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?GE tech not the answer to food shortages?

THE US developed genetic engineering (GE) applied to agriculture is a powerful yet controversial technology as it has far reaching social and economic impact. Green revolution was accessible to everyone but six multinationals rooted in agro-chemical sector control gene technology including its research and sale of GE crops across the globe.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2006 16:15 IST

THE US developed genetic engineering (GE) applied to agriculture is a powerful yet controversial technology as it has far reaching social and economic impact. Green revolution was accessible to everyone but six multinationals rooted in agro-chemical sector control gene technology including its research and sale of GE crops across the globe.

It’s expensive and risky as results show that rats fed on GE crops developed disease and died. Former German University Professor and Gene Campaign convener Dr Suman Sahai stated this in her address delivered on social and economic aspects of agricultural biotechnology at a workshop on ‘a quest for visionary policies and to address new frontiers for responsive governance and legal system’ held here on Sunday.

Stating that it was a weak argument that GE can solve hunger or food security problem, she said that hunger was a result of lack of productive resources (cultivable land) and no income to buy food.

“Nor is the genetically modified food nutritive,” she added, and questioned whether there was need for golden rice (being developed in laboratories) as a source of Vitamin A when sweet potato, casanova and naturally grown moringa (drumstick) leaves are available that are rich in Vitamin A besides calcium and iron.

GE technology cannot be replicated in India, as its biodiversity, social and economic needs differ, she said. Citing example of US where weeds from farms are thrown away through machines, she said de-weeding generates employment in villages as it involves manual labour. In states like Chhattisgarh, 86 types of vegetables (including bathua, chaulai) grow as weeds in farms.

This is in addition to fodder and herbs that cure minor ailments. “After de-weeding, when a farm labourer returns home, she has in her bag vegetables for the family, fodder for cattle and herbs to cure her children’s minor ailments. All this is in addition to money she gets as a daily wager. Weeds not only have a nutritive value for tribals, but are also important for rural health and veterinary care,” Dr Sahai said.

Talking about BT genes that are injected as pesticides in cotton to prevent infestation, she questioned whether it was suitable to have them in cauliflower, brinjals or whether it was appropriate to have edible vaccines for rabies and cholera in tomatoes and melons.

She said even US had abandoned edible vaccines because it was difficult to regulate its doses. Talking about animal (cow, pig) and human genes being induced in food crops, she said it has hurt religious sentiments of people world over.

Europe and Africa don’t touch GE food, US is reducing its market while Australia has banned it for its failure to control toxic elements. GE technology is impacting agricultural biodiversity, which India has in abundance.

According to UNO, the only answer to having a long-term food security is the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, Dr Sahai said and added that it was time to debate the areas of application of GE technology that could meet Indian needs.