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Thought for food

(Sunday, April 4, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Devinder Sharma op-ed in Times of India, 04/01/04: Opinion is divided on whether genetic engineering and genetically modified (GM) crops offer a solution to hunger in the developing countries. Devinder Sharma , a visiting fellow at the International Rice Research Institute and Cambridge University, tells Aditi Kapoor that GM technology will not make food cheaper or more nutritious for the South:

Will GM food reduce hunger in developing countries like India ?

If hunger could be addressed by techno-logy, green revolution would have done it long ago. The fact is that hunger has grown in India in absolute terms ó some 320 million people go to bed hungry every night. Two years back, India had a record foodgrain surplus of 65 million tonnes. If 65 million tonnes surplus could not feed the 320 million hungry, how will GM food remove hunger? In reality, GM food diverts precious financial resources to an irrelevant research, comes with stronger intellectual property rights, and is aimed at strengthening corporate control over agriculture.

But what about malnutrition? Crops like golden rice can help remove blindness.

This again is the result of misplaced thinking. There are 12 million people in India who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. These people primarily live in food deficit areas or are marginalised. These are people who cannot buy their normal requirement of food, including rice. If they were adequately fed, there would be no malnutrition. If the poor in Kalahandi, for instance, canít buy rice that lies rotting in front of their eyes, how will they buy golden rice?

Then why is the Indian government experimenting with GM crops and foods?

For two reasons: First, India is under tremendous pressure from the biotechnology industry to allow GM crops. These companies have the financial resources to mobilise scientific opinion as well as political support. Second, agricultural scientists are using biotechnology as a Trojan horse. With nothing to show by way of scientific breakthrough in the past three decades, GM research will ensure livelihood security for the scientists. What GM crops and food items is India experimenting with?

Besides cotton, genetic engineering experiments are being conducted on maize, mustard, sugarcane, sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea, rice, tomato, brinjal, potato, banana, papaya, cauliflower, oilseeds, castor, soyabean and medicinal plants. Experiments are also underway on several species of fish. In fact, such is the desperation that scientists are trying to insert Bt gene into any crop they can lay their hands on, not knowing whether this is desirable or not.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/593215.cms