Thursday April 26, 2018 01:24 PM

GMOs: Key to ending starvation or another cash cow for MNCs?

GMOs: Key to ending starvation or another cash cow for MNCs?
Photo:Mahmud Hossain Opu

'I ask this: How many children must suffer before this anti-GMO propaganda is called out for being what it is – a crime against humanity?'

Though developed countries stand against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for specific political and economic reasons, it is an effective tool to prevent starvation and deficiency diseases in developing countries like Bangladesh, said Nobel Laureate Sir Richard John Roberts.

Speaking at a public lecture held at North South University in Dhaka on Wednesday, Dr Roberts said: “While millions of people in the developing countries go to bed hungry, GMOs seem to be imperative for them to fight against starvation and malnutrition. It can improve crop production and remarkably enhance the nutritional value of those same harvests.”

The practice of improving crops through genetic engineering has been much debated globally for more than two decades.

Supporters term GMOs as the key to ending food crises and malnutrition worldwide. According to some scientists, modern genetic engineering makes producing GMO food products relatively easy and more effective than traditional breeding. Agriculture would thereby become more sustainable as crop yields would increase.

In support of using GMOs, Dr Roberts explained: “The European politicians have deemed biotech crops too unsafe for their compatriots to consume – despite the fact that the rest of the world has been eating them for years with no discernible adverse consequences. What is worse, these politicians are spreading this alarmist message to the developing countries that desperately need the benefits GMO foods offer to feed malnourished populations. I ask this: How many children must suffer before this anti-GMO propaganda is called out for being what it is – a crime against humanity?”

Those in opposition of GMOs are afraid the crops will be detrimental to both humans and the environment, affect biodiversity of the land, violate the existing Genetic Engineering Policy and force farmers to buy seeds from multinationals.

This became apparent when, on October 30, 2013, Bt Brinjal, (also known as eggplant, begun, or aubergine), a genetically modified food crop was approved by the National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) in Bangladesh for limited scale cultivation by farmers, and was then claimed as the intellectual property of controversial American seed giant Monsanto who produced nine strains of the genetically modified seeds, which meant that they would have to be paid royalties for every use of the Bt Brinjal.

Around the same time, a test conducted by the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, titled the Safety Testing Guideline for Genetically Modified Organisms, stated: “There is accumulating evidence of potential adverse effects of GM plants producing Cry proteins, and there is documented peer-reviewed evidence that feeding trials which regulators have been relying upon were inappropriately designed to reduce uncertainty about the safety of using these crops as food.”

What it comes down to is, despite Dr Roberts’ assurance that Bangladesh desperately needs GMOs to fight starvation and malnutrition, GMOs could still be threat for Bangladesh: instead of benefiting farmers and consumers, the real winners will be big corporations.

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