GM Foods and Food Safety

Posted on May 14, 2008

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The supporters of GM food believe and claim that the technology can offer cheaper, safer and more nutritious food, while the crops produce higher yields with improved nutritional qualities. Opponents argue that there are still many uncertainties with GM, because there is absence of long-term safety testing and lack of practices in risk assessment and risk management measures. Therefore, there is little information about harmful effects of GM foods.

 As an example the European Commission funded study of Public Perceptions of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Europe (PABE), finds that the public’s reaction to GMOs has been influenced by the misassumption, and recommends that the public needs to be educated, rather than consulted. The PABE study was done in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and UK. The study concludes with the suggestions that, contrary to popular belief the public is neither for nor against GMOs, and challenges the view that there is ‘objective’ scientifically assessed risk and ‘subjective’ public perception.

The results of PABE study contradict those of the European Commission’s Eurobarometer study (1999), on public perception of biotechnology, which found that the public agreed with such statements as “GM food threatens the natural order of things,” and are generally more in favour of GM technology for medical applications than for agricultural applications.

The scientists express concern that producing and cultivating GM crops on a large scale may have major implications upon biodiversity and natural environment. The consumer survey studies recorded that consumers want GM foods labeled in developed countries, e.g. Japanese opinion poll shows that 91 per cent of Japanese consumers desire safety information on GM foods. During May 2004, 107 countries, including the European Union have ratified the Protocol to enact bio-safety laws to control GMOs.

The trend shows that consumers in developed nations have revolted against GM foods; therefore, the biotech companies are targeting the vast consumer markets of developing countries. The developing countries lack the resources needed to regulate, monitor and enforce measures to control GM crops and foods. Whatever resources they have are being channeled into ensuring food security through increased access to food. As food distribution is the priority.

People in developed world believe that hunger can be reduced by increasing food production, and that GMOs will help this to happen. But, so far, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that GMOs actually increase crop production. While the reality is that the world already produces more than enough food for everyone on Earth, and poor farmers rarely use GMO seeds.

In my opinion, with in India there are concern about the GMO and its implications. The task force at Government of India on Biodiversity and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) says that all regulatory bodies, especially the GEAC should be technically competent. In India the independent expert committee on Bt brinjal in India noted several instances of scientific inaccuracy in data reporting, breach of properly laid-out scientific protocols, improper reporting, etc. The recent experience of cattle and goat grazing of Bt cotton fields leading to mortality has become an alarming concern.   [In May 2008]