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According to Quantum mechanics truth is relative not absolute. According to philosophy of some religions too truth is relative. So I cannot say what I am saying about Genetically Modified crops is absolute truth. But I will try to be as close to truth as possible while dealing with this topic dogged by confusion, suspicion, polarised opinion and recrimination.

In a world where for every Monsanto, there will be a Vandana Shiva ( Indian activist who opposes GM crops), it is extremely difficult to come to a conclusion based on generalizations even for a scientifically literate person like me! I think case by case  study of the whole process of Genetically modified foods is important because one GM crop might differ from another, one experiment might differ from another and one cause (commercial) might differ from another (feeding the hungry) .

There are several theories, both for and against GM foods and crops. Both supporters and skeptics are trying their best to push forward what they believe in as truth. But broad statements about the value or risks from genetically modified organisms are pretty much useless, according to experts. The details matter more. It is necessary to understand the cultural, social and psychological roots of reactions to GM.

The truth is we need Biotechnology to feed the nearly 11 billion  people that are going to walk on this planet Earth in the decades to come.  To meet that challenge, we need every tool at our disposal: biotech, non-biotech, organic, conventional, local, regional, national and global.  Yes, we need to improve storage and distribution systems. But still after putting  efficient systems in place, we still fall short of required targets. So we cannot completely dismiss GM food. Moreover, benefits such as reduced pesticide use and its ecological impact cannot be ignored. In developing countries like India, where malnutrition and vitamin deficiency cause severe illnesses, complete banning of these GM crops like yellow rice is highly controversial (5,6)- oh, yes, some people say eating carrots is better than eating costly yellow rice). Starvation causes several hundred deaths globally every year, in large part because of malnutrition. Nobody has ever died directly because of GMO's. This is a fact! And some of the anti-GM studies are incomplete and inconclusive (4). Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 20 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA (7). More than two-thirds of foods sold in the United States involve some GM product, estimates suggest, without any bad consequences. Even cattle fed on GM crop residues didn't show any side effects during various studies (8). We now have a large set of data, both experimental and observational, showing that genetically modified feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. In the past 20 years, around 1,200 scientific studies, the "vast majority" of which were published in journals that have no financial ties to the food or agriculture industries, make the case for mainstream use of GMO's in food.There does not appear to be any health risk to the animals, and it is even less likely that there could be any health effect on humans who eat those animals. Majority of the scientists agree with this logic. A recent poll from the Pew Foundation found that nearly 90% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – one of the world’s largest science bodies – have concluded that, based on increasingly mounting evidence, GM food is perfectly safe (9). And they think that people who disregard two decades of scientific research for some feel-good factor, are falling prey for a psuedo-scientific myth!

If you are taking insulin, odds are it's from GMO bacteria. And it's saving lives.

Medicines for other deadly diseases like malaria too are being developed by using GM modified yeast (13).

Genetically modified male cabbage moths feasting on the cabbage ( which carry a gene designed to kill progeny they sire with wild female moths )  are being used in the US to keep the agriculture pests in control and to restrict the use of harmful pesticides ( 14). 

The same people who are against GM food are perfectly willing to inject themselves with genetically engineered insulin if they are diabetics or genetically moleculed antibodies if they have lymphoma. What an irony!

Watch this video to know how genetically modified microbes can be used to clean up oil spills and plastic wastes:

Research shows that, ecologically, certain GMOs can have less than desirable impacts. But many effects can be predicted and worked around. GM salmon, for example, run the risk of interbreeding with native salmon of the North America. That’s why they are being raised in tanks far from salmon streams. Strict regulation of each proposed GM product — examining the details of its impacts — can be an effective way to deal with the potential risks. Another detail to consider in assessing risks is how they compare with benefits, such as the potential to increase large numbers of people’s food supplies and improve their health.

Humans have been genetically modifying foods through selective breeding for more than 10,000 years. Were it not for these original genetically modified organisms—and today's more engineered GMOs designed for resistance to pathogens and herbicides and for better nutrient profiles—the planet could sustain only a tiny fraction of its current population. Golden rice, for example, was modified to enhance vitamin A levels, in part, to help Third World children with nutritional deficiencies that have caused millions to go blind.

Natural mutations are occurring all over the world since living beings came into existence. When once the green revolution started, human beings started to produce good quality products by manipulating gene pools. There is nothing new in this. But commercialization of Agriculture has created some problems in recent times.

When there is some sort of genetic modifications occurring naturally as well as through artificial manipulations since ages why do people still fear and hate GM food and crops?

In a recent New Yorker article, Maria Konnikova returned to an explanation for these gut reactions that has been around at least since the early efforts at genetic engineering in the 1970s: The idea that fear and distrust of GMOs is based on ancient intuitive (but sometimes illog...

Psychologists have long observed, according to this article, that there is a continuum in what we perceive as natural or unnatural. As the psychologist Robert Sternberg wrote in 1982, the natural is what we find more familiar, while what we consider unnatural tends to be more novel—perceptually and experientially unfamiliar—and complex, meaning that more cognitive effort is required to understand it. The natural is seen as inherently positive; the unnatural is not. And anything that involves human manipulation is considered highly unnatural—like, say, G.M.O.s, even though genetically modified food already lines the shelves at grocery stores. As Michael Specter put it, “The history of agriculture is the history of humans breeding seeds and animals to produce traits we want in our crops and livestock.”

Therefore Ms Konnikova  points out that familiarity breeds the opposite of contempt. She takes the Enlightenment view that time is on the side of what she calls “increased rationality.” I do agree that familiarity will be a powerful dampener of Unreasoning Fear of GMOs. And we must realize that that people in some parts of the world are already eating lots of GM foods (espcially in the US) with no ill effects or  very insignificant  ones - at least till now!

Stefaan Blancke and his colleagues in their paper (10) titled "Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition" argue that people tend to rely on intuitive reasoning, instead of critical one to make a judgment on GMOs. This intuitive reasoning includes folk biology, teleological and intentional intuitions and disgust. Anti-GMO activists have exploited intuitions successfully to promote their cause. Intuitive judgments steer people away from sustainable solutions. According to them negative representations of GMOs are widespread and compelling because they are intuitively appealing. By tapping into intuitions and emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, but are constituent of any normally functioning human mind, such representations become easy to think. They capture peoples' attention, they are easily processed and remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted and becoming popular, even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs, in part, because it just makes sense that they would pose a threat.
The solution, say the researches, lies in education starting from a young age and specifically targeted at tackling common misconceptions might immunize the population against unsubstantiated anti-GMO messages. Other concerns can be addressed and discussed in the wider context of agricultural practices and the place of science and technology in society. However, for now, the best way to turn the tide and generate a more positive public response to GMOs is to play into people’s intuitions as well. For instance, emphasizing the benefits of current and future GM applications — improved soil structures because herbicide resistant crops require less or no tilling, higher income for farmers in developing countries, reduced vitamin A deficiency, virus and drought resistance, to name a few — might constitute the most effective approach to changing people’s minds. Given the benefits and promises of GM technology, such a change is much needed.

Fears about the environmental impact of GM organisms is the most important explanation people give for refusing GM crops. The other was fears about GM organisms in the human food chain. And both reflect deeply held concerns about the ethics and effects of tampering with nature. This concern relates not only to the direct and immediate physical impacts of ‘tampering’, but also to a fear of unforeseen longer-term repercussions. People explicitly relate this to considering the entire ecosystem in which we live as one system — a system in which a change to one part can have unexpected impacts in others.GM generally relates to organisms used for food, particularly plants. And although genetic modification intends to create organisms that better serve various human purposes, GM in food was a major concern. As the old adage has it, we are what we eat — and in the context of worries about ‘tampering’ with nature, it seems that people worry about introducing repercussions into their own bodies.
However, Scientists are making kill switches for GMOs to address this problem! ( 11) A genetic kill switch could prevent industrial espionage and environmental contamination. Once an engineered organism completes its task, it is useful to degrade the associated DNA to reduce environmental release and protect intellectual property. An environmentally dependent method to excise particular genes and eliminate genetically modified organisms (GMOs) if they leave the lab, published on May 19 in Nature Communications (12), uses an inducible CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing system to snip out vital pieces of the E. coli genome.
The most recent published attempts at creating such a GMO “kill switch” relied on making the survival of genetically-modified bacteria dependent on synthetic amino acids that were only available under laboratory conditions. In the latest study, scientists at MIT created a system that would instead make fatal changes to the bacterial genome when triggered by a change in environmental conditions. Yes, scientists are taking the fears of people outside seriously.

People from developing countries see powerful countries, and companies which export GM organisms, as introducing danger — if not knowingly then uncaringly.
Because... they say...

The first step in genetically engineering plants, the process of cutting and splicing genes in the test tube, is precise, but subsequent steps are not. In particular, the process of inserting a genetically modified gene into the DNA of a plant cell is crude, uncontrolled, and imprecise, and causes mutations – heritable changes – in the plant’s DNA blueprint. These mutations can alter the functioning of the natural genes of the plant in unpredictable and potentially harmful ways. Other procedures associated with producing GM crops, including tissue culture, also produce mutations.

In addition to the unintended effects of mutations, there is another way in which the GM process generates unintended effects. Promoters of GM crops paint a picture of GM technology that is based on a naïve and outdated understanding of how genes work. They propagate the simplistic idea that they can insert a single gene with laser-like precision and insertion of that gene will have a single, predictable effect on the organism and its environment. But manipulating one or two genes does not just produce one or two desired traits. Instead, just a single change at the level of the DNA can give rise to multiple changes within the organism. These changes are known as pleiotropic effects. They occur because genes do not act as isolated units but interact with one another, and the functions and structures that the engineered genes confer on the organism interact with other functional units of the organism. Because of these diverse interactions, and because even the simplest organism is extremely complex, it is impossible to predict the impacts of even a single GM gene on the organism. It is even more impossible to predict the impact of the GMO on its environment – the complexity of living systems is too great.

According to scientists, when we are selecting the traits for genetic modifications, we are selecting only the beneficial ones. Even if the wild plants get these genes, they are desired qualities like disease resistance or enhanced vitamin production. We need not worry about them. In order to maintain the position that GMOs are not adequately tested, or that they are harmful or risky, you have to either highly selectively cherry pick a few outliers of low scientific quality, or you have to simply deny the science.

Read how scientists are addressing the concerns of public about GMOs and how they are disproving the false propaganda about them : Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them scientists have addressed teh...

Watch this video that wonderfully discusses all the controversies related to GM foods:

The Indian Government recently told the Supreme court of the country that GM crops are must for a country like India(1) because it could not achieve the goal of reducing the number of hungry people by half without taking recourse to genetically modified crops, which could herald the second green revolution in the country. The central government said GM crops would not only lead to increased food security but would also reduce pressure on land use. In the last 13 years, the average availability of land per head had shrunk from 0.21 hectares to 0.10 hectares. While the population had increased by 181 million in the last decade, the land under sowing remained static at 140-143 million hectares since 1970. Pitching for field trials of GM crops, the government said: "Genetic engineering promises remarkable advances in medicine, agriculture and other fields." "Ban on GM crop field trials will be highly detrimental and not in national interest," the central government said in its affidavit. In an attempt to persuade the apex court to reject the recommendation of the TEC, the central government's affidavit said: "In biotechnology and genetics, the principle sciences behind the GM crops, India has done exceedingly well in investing in HRD, education and training since 1986 with the establishment of department of biotechnology, the first country to do so globally."It added that the success of the green revolution was driven by sufficient human resources available. Making a strong plea for field trials of GM crops, the government said that "a 10-year moratorium would have a "cascading effect" of putting all the related research fields which thus far on the upswing into a decline". It added that it would be a "blow to Indian science as it would put the country 20 years back in scientific research in comparison to fast growing economies who are developing GM crops like Brazil, China etc".
But some of the experts here asked the Prime Minister of India to ban GM field trials (2). According to 256 experts in Molecular Biology, Bio-diversity, Nutrition Science, Toxicology and various other fields of science, 'There is undue haste in getting GMOs released into the environment while the science behind its development is still controversial and evolving. However, some of them say they have no objections to conducting field trials in a covered green house, the practice of conducting open field trials without the use of nets would adversely affect cross-pollination and thereby India's Biodiversity. They also pointed out most of the studies that claimed GM products as being safe were conducted by biotechnology companies that were responsible for commercializing these GM crops and that they were concerned at the major gaps in the regulatory system that needed to be addressed before it became advisable to conduct more field trials. Some of them even say "GM crops are one of the biggest scientific frauds that the biotech seed industry is pulling off on India!
Well, we heard both sides of the story and the opposite arguments. Now it is time to do thorough thinking on these aspects.
There are four things to consider before us:
(1) We cannot completely avoid GM crops and foods because we have to feed the ever increasing population of the world. Therefore shutting the doors on GM crops is not possible. Insulin production using genetically modified bacteria and other medical benefits to save lives are not things that can be ignored.
(2) Yes, Genetic Modification is not a full proof option right now for people who fear them. Most of the studies are although satisfactorily conducted they cannot conclude anything with certainty at the moment. But I think 20 years of observation that says GM products are safe is a point to ponder. Moreover, we cannot put all GM crops in one basket and say they are bad. Each case must be investigated individually and should be dealt with according to the conclusion of the studies by the experts.
(3) People express concern about humanity’s potential, through science, to be ‘out of control’. This needs to be both understood and taken into consideration in making decisions about GM. Opposition won’t just fade just because the scientific community wishes it — we need to understand and respond to it better.
(4) There are scientists who are trying some safe methods. Creating Tastier and Healthier Fruits and Veggies with a Modern Alternative to GMOs by combining traditional plant breeding with ever-faster genetic sequencing tools, researchers are making fruits and vegetables more flavorful, colorful, shapely and nutritious (ref 3). Therefore, searching for more safer foods produced by other methods is the best option till GM foods are proved to be completely safe by time (how much time do we need still?) and expertise to people who oppose them.

And after reading this article some people  asked me whether  I would eat GM foods if told that before hand. My instant answer : " Yes, I would, without any hesitation". 

2. Deccan Chronicle 22 nd Nov., 2013 Issue (article titled 'Ban GM field Trials:Experts')







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Replies to This Discussion
The Truth about Genetically Modified Food [Preview]

Proponents of genetically modified crops say the technology is the only way to feed a warming, increasingly populous world. Critics say we tamper with nature at our peril. Who is right?

By David H. Freedman
Robert Goldberg sags into his desk chair and gestures at the air. “Frankenstein monsters, things crawling out of the lab,” he says. “This the most depressing thing I've ever dealt with.”

Goldberg, a plant molecular biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, is not battling psychosis. He is expressing despair at the relentless need to confront what he sees as bogus fears over the health risks of genetically modified (GM) crops. Particularly frustrating to him, he says, is that this debate should have ended decades ago, when researchers produced a stream of exonerating evidence: “Today we're facing the same objections we faced 40 years ago.”

This article was originally published with the title Are Engineered Foods Evil?.

The vast majority of the research on genetically modified (GM) crops suggests that they are safe to eat and that they have the potential to feed millions of people worldwide who currently go hungry.
Yet not all criticisms of GM are so easily rejected, and pro-GM scientists are often dismissive and even unscientific in their rejection of the counterevidence.
A careful analysis of the risks and benefits argues for expanded deployment and safety testing of GM crops.
Time to Stop Fighting GMO Labeling?

Tabitha M. Powledge

Truth? Do we ever get such a thing when so many things are at play? Try it, Krishna! I would be glad to hear it from you!


Study Linking Genetically Modified Corn to Rat Tumors Is Retracted

Publisher withdraws paper despite authors' objections, citing weak evidence

Creating Tastier and Healthier Fruits and Veggies with a Modern Alternative to GMOs
By combining traditional plant breeding with ever-faster genetic sequencing tools, researchers are making fruits and vegetables more flavorful, colorful, shapely and nutritious

Philippine Farmers ‘Keen’ On GM Eggplants When Informed
A new book shows that when benefits such as reduced pesticide use are explained, most Filipino farmers are interested to switch to GM eggplants, even if seeds are more expensive.
The majority of eggplant farmers, the study says, had no prior knowledge of GM eggplant yet expressed an interest in adopting it when informed of its resistance to fruit and shoot borers.

But while proponents consider the GM eggplant ideal for pest management and say it is non-toxic to humans, opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMO) say otherwise.

Lorena Villareal, executive director of the NGO Alay Bayan-Luzon Inc., which is involved in advocacy work and community mobilization programs, says studies are being used to encourage farmers to the shift to GM foods, while downplaying suspected long-term impact of GMOs on health and contamination of the environment.
But Saturnina Halos, chairwoman of the Department of Agriculture’s biotechnology advisory team, says farmers are willing to adopt the GM eggplant even at a higher price as they understand this could result in significant savings on pesticides and see the potential for developing the market for the variety.

Field testing of GM eggplant has ceased in the Philippines following a court order in May 2013 upholding a petition filed by Greenpeace and other groups. The court ordered a stop to field trials of GM eggplant “in the absence of full scientific certainty that they are safe to humans and the environment”.

It used evidence from a paper published by a team led by French scientist and molecular biology professor Gilles-Eric Seralini that said that rats fed with GM maize developed cancer tumours to reach its decisions. However, Food and Chemical Toxicology journal retracted the paper in November 2013 following criticisms on the paper’s methodology by other scientists. The journal’s editor said that the results presented were “inconclusive”.

Emil Javier, president of the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines, said, “The retraction by a journal of a research study that was cited by the Philippine court for its decision to ban the GM eggplant field trials goes to show that the objection of Greenpeace, which quoted extensively the Seralini research, really has no basis.”

Extreme levels of herbicide found in GM soy: Study
Extremely high levels of the herbicide Roundup have been found in 70% of the genetically modified (GM) soybeans. This was revealed through independent research by the Arctic University of Norway which was funded by the Research Council of Norway. Back in 1999 Monsanto had claimed that residue levels of up to 5.6 mg/kg in GM-soy represent "...extreme levels, and far higher than those typically found".

The Norwegian study found levels as high as 9 milligrams per kilo on an average. Hence, by Monsanto's own definition of what is "extreme level" there is way too much of the herbicide in GM soybeans. However, the non-GM soybean and organic soybean samples did not show residues of these chemicals. What is significant is that, with the aggressive promotion of GM soybean, Roundup Ready GM soybeans constitute 75% of the total global soybean production. According to the Norwegian study, in 2011-12, in the US, GM soybean contributed about 93% of the production and even in other leading soybean producing countries like Brazil and Argentina, GM soybean accounts for 83% and 100% of production respectively. The US, Brazil and Argentina account for over 80% of the global production of soybean.

The study also pointed out that glyphosate found in Roundup formulations has been shown to interfere with molecular mechanisms that regulate early development in frogs and chickens resulting in deformities of embryos.

The Birth of the Great GMO Debate - May 2014 Issue




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