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Govt silence on GM crops inexplicable

Govt silence on GM crops inexplicable
Highlights

The implications and repercussions of introducing genetically engineered seeds or crops is akin to an anecdote attributed to noted British playwright George Bernard Shaw. An acclaimed actress had once proposed to Shaw and told him that if they got married the couple would have a child with his brains and her beauty. 

The implications and repercussions of introducing genetically engineered seeds or crops is akin to an anecdote attributed to noted British playwright George Bernard Shaw. An acclaimed actress had once proposed to Shaw and told him that if they got married the couple would have a child with his brains and her beauty.

Shaw reputed for his repartees replied that it would be alright if the progeny had these traits but what if the child inherited “my beauty and your brains.” It may not be an appropriate parallel or a narrative that could be associated with the impact of genetically modified crops (GMOs) but Shaw’s poser in essence does provoke questions about the outcome of induced marriage of incompatibles.

To be more precise, genetic engineering of crops or seeds involves injecting DNA from an unrelated source into the gene of the crop targeted to with the objective of creating high yielding and pest-resistant and herbicide tolerant characteristics. Seems like an ideal solution to protect the crops and increase their production.

So why has it triggered so much furore and protests among the experts and agriculture community in India and across the world? GM or transgenic crops are reported to have hazardous ramifications. According to experts, pollen from GM crops poses the threat of contamination of non-GM crops. This in turn would result in inevitable and extensive damage to non-GM crops.

Moreover, the herbicide resistance trait imbued in the crop can result in excessive use of herbicides and consequent cascading pollution. The harmful effects are not confined to crops alone. Experts point out that the pest-resistance gene in the GM food can infiltrate human beings and cause various diseases because of its unrelated and incompatible origins.

Like the “beauty and brains” denouement there is every possibility of different gene permutations and expected outcome going haywire. Economically, the claims about high productivity of GM crop also are disputable. On the contrary, there is not much of a difference in the yield capacity between GM and non-GM crops.

Moreover, the introduction of GM crops in India would mean enslaving the farmers to monopolies and thus imperiling the agrarian economy of the country. So despite the negatives far outweighing the positives, why was the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in a tearing hurry to approve GM mustard? And this is not the first time that it has shown alacrity in endorsing GM crops.

The committee has on innumerable occasions indicated a favourable propensity towards GM crops without scientifically investigating into their demerits and consequences. It all points to the GEAC working at cross-purposes with the very objectives for which it has been established.

More inexplicable and intriguing is the silence of the Central government whenever the issue of introduction of GM crops into the country comes up. Except for a few denials here and there, punctuated with absolute silence, the government is yet to reflect the gumption to say a very convincing ‘no’ GM crops and come out with a clear and strong policy against its infiltration into India in any form.

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