Essay-9 : Genetically Modified (GM) Foods in India

You don’t have to look hard to find genetically modified foods on supermarket shelves: More than 85 percent of the corn and soy grown in the United States comes from seeds whose DNA has been rejiggered (to increase yields), and those two crops play starring roles in countless processed foods, from soda to salad dressing to bread. Advocates say genetically modified (GM) foods allow farmers to produce more with fewer chemicals—which mean a cleaner environment and cheaper groceries for us all. But the question remains: What impact do GM foods have on our health? The answer is, no one really knows.

Essay-9 : Genetically Modified (GM) Foods in India

Genetically Modified (GM) Foods in India

An Indian advisory committee has cleared genetically modified mustard for commercial use. India nears approval of first GM food crop.

Amidst acrimonious debate over the safety of genetically modified (GM) food crops, India’s top biotechnology regulator  declared a transgenic mustard plant “safe for consumption.” Moving the plant into farmers’ fields is now a political decision in the hands of India’s environment minister, who may wait until the Supreme Court of India, resolves several long-pending related cases.

 

GM foods have been on the market only since 1994, and research on their long-term effects on humans is scarce. Till date most of the studies have been done on animals; worryingly, though, some of those studies link GM foods to altered metabolism, inflammation, kidney and liver malfunction, and reduced fertility. In one experiment, multiple generations of hamsters were fed a diet of GM soy; by the third generation, they were losing the ability to produce offspring,

In addition, allergy sufferers worry that, as genes are transferred between plants, allergenic proteins (from, say, peanuts or wheat) will pop up in unexpected places (like soy or sugar). Richard Goodman, PhD, a professor of food science and technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a former scientist for Monsanto, says that seed companies run sophisticated tests to prevent that kind of mistake from happening. But inserting new genes into a seed’s delicately constructed genome is always a gamble because scientists can’t predict all the consequences. There is, for example, the possibility of creating brand-new allergens.

Despite the potential health implications, more GM foods appear each year. In 2011 the USDA approved the planting of genetically enhanced sugar beets (sucrose) and alfalfa (hay for livestock). The FDA is expected to okay a fast-growing salmon in the near future. And possibly on the horizon: pigs designed to produce omega-3s.

Unfortunately, GM foods are not required to be labeled as such, it’s impossible for consumers to tell them apart from regular foods. Gary Hirshberg, chairman and cofounder of Stonyfield, the organic yogurt company, thinks that’s not right. Last October he partnered with Just Label It, a national coalition of nearly 450 organizations that’s currently petitioning the FDA to give consumers a choice. More than 600,000 people have already signed.

“The status quo is innocent until proven guilty,” says Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian who studies GM foods, “as it was for trans fats, DDT, and countless other harmful chemicals.

A labeling requirement would motivate seed companies to prove to consumers that their products are safe, to protect their sales.” Nearly 50 other countries—including China, Brazil, and most European nations—have mandated that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be marked, and in an MSNBC online poll, 96 percent of more than 45,000 respondents said that they should be labeled. At press time, 18 states had introduced legislation to promote GMO labeling.

But in India, the New Delhi–based Coalition for a GM-free India is fighting the introduction of the transgenic mustard. The group blasted the GEAC’s (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) decision, claiming in a letter to Dave that the committee “has shown itself to be anti-science, anti-farmers, anti-environment and anti-consumers.”

Sources indicate that the government machinery may delay a decision until India’s Supreme Court rules in cases, pending since 2005, which questions the safety of GM crops. The court has to pronounce its verdict after a proper survey will be proven.

 

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