A Blog Around The Clock

A new forum at World Science is up. As always, listen to the podcast first, then ask questions in the forum:

This week, India rejected what would have been the country’s first a genetically modified food crop, a transgenic eggplant.

The company that developed it, an Indian subsidiary of Monsanto, claims the crop would reduce pesticide use and boost yields. But the Indian government has decided to do independent assessments of the crop’s potential impacts on consumer health and the environment.

What does this mean for the future of GM crops in India and elsewhere? And does this technology have a role to play in feeding the world’s hungry?

We put these questions to Dr. Lisa Weasel. She’s a professor of biology at Portland State University, and the author of Food Fray: Inside the controversy of genetically modified food. She writes that GM crops are more of “a condiment than a main course” in solving the world’s food shortage.

Now it’s your turn to chat with Lisa Weasel. Join the conversation — it’s just to the right.

* Human beings have been altering plants ever since the beginning of agriculture. Why is genetic engineering any different from the older, more traditional ways of tinkering with crop varieties?

* Is there any scientific evidence of harm to human health from eating GM food?

* Why are small farmers in developing countries especially concerned about GM crops?

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    February 12, 2010

    What a silly question. How can the answer not be “yes”? The real question is whether it’s worth the price. Oh, and “what is the price? And what is the benefit?”.

    The one thing that is clear, though, is that Monsanto have worked very hard to live the role of the Evil Multinational.

  2. #2 Cynic View
    February 12, 2010

    I am surprised that the wide spread acceptance of GM foods has not yet been realised. There is a lot of hate directed at Monsanto and they really did themselves in with their bovine growth hormone products – but GM foods as a whole, and factory farming at that, cannot be dispensed as our population continues to climb.

    Population levels will match the amount of food available, and nobody wants mass-starvation/malnutrition. I think that the detractors of GM foods have to examine their source of repugnance, if there is no evidence that it is harmful, preventing a rollout would equate to destroying potential.

    As for the Indian government wishing a study, I think that that is a prudent move and cannot fault them for that. Hopefully the study would truly be independent and free of bias and the results widely published/read. If the study concludes that the modified eggplant is safe, India should start planting it.

  3. #3 Coturnix
    February 12, 2010

    Hrrrm, guys, the forums is over there – click the link. Nobody will see your comments here.

  4. #4 FoodAnthThinker
    February 12, 2010

    Response to “Cynic”:

    “…GM foods as a whole, and factory farming at that, cannot be dispensed as our population continues to climb.”

    A quick investigation into the “green revolution” in India or the “Indian suicide belt” will enlighten you into historical factors in this decision by the Indian government. With genetically modified seeds, and the corporate efforts to block seed saving, indigenous local farmers are subjected to higher prices and obligated to purchase not only GM seed, but the chemical pesticides for those crops. This is essentially industrialization via cultural genocide.

    “Population levels will match the amount of food available, and nobody wants mass-starvation/malnutrition.”

    Absolutely false: there is 3500 Kcal of food produced everyday, for every person in the world. Starvation/malnutrition is a result of food waste and political/economic inefficiencies.

    It is foolhardy to prop up an agenda of globalization and corporate profiteering that Monsanto advocates under the context of resources for exponential population growth. Monsanto preaches sustainability in their mass-marketing “green-wash”, but are very far from real environmental, economic or equitable sustainability. I agree, we do have to be very critical (“repugnant”?) about long-term potential harms from GMO crops, but to do this by riding into the sunset on the shoulders of multi-national corporate plundering is incredibly irresponsible. Do you think the internal testing performed by Monsanto accounts for any long-term consequences to humans? This is an impossibility, given the time frame of their testing, and and the ethical implications of testing on humans. Even the former head of India’s Monsanto subsidiary agrees that independent testing should be performed http://www.tehelka.com/story_main43.asp?filename=Ne200210go_aheads.asp , yet Monsanto pushes ahead steadfast, propelled by the ever-burning fuel of profit.

    If the crops produce more food, that is wonderful. The real question is, what are the real long-term (several generation +) effects of humans consuming GMO foods? What are the long term effects, not only on the ecosystem, but on the worlds floral genome? The scientific evidence is not there, because it takes longer than 10 years to investigate evolutionary blips of this sort. This is uncharted territory – and I am afraid that we may learn the hard way about the consequences of fooling with an immensely established system that we are directly related to and a part of: nature.

    “Cynic”: Be critical, investigative, questioning: be anthropological; not cynical. Your rhetoric almost suggests that you’re on the payroll of Monsanto…

  5. #5 Louis B.
    February 13, 2010

    Technology is not neutral.

    Far from being the solution to Third World hunger, GM crops were designed from the beginning for the kind of industrial, export-based agriculture that benefited colonial land-grabbers and urban elites rather than the hungry. Supposed “high-yielding” seeds only do so in the most favourable conditions- those prevailing on the big agribusiness plantations and not on the crappy land most third world farmers are accustomed to.

    Look, if Rama Patel want to grow Mosanto Mutant Eggplant 3000, I don’t think the Indian government should be stopping him. But it’s not gonna feed the world.

  6. #6 stripey_cat
    February 13, 2010

    Or we could go back to the traditional forms of agriculture: human-labour-intensive, but needing low inputs of oil, and capable of feeding more people per acre.

  7. #7 Coturnix
    February 13, 2010

    Guys – take it to the forum there. No use commenting here.