- Issues related to health.
Why Bangladesh sees golden rice as a threat
What to study?
- For Prelims: About GM crops, their production and other Genetic engineering related key facts, golden rice.
- For Mains: Concerns raised over the introduction of GM crops, arguments in favour and against.
Context: Bangladesh farmers and environment groups are angry over the government’s decision to allow commercial cultivation of the controversial genetically modified (GM) rice, popularly called as the golden rice.
What’s the issue?
Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of golden rice at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Gazipur, in early 2017. It has already allowed commercial production of BT Brinjal in the country.
- Locals fear that the introduction of golden rice will impact their traditional agriculture system.
- It is alleged that field trials were marred with controversy over the lack of transparency and credible independent safety studies. Even claims made after field trial concerns remain as on the lack of credible and independent safety studies, transparency and public participation.
- Activists fear that commercial cultivation would lead to the loss of Bangladesh’s rich bio-diversity. This could further push for public acceptance of genetically-modified crops and erode our food diversity and our local and traditional seeds, as well as increase corporate control on our agriculture system.
What is Golden rice?
In 1999, a group of European scientists led by Dr Ingo Potrykus tried to change traditional rice by developing genetically-engineered rice that contains beta-carotene — by inserting bacteria and daffodil and maize genes into it. This is the golden rice, called so because of the golden colour of its grains.
- The golden rice was introduced in 2000 and argued to be the panacea for world’s malnutrition problem. It was claimed that the rice is bio-fortified, and is supposedly high in Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc.
- It was considered as a significant breakthrough in biotechnology, with its first field trials conducted by the agriculture centre of Louisiana State University in 2004. Later, it has been claimed that field trials were conducted in the Philippines, Taiwan and Bangladesh.
What is a GM crop?
A GM or transgenic crop is a plant that has a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology.
For example, a GM crop can contain a gene(s) that has been artificially inserted instead of the plant acquiring it through pollination. The resulting plant is said to be “genetically modified” although in reality all crops have been “genetically modified” from their original wild state by domestication, selection, and controlled breeding over long periods of time.
GM is a solution to hunger problem:
- Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.
- Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards. Those in the Americas and elsewhere consuming Bt corn or soybean for over 15 years have not reported any health issues.
- Genetically modified (GM) crops can withstand pests and droughts. Genetic modification in crops involves altering a seed’s DNA in order to increase its resistance to pests and insects. These changes can mean a huge boost to productivity and overall food supply.
- Adopting technology that will lead to higher crop productivity is essential to feeding the growing Indian population.
- Higher crop yields, reduced farm costs, increased farm profit and improvement in health and the environment are some of the benefits of introducing GM crops.
There are some concerns as well:
GM food involves taking genes (DNA) from different organisms and inserting them in food crops.
- There are concerns that this ‘foreign’ DNA through Genetically Modified products may lead to risks such as toxicity, allergic reactions, and nutritional and unintended impact.
- It costs people’s health and our national food and health sovereignty.
- The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India [FSSAI], the apex food regulator, has failed to curb the illegal sales of GM food.
- Its draft regulations on GM food labelling are weak and impractical to implement.
- Lack of clarity: It is clear that the technology of genetic engineering is an evolving one and there is much, especially on its impact on human health and environment that is yet to be understood properly. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this.
- There is also a potential for pests to evolve resistance to the toxins produced by GM crops and the risk of these toxins affecting nontarget organisms. There is also the danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in foods.
Mains Question: Critically analyze whether it is prudent to go the GM way for solution to the hunger problem?