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Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Nov 2, 2009.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Uber Gene


    The government regulator gives a go-ahead to India’s first genetically modified food. SAMRAT CHAKRABARTI investigates why Bt brinjal should be kept far away from our plates

    OVER THE last few weeks, a fierce debate has erupted across India over an unlikely object: the humble brinjal. The government is on the verge of approving genetically modified (GM) brinjal for commercial cultivation. India could soon be one of the world’s first countries to allow the direct sale for human consumption of a GM crop. The government body tasked with telling us whether GM foods are safe, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) feels that the crop in question — known as Bt brinjal — is safe for you and your family to cook, eat and enjoy. The pro-Bt brinjal lobby says that its needed since it will decrease chemical-use in agriculture and reduce crops lost to pests.

    However, there is another view, espoused by farmer leaders, scientists and people within the Planning Commission. This constituency says that Bt brinjals are ticking time bombs that could cause cancer, Parkinson’s disease and a resistance to medicines. The Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, with whose ministry the final decision lies, states that a decision will be made only after deliberations with all stakeholders concerned.

    At the heart of the debate concerning GM food lies the technology of Genetic Engineering (GE). It allows us to tinker with life itself, taking a characteristic from one creature — such as a bacteria or fish — and transplanting it to another completely different creature, such as a plant. This is done to give the recipient an ability it did not earlier have. Bt brinjals have had a gene from a particular bacteria transplanted inside them. This has been done to make the lowly baigan secrete a toxin (also found in a commercial pesticide) to kill an insect called the shoot borer that commonly afflicts brinjals.

    While the pro-GM lobby touts this process as an exacting one, there are several inherent dangers. First, the “improved” baigan is a creature that generates pesticide within itself – pesticide that cannot be washed away by rinsing the vegetable under a tap. Second, while the pesticide in question breaks down in direct sunlight over days, with Bt brinjal, the pesticide is contained within the vegetable, safe from sunlight. What’s more, while a baigan farmer can choose to reduce the amount of pesticide he sprays on a particular field, high amounts of pesticide are generated within the vegetable itself, over which there can be no human control.

    Sold 6,000 tonnes of toxic waste to fertiliser companies in the US which contained cadmium, believed to cause cancer, kidney disease, neurological dysfunction and birth defects

    Bribed at least 140 Indonesian officials or their families to get Bt cotton approved without an environmental impact assessment
    Sued in the US for allegedly supplying radioactive material for a controversial study which involved feeding radioactive iron to 829 pregnant women

    Hid toxicity from its waste dumping in the US, despite the discovery that fish dunked in the local water died within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shredding skin

    Guilty, according to an Alabama court, for the above on six counts: negligence, wantoness, supression of truth, nuisance, trespass and outrage
    Refused to reveal results of its safety studies, until forced to do so by a German court, which subsequently revealed serious abnormalities in rats fed on GM corn
    [​IMG] Prof Dave Schubert at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies sums up the sharp concern over GM crops. The first: GM crops have an ability to produce toxins, carcinogens and even teratogens – chemicals that cause birth defects. This is the result of uncontrolled events that occur when any GM plant is created, which can cause them to create chemicals they never normally make — with completely unpredictable consequences. According to Schubert, even highly toxic compounds — many of which are known to cause cancer or Parkinson’s disease — could be created.

    Schubert is not alone. He is part of a growing chorus within the international scientific community, including Prof Ignacio Chapella of UC Berkeley, Prof Barry Commoner of the City University of New York, Dr Arpad Pusztai, formerly with the Rowett Research Institute, and Dr PM Bhargava, founding director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, who all agree that GE technology today poses a grave risk to human, animal and ecological safety. The risks they warn of are longterm ones that could take years to flower into deadly consequences.

    The way to effectively screen for such risks is what is called long-term feeding studies. An example would be to take at least 50 rats and feed them GM food over several generations for at least 10 years and examine what illnesses or symptoms they develop.

    India’s GEAC, the oversight body charged with certifying GM food as risk free has conducted no such study. It has, instead, satisfied itself with the study done by none other than the creator and manufacturer of Bt brinjal seeds, Mahyco. For a country of over a billion people, instead of studying 50 rats, they studied just 10. Instead of studying the effects of GM food on them for generations, they studied them for all of three months. In short, this was a test that was designed to not throw up any worrying findings.

    The GEAC is unfazed. “There is no concrete proof that Bt brinjal is dangerous,” said Dr Arjula Reddy, GEAC’s co-chairman to TEHELKA. When asked if there was any proof Bt brinjal was safe, he replied, “What we require is long-range research done over many years. That does not exist (for Bt brinjal).” Then why give the clearance if the required research is absent? “All the approved protocols by the government has been fulfilled by the developers and the public institutions [that participated in the safety assessment].”
    DAVE SCHUBERT, Salk Institute of
    Biological Studies

    THESE REQUIRED studies have been done on other GM crops by other, less blithe safety watchdogs – with alarming results. In November 2008, a study commissioned by the Austrian government found that rats fed on GM corn had reduced fertility after just four generations. Another study from Australia done over the required 10 years on GM peas showed that the GM diet led to serious allergic reactions in rats.

    Another danger is Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). HGT is a natural phenomenon where a gene from one species finds its way into another. With GM crops, the modified gene inserted into the plant can find its way, through HGT, into other species of plants, animals or microbes: So for instance, if the gene that produces the toxin inside the brinjal was to find its way into the natural bacteria that live in our bellies, you too could become a pesticide factory, an unpaid (and unwilling) franchisee of Mahyco. And if the antibioticresistant gene inside the Bt brinjal were to transfer itself into you, then you would become resistant to antibiotic medicines, something a brinjal farmer may want for his brinjals, but perhaps not for himself.

    Dr Gilles-Eric Seralini, a molecular biologist from Caen University, in his critique of the biosafety data provided by Mahyco, states that Mahyco’s claim that antibiotic resistance would not spread was not based on proof obtained from a welldesigned experiment and was hence scientifically invalid. Seralini was one of four senior international scientists chosen to separately review the bio-safety data provided by Mahyco. All four, including Judy Carman, director, Institute of Health and Environment Research, Doug Gurian- Sherman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Jack Heinemann from the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety slammed the Mahyco study, calling it “unprofessional,” “without proof,” “inconsistent,” and “scientifically invalid”.

    [​IMG]‘The GEAC hasn’t got one reliable experiment. Their decisions are not based on science’
    P M BHARGAVA, Founding Director, CCMB
    In 2005, environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues and others filed a PIL in the Supreme Court against GM crops, arguing that the regime for certifying GM crops as safe for use was not comprehensive or transparent. In early 2007, the apex court granted the petitioners’ request that the Mahyco data accepted by GEAC (and referred to above) be made public. After much reluctance, under threat of a contempt of court charge, Mahyco complied in August 2008.

    Dr Bhargava, a scientist whom the Supreme Court appointed to observe the functioning of GEAC in February 2008, states, “[GEAC] haven’t got a single reliable experiment. First, all tests were done by Mahyco on samples provided by Mahyco – with no independent verification. [Wherever] an independent body did the test, Mahyco provided the samples, and so the data cannot be trusted. Second, all the tests are short-term toxicity studies; not a single long-term study has been done though many health risks associated with this technology are chronic (long term) in nature. Third, many required tests have simply not been done. It is known that [transplanting genes from different species] leads to a much higher rate of mutation, leading to increased chances of cancer. There are many ways to test this but none of them have been conducted.”

    When contacted, Mahyco claimed that it had done everything scientifically possible to determine the safety of Bt brinjal and went on to say that it was confident that its research on the biosafety of Bt brinjal would be eligible for publication by a recognised scientific journal.

    [​IMG]‘Is India prepared to allow its government to mortgage its food security and health for all time?
    ARUNA RODRIGUES, Environmentalist
    Dr SB Dongre, member of GEAC and Expert Committee (EC) on Bt brinjal and representative from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, insisted that comments be sought only from the chairman of the GEAC. Dr Vasantha Muthuswamy, GEAC member, EC member and formerly with the Indian Council of Medical Research, also refused comment.

    If we cannot trust our own regulatory body, is there any other we can trust? What about the US? Almost 90 percent of the corn grown in the US is GM corn; the technology was invented there. Perhaps one can trust their regulations? Not so. All GM corn grown in the US is for feeding cattle and is not tested for human safety. The US grows no GM food for direct human consumption.

    [​IMG] Rising tide Protests outside the Environment Ministry during a GEAC meeting So what is the nature of Mahyco, which is trusted so implicitly by the GEAC? One of India’s largest seed companies, US agribusiness and GE giant Monsanto acquired a 26 percent stake in Mahyco in 1998. Monsanto sold genetic engineering technology to Mahyco, which used it to develop Bt brinjal. Rodrigues says that Monsanto is getting increasingly involved in funding the Indian agricultural research establishment through channels such as the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project-II (ABSPII) a public-private consortium of which Monsanto is a partner. Two Indian institutes in particular, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural Research University and the University of Agricultural Science, Dharwad, have been receiving large amounts of funds from the ABSP-II. These institutions are stalwart votaries of GM technologies and have been involved in the “impartial” tests and field trials of GM crops.

    MONSANTO IS a name one encounters the most in the context of GM organisms. It is an agri-biotech behemoth with legendary clout in Washington, but also a company with one of the world’s worst environment, health and ethical records. Dr Bhargava states, “What I have found most painful is that [GEAC] assumed that everything that Monsanto says is God’s own word and any challenge to Monsanto’s claims should be ignored. There is so much scientific literature that’s critical of GE crops but I haven’t seen a single such work discussed [by the GEAC]. Their decisions are not based on science.” A Monsanto spokesperson stated that no question of regulatory bias existed, as products from both the public and private sector undergo the same regulatory scrutiny, adding, “We have great confidence in the Indian regulatory system.”

    Do we need Bt brinjal from a food security standpoint? No. We produce so much brinjal that the state buys a significant amount just to keep prices from crashing. And there are chemical-free alternatives like biopesticides. When an AP government project can successfully grow 20 lakh acres of crops (including brinjal) without using a single drop of pesticide, is it prudent to accept the hurried certification given to an unproven technology that can bear such bitter fruit?

    Forwarded by member Tejwant Singh ji Malik
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