Technological intolerance is hampering GM research

Guest article by Dr T M Manjunath, consultant-Agri-biotech & former director, Monsanto Research Centre, Bengaluru


The activists opposed to GM technology burned the GM mustard crop in the second year of the first stage before the researchers could collect the scientific data. In the past, duly approved experimental field crops of Bt-cotton were also burned. Field trials are an integral part of biosafety assessment and performance evaluation and are, therefore, essential. Every technology, be it traditional or modern, has its own place and no single technology can solve all the problems. Wisdom lies in integrating them. Technological intolerance should be avoided and there is vast scope for socialism in science too for the progress of agriculture.

The opposition to GM mustard now, and to Bt-cotton, Bt-corn, Bt-brinjal, Golden rice, etc. in the past, is not based on science. Most of the people who are organizing the protests, launching signature campaigns and spreading canards about GM crops, are not scientists. Nor do they seem to attach any importance to scientific facts. The truth is that GM mustard, DMH -11 (Dhara Mustard Hybrid -11), has gone through all the prescribed biosafety tests for over 15 years and has been established by GEAC to be safe for humans, animals and the environment. It has the potential to increase the yield of hybrids between 20 to 30% without adding any extra cost to its cultivation. It can thus help the farmers to earn more money while enabling India to produce sufficient quantity of an important edible oil that is now being imported, along with other cooking oils, at an annual cost of over Rs.56,572 crores (as of 2014).

Safe and beneficial:
As far as safety is concerned, the oil and feed from the GM rapeseed have been consumed extensively since 1996 in Canada and several other countries without any scientifically proven ill effects. Then, is the opposition justified? Previously, the opponents in India, with the support of their counterparts in other countries, opposed Bt-cotton even before it was tested and they continue to do so even after its remarkable success of over 13 years following its commercialization in March 2002. Currently, Bt-cotton occupies over 11 million hectares comprising 95% of the total cotton acreage in India. Adopted by more than 7 million farmers, it has significantly contributed to the social and economic benefits of the farmers with no adverse impact on environment, and turned India from a net importer to an exporter of cotton. However, the activists, instead of gracefully accepting this outstanding success, continue to indulge in fault-finding and even try to associate it with farmers' suicides! They vehemently opposed Bt-brinjal also in India. The Govt. of Bangladesh brushed aside the protestors and, based on scientific recommendations, took a bold decision and approved its commercialization in 2014 which is significantly benefitting its farmers.

Presently, various GM crops are cultivated in about 30 countries and they have significantly contributed to enhanced productivity and farmers' welfare. Against this background, it is difficult to understand why there is such an aggressive opposition!
The various accusations orchestrated repeatedly by the opponents are baffling. They are speculative and their concerns are unauthenticated! In fact, no other crops or food products have been subjected to as stringent a testing and evaluation as are GM crops prior to commercialization.

Globally, over two thousand studies dealing with the safety of GMOs have been published in reputed scientific journals. Almost every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world, that include countries like the USA, Australia, New Zealand, France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, India, etc., have reviewed such research data and strongly vouched that the food and feed derived from GM crops are as safe as those produced conventionally. What more do the opponents want? GMOs are a product of scientific research. Leave science to scientists. Please do not take science to streets. Bt-brinjal was enough! Signature campaigns do not reflect the merit of research, especially when the product is yet to be born and reach the end users.


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T M Manjunath 21 January 2016 at 07:46 AM

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