a scientist and worked as an editor for Scientific American magazine for some years, and a writer of two books (one about the plight of the aboriginals of Andaman island and the other about Churchill’s involvement in the death of 3 million Bengali people from the famine of 1943) and current resident of Germany.

    A lot of the scientific report promoting GMO is generated by corporate money geared to favor its own interest, and at the end of the day can be called pseudo-science. The labs themselves are directly or indirectly influenced and controlled by the GMO firms which are among the most powerful and wealthy in the entire world. They can buy and sell a few small countries without batting an eyelid. Anybody who has spent time in a lab knows the result is only as honest and unbiased as the test and the people involved. A scientific test can be, and often is, tilted to favor one view over another. This happens in the US. This happens in Europe. And this happens in India.

    I may or may not post anything more here – since this is not a proper journal and neither does it have input from a wide range of people engaged in this topic.

    This is nothing against Barsan, who I know is a good guy. I felt it my duty to provide the counter argument, since I have had so much interaction with people from so many parts of the world engaged in so many ways on this topic and since I believe this has far reaching effect on unsuspecting small farmers of the world.

    I evens poke with Chirajyoti Deb’s brother, who is also working in India in Govt departments that have involvement in this issue. Its a vey wide subject, and as far as I am concerned, GMO is something you should be afraid of, very afraid of – not just about your own health, but of the health of the planet both biologically and economically.

    Just like Barsan states he has not been funded by promoters of GMO, it goes without saying that I have not been funded by detractors of GMO and I have no ulterior motive other than wishing well for the third world – both consumers and small farmers, who are under a direct threat of extinction under the GMO business plan.

    I have written all this off the cuff and without much editing, except for David Suzuki’s comments which are copied verbatim. I don’t have enough time for proof reading this piece. Please excuse small mistakes in typo and grammar if you find them here.

    Cheers.

  5. Tonu says:

    Here are a few more people you might consider checking up.

    Mark Lynas, a prominent UK environmentalist and author, who for years was an ardent opponent of GM crops, have recently turned around the supported MGO wholesale. He even declared in UK recently, that the debate on GMO and Organic is over, and that science has proved unequivocally that GM crop is good and provides a solution to world hunger. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/01/mark-lynas-failed-attempt-end-gm-debate. A wide range of experts have argued Mark Lynas to be wrong, and suspect the circumstances of his sudden turn around. Out of these, I shall name just two persons.
    Doug Gurian-Sherman, (http://www.ucsusa.org/about/staff/staff/doug-gurian-sherman.html) Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Citizens and Scientists for Environmental Solutions (http://www.ucsusa.org/), where he focuses on agricultural biotechnology and sustainable agriculture. Union of Concerned Scientists originated out of MIT in 1969 and today has 400,000 members. Its national headquarter is at Two Brattle Sq. Cambridge, MA 02138-3780. Phone: (617) 547-5552. Fax: (617) 864-9405. It has branch offices in many cities such as in Washington DC, Berkeley CA, and Chicago IL. Doug Gurian-Sherma is the author of numerous papers and reports, including
    No Sure Fix: Prospects for Reducing Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollution through Genetic Engineering,
    Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, and
    CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
    Professor John Vandermeer, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. (http://www.foodfirst.org/en/GMO+uproar+in+EU).

    Vandermeer’s response to Mark Lynas’s recent speech at the Oxford Farming Association should be of value here, because it covers some of the very issues raised by Barsan’s article, with regard to either improved yield or better pest resistance characters. I quote:

    QUOTE
    The things he might discover are, for example, the endocrine system. It’s a pretty important fact of our lives and science has shown that it can be “disrupted” by a wide variety of molecules. Sometimes those molecules occur naturally, but frequently they are part of the cocktail of chemicals usually applied in the modern industrial system. He will discover that a bunch of scientific studies have linked Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) to endocrine disruption and he will come to realize that endocrine disruption can sometimes have negative consequences, things like birth defects and cancer, and I can’t wait to see his response to the well-know effects on penises. And in his ecology class he might discover how breakdown products of large molecules can persist in the environment for tens or even hundreds of years.

    And in his physiology course he will discover that small doses of things can have pretty big consequences. So, for example, roundup is a commercial product whose active ingredient is glyphosate, but that contains other chemicals to enhance its performance. In particular one chemical is added to act as a surfactant, making sure that the liquid that contains the roundup sticks to the plant it is attacking, Even if glyphosate was completely benign in the environment (which it is not, but for sake of argument assume it is) it turns out that the surfactant kills. He can check out the work done at the University of Pittsburg on how roundup kills amphibians – not that he should necessarily care about amphibians, but from his training in history I’m sure he understands the notion of the miner’s canary.

    And in his physiology course he will discover that small doses of things can have pretty big consequences. So, for example, roundup is a commercial product whose active ingredient is glyphosate, but that contains other chemicals to enhance its performance. In particular one chemical is added to act as a surfactant, making sure that the liquid that contains the roundup sticks to the plant it is attacking, Even if glyphosate was completely benign in the environment (which it is not, but for sake of argument assume it is) it turns out that the surfactant kills. He can check out the work done at the University of Pittsburg on how roundup kills amphibians – not that he should necessarily care about amphibians, but from his training in history I’m sure he understands the notion of the miner’s canary

    As he delves further into molecular biology he will discover things like epistasis, polygenetic inheritance, linkage, promotors, transposable elements, and a host of other sometimes enigmatic complications that we now understand to be at the center of any organism’s genome (and might learn the meaning of those 10 dollar words that he seems to use but not understand, like mutagenesis and gene flow). And he will see that doing just one thing (e.g., inserting a piece of DNA into a big genome) is probably not possible in the first place. As the geneticist Richard Lewontin has said, the genome is like an ecosystem. And we all know what can happen when you, for example, try and introduce a single species into an ecosystem. What usually happens is nothing, which of course can lead to complacency. But occasionally the introduction is catastrophic. Some google search topics that will enlighten are, brown snake, mongoose, cane toads, Kudzu, Nile perch (there are many others). If genomes are like ecosystems, there is nothing at all that suggests equivalent disruptions could not occur, and the few scientists who remain unaware of this complication need to refresh their graduate education with a course in complex systems.

    These are all things that Mark might learn as he pursues his more advanced study of science. But I really can’t wait until he discovers evolution. When a group of scientists relied upon a particular species of plant (technically, Mark, it’s called Arabidopsis) to explore the possibility of the evolution of resistance, they concluded that the evolution of resistance to their roundup-ready crops would take so long as to not matter. Understanding what went wrong here will be a great lesson for Mark, since we now know (and we pretty much understand why, although it’s complicated) that more than 20 species of plants have already evolved resistance to Roundup. And those Bt crops that supposedly reduce pesticide use, well, they have indeed had an effect on the environment, but not a positive one. Scattered around the world are farmers who are forced to use other insecticides since many of the major corn pests have evolved resistance to the Bt toxin, and that very toxin used in an artisanal way by poor farmers (even organic ones) is now not available.
    UNQUOTE

    You can read up the whole text, and remove the sarcasm that Professor Vandermeer directs at Mark Lynas, and read the actual content.

    The date of his article is 22nd Jan 2013. I trust you will agree, it is recent enough. And I trust you will also agree that he is not exactly a novice on the subject, being a PhD and professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

    I am actually trying to establish a contact with professor Vandermeer of Michigan University, among various other people, just to learn more of what they know.

    These are just a handful of sources that have done their work, unbiasedly, to report what they think the public should know about the GMO crop issue on a scientific front, and from within the US.

    Cheers.

  6. Barsanjit Mazumder says:

    This is my response to the above post. There is nothing personal against Tonuda, he is a good friend of mine too. I am well aware of Prof. John Vandermeer’s work on the complexity of the Ecosystem including his ground breaking work on keystone mutualism and insect limitation mechanism in agroforestry system that had been published in very highly regarded Journal such as “Science” in 2006 and 2008. There is no doubt that he is an expert environmental scientist. Yes, there is published data that convincingly shows that Glyphosate can intercept the endocrine system although Monsanto claimed that it is a weed killer, as Prof Vandermeer mentioned. However, on the basis of his published papers cited in all established research database Dr. Vandermeer’s expertise is not based on testing the safety of GM crops on human health. Here I am reconfirming my earlier points that there is no critically reviewed and direct data based scientific evidence that use of GM crop could cause disease in human or animal. As I mentioned, the few claim was based on inaccurate data and poor science and criticized by many independent scientists worldwide (see my original article above) and those papers might carry the risk for retractions. I would also like to mention that many scientists did direct lab based experiment on GM crop and did not find any convincing evidence that could cause disease. All of them are not funded by Biotechnology company. Many of them are independent scientists. This forum is certainly not a place to present the published scientific evidence. I will stop here now. In my opinion, there is two real issues against GM crop that it could cause risk to Biodiversity and some Biotech company can use it as a cash crop through the terminator seed. As Sukul mentioned in his response that in India the use of terminator seed has been refused on Governmental level and it is a correct decision. I will conclude by saying “evidence and data should guide and shape your ideology and agenda not the other way”.

  7. Tonu says:

    I thank Barsan for his clarification.

    I too am stopping post here, not only because this platform is not suited for discussion on the topic, but also because I find it impossible to edit my posts and they appear dirtier and partly garbled. So I have decided to move my comments to the Sceince and Technology section of the Uttarayan Bulletin Board.

    My point regarding GMO was not just about health issue of humans that consume it. There is still evidence that the pesticide resistance built into the gene of the plant may have adverse effect on humans in the long run. IN scientific tests – absence of evidence does not prove evidence of absence.

    But my main point about GMO were more wide reaching and these are :

    1) While it has not been proven that GMO is adverse to human health, it also has not been tested thoroughly and for long term enough. The fact for instance, that pesticides like DDT were bad for the ecosystem, or that asbestos was bad for humans, was not known during standard lab tests that cleared those products. The world came to know about it years later, and with millions of humans and animals already affected or dead or gone extinct.

    2) GMO crop producers claim that it can reduce chemical dependence. Field experience over longer term seems to not only contradict that, but actually provide a counter report – while the pesticide itself is also patented and sold by the same firm that promotes GMO. David Suzuki’s statement in my post is one example. There are more that I shall put up on Uttarayan.

    3) They claim that it does not harm general biodiversity, while the field experiments actually claim otherwise, that over time the genes move around to other plants, and the bugs and weeds develop high resistance, crating super-weeds and super-bugs that normal pesticide and herbicide cannot kill, thus requiring even stronger toxins in the soil and even more toxin resistance to be introduced into the gene of the crop – in an ever increasing spiral, while the rest of the biodiversity is greatly damaged.

    4) The basic business plan of the GMO producers is to kill competition and make all other naturally grown plants to go extinct or farmers using them to go bust even if they do not say so clearly, and establish a mono culture and monopoly in the market. The seeds themselves may not have terminator genes, but their dependence on patented killer chemicals for the soil remains, and that is what kills the farmer economically into a debt cycle, and the strong pesticides or herbicides kills the soil. For example they’d like three strains of GMO banana to survive, and 1,500 varieties of indegenous brands developped through evolutionary selection to vanish. Same for Br Brinjal.

    Professor Vandermeer is just one example, and he has agreed to speak with me on all above issues tomorrow on phone. There are others, such as Vandana Shiva who has twenty years of field experience on the topic from her farm, and Debal Deb with 18 years of experience on the need for supporting indigenous strains of crop and for resisting introduction of GMO crops.

    Anyhow, good luck to out. I am outta here. This platform bugs me for reasons other than this topic itself.

    Cheers.

  8. Shubhashis says:

    Thanks everyone, the original article and the comment thread specially by Santanu Mitra & Basranjit Majumder lays open widely the GM Crop issue; which is going to be a topic for debate for quite some time into future as well. As a pure novice, I have picked up a few points to summarize-

    1. The ‘Terminator Gene’ allowing the seeds to crop only once, and the subsequent seeds generated from The GM Crop can not be re-planted for subsequent production. This is a big commercial issue for a relatively poor country like India.

    2. The commercial effect of GM Crops to virtually wipe of less producing crops and plants. The scene appears something like this – if we try to eliminate the less productive human beings from our society, by producing more efficient human beings in large numbers! In terms of bio-diversity the picture appears somewhat like this; which is pretty drastic from the point of view of conservation philosophy.

    3. Personally I never knew, that GM Crops/Plants will also need its own share of specialized pesticides to protect such plants/crops. Now, if that is so, it will surely be a dangerous concoction- with a highly unpredictable possibility of gene mutation triggered within the bugs and insects. Bugs and insects usually are pretty fast to respond to such situations.

    4. If the mutated genes of GM Crops can technically jump to other species, including human beings, insects and bugs even by the slow process of selective evolution the scene can be very very wary- this point in particular was raised by me earlier too.

    5.The causes of human diseases, in my humble knowledge, can be quite complicated, as we still do not know what affect what in clear terms. Besides of GM Crops, there exists several compounds in nature which can affect our health adversely. Regarding cancer in spite of identification of so many carcinogenic substances none could be directly linked to cancerous cells. The study so far remains statistical evidences at best with many exceptions. So, personally, I would not like to make any specific comments here about ill effects of GM Crops on our health. Interestingly, it would be an interesting issue is Gene Modification is used in treating our own diseases- the issue then will be more demanding and naturally will generate a huge controversy!

    These are the points that have come up in the above discussion. I would like to add one more relevant point from here…

    6.Now, purely from the point of view of genetics (science involving genes) where does the science go from here? If any kind of manipulation in the gene is ultimately viewed to be catastrophic – then how the science ‘genetics’ will move from now on wards? History tells us that science as a subject is never really bad, but the bad effects of science & technology is in reality how human beings use that knowledge. Now, genetics have allowed us to create crops/plants with greater yield, with greater adaptability to diverse climatic conditions. The point to think about that whether this particular blend of science is bad; or the usages are bad? Experience tells us that the science of modified crops can not be bad; but how we use that science can be and should be questioned. My humble question is can science really overcome these issues, or should we abort the idea of GM Crops altogether? A pin pointed answer to this question would be illuminating to all less knowledgeable folks, like us. I would request Santanu Mitra and Barsanjit to deliberate on the last issue a little bit.

    Again, thanking Barsanjit for raising the issue in this site, and Santanu Mitra to provide us with serious counter arguments. Honestly speaking, now we can really say that, we know a little more about GM Crops. But the question of utility of science till bogs me, there should a path to follow…

  9. Joy Dutta says:

    Very interesting discussion here.

    Biotech is not my domain, hence I can’t comment on the technical details so elaborately being discussed here. However for the past few years I have kept myself abreast on the food issues that we collectively face and all the controversy around GM food in general.

    In my humble view, despite breakthroughs in science and technology in the past, our collective technological prowess is nothing compared to the problem of exponential scale we are facing and it is only going to get worse quicker than we can even imagine. Yes, you guessed it right, I am talking about overpopulation. When we talk about growing 70% more food and the nitty gritty of insects getting more pesticide resistant it is more like trying to suppress symptoms (hunger, war over food) rather than striving to solve the root cause (population).

    Lets try to put the situation in perspective. If we need to keep the population on earth constant, we need technology right now to send 250,000 humans to another planet every day! Can we even grasp this ? Population growth has sure come down, but it is still growing at a certain percentage and that is still exponential growth. We have long since exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity and I believe the longer we focus on GM vs organic the more time we waste not thinking on how to reduce our numbers. We have more than enough technology to comfortably feed and house maybe 4 billion of us. But not 7 billion. Mother nature is ruthless. When the natural biodiversity is shaken (humans are already responsible for extinction of tons of other species every single day) nature will strike back to wipe off billions of humans in one swift blow.

    Perhaps that is what we collectively prefer as we can write it off as “destiny” and go about business as usual. We keep living and breeding as the biggest parasite this planet has ever seen.

    Or we could try to get out of our conservative taboo-fearing shells and start talking about population and how to actually begin reducing our numbers worldwide. Al Gore has already shown what horrors our species has done to the earth’s climate.

    Many will argue that you can’t take away right to reproduce. I agree that should not happen. But our collective political will, if that can ever wisen up, can set up what I call an incentive scheme. There can be advertisements showing the benefits of breeding less or not breeding at all. There is no denying how much better off the world would be with just 4b of us and there should be ways to set up a self-regulation mechanism. For example, no tax breaks beyond the first kid. Maybe credits for adopting. Penalties for having a kid one can’t afford. Free birth control, free abortion.

    But no. Humans are way too stupid or too delusional for that. There are fact-defying religious bigots, and there are vested short term interests of governments and corporations. Stupid reasons put forth by governments to encourage breeding based on fear of a reducing tax base. All these “issues” are short term and solvable.

    I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I don’t really have much hope for our species. I can’t anymore bring myself to end every article with a fake optimism as we always did in school. At least not when there is discussion on what brand of band-aid is best when the body is losing blood from a wound in the heart. Maybe when the attention turns to the heart, I will have a shimmer of hope.

  10. Shubhashis says:

    Referring to the latest comment by Joy Dutta, our ex-student from Patha Bhavana-IIT-now based in USA, he has taken the issue on the basic plane, i.e. about controlling population. So now GM Crops is to be considered from 3 different planes –
    a) From the point of view of Science purely, if large scale gene manipulation is a ecologically sustainable process.
    b) From the point of view of commerce, terminator genes and manipulative science for corporate benefits
    c) From the point of view of population control- the root issue.

    Now, the issue of GM Crops gets almost unmanageable!
    In this scenario what happens to the science of GM Crops? AS far as I can understand like ‘Time” – ‘Science’ also do not move backwards. We can not expect the science to stand still at some point, which is contrary to very essence of science. Naturally science behind GM Crops will also develop, whether one likes it or not, and we shall have to find a valid form of expression for that science too. One thing I can easily imagine that if mankind ever settles on moon in a colony, he will need GM Crops there to produce food: the normal one’s will be just unsuitable in that condition. So, the ‘Science’ of GM Crops will not die, and each day it will create more pressure on society demanding an expression of utility. It is the natural course of science, which is inherently so strong that it can overcome all kind of social forces. For example, if Cancer can be treated by some manipulation in the gene, it has every chance of being used even on human beings (even if clandestinely!) – so I feel, we just can not be a pessimist about GM Crops and try to hide the ugly (or beautiful!) fact. A solution needs to be found, and that can only be done by scientists. So, the scientific clan now have some responsibility on them, and for realistic reasons they can not shirk away from this problem.
    Its like this- if you have created the genie, it is you who must tell us how to control that.

    Thanks Joy, for the new angle, you have put in this argument; but as a scientist/technical expert you just can not afford to be a pessimist. Remember, it is only you who can provide us with a solution, and if you, belonging to a scientific community, turn pessimist, it will be disastrous for the rest of the civilization.

  11. Joy Dutta says:

    Shubhashis da,

    I agree it is devastating when a science person turns pessimist, but when I talked about it, I meant being conditionally pessimist.

    If you look at what the general news media talks about, you will probably shake your head in disbelief at how much trivial issues get the headlines. My point is science can’t save us from the impending disaster that our collective pronatalist delusion is leading to.

    The society still irrationally rejoices birth, and raises questions when someone chooses to not have children. Do you want to know exactly when the earth will start to heal ? The point when new births will be questioned. Adoptions will be rejoiced. Only a small percentage of couples who desperately want to be parents will have them, with full justification and means to raise them well. Ever wonder why we need a license to drive a car, but no one needs any qualification to bring another burden to the earth ? That is where the pronatalist assumptions lead us to our own destruction.

    Science is already doing great and it will keep working on new frontiers forever. But our mindsets need to change to. Dramatically. Right now. I look forward to that day.

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