Yes, there’s been so much said about GMO & Genetically Modified crops all around the world. What does this really mean for us and our future? What can we do about it?
Let us first begin by defining genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are organisms whose DNA has been ‘modified’ in a way that does not occur naturally. Genetically modified foods therefore refer to food that comes from organisms that have been genetically modified by methods of genetic engineering. (image – http://www.eco-business.com)
So where do companies like Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta fit in? Well these companies have a dire interest to control the global food industry by producing and selling/patenting genetically altered seeds (mostly corn, soy, cotton, papaya, canola). Many bio-tech and seeds companies in the world want us to believe that GMOs are perfectly safe, increase productivity thereby making farmers happy, are nutritious and so on. Sadly, none of this is true.
Studies show that genetically modified foods can be toxic, allergenic and basically very harmful for human health (read here). In fact the book Genetic Roulette, has overwhelming evidence to support this claim. Studies that claim GM foods are nutritious are mostly industry based research papers that therefore tend to be biased. GM crops also do not reduce energy use and are typically energy hungry crops.
There have been numerous claims that GM seeds help increase the yield potential and therefore beneficial to farmers. Studies however have proven otherwise. GM crops have at best shown to have the same yield as their non GM counterparts or lesser.
Genetically modified crops therefore are no good for the farmers, consumers or the environment. The one and only beneficiary of this hazardous technology are – the hungry corporates. To make matters worse, the food regulations in most parts of the world are too weak to protect the consumers from the hazards of GM crops and foods. Therefore, the issue of GM labeling is now gaining traction. Billions of people around the world are echoing similar concerns on the lines of – Since we don’t have the right to choose what goes into our foods ,we DEMAND the right to know what goes into our foods (and thereby choose not to pick it up). And therein began the uprisings of ‘March against Monsanto’. This movement was founded in the United States and has gained humongous popularity throughout the world. As of May 2014, 400 cities in 52 countries joined this march.
On 1st January 2013, India joined a select group of countries where genetically modified goods need to be labeled. Here is a brief snapshot of the status of GM labeling in the rest of the world. (www.dailymail.uk)
Meanwhile, in the US, the grocery stores do have a numeric code printed on the stickers of fruits and vegetables. Please be aware that any code beginning with 8 is genetically modified. The canned, boxed, and processed foods section are yet to be labeled and the fight is still on.
The curious case of India
GM labeling in India has come with its own set of challenges. Firstly, the fruits and vegetables retail sector in India is largely unorganized and monitoring GM labeling in this sector is a mammoth task. For most of the population (including urban crowd), sabzi mandis remain the primary source of fruit and vegetable shopping. For people who go to supermarkets and grocery stores, please be aware that a sticker with a code – ‘GM’ means genetically modified, and you have the choice to NOT pick this up. It is believed that due to lack of planning and consumer communication for the GM labeling initiative, many ignorant consumers misread the GM as gram.
A grave problem on the national level is the fact that many farmers’ suicides and debts are linked to these seeds companies patenting the farmers’ seeds. Through the process of patenting seeds, companies collect ‘rent’ from the farmers who are the original breeders. Productivity of GM crops, as stated above, is not better than non GM counterparts and farmers are left with rising debts.
Seeds of hope
Vandana Shiva, is a philosopher and an environmental activist who is currently leading a great initiative against genetic modification of crops. She is the founder of http://www.navdanya.org and has created community seed banks with indigenous seeds and helped farmers go organic. No GMO seeds, no debt, no suicides.
Meanwhile, there are other great initiatives and projects in India which help consumers identify if the food they purchase is genetically modified. Here are few examples of websites that can help you with this:
Initiatives like this by people and organizations help raise some hope of a GMO free future which is healthier, greener and that resonates with a democratic and free to choose country!