Should we grow GM crops?

To hide her nakedness, India has borrowed a ‘fig leaf’ from U.S. regulation of genetically modified orgamisms (GMOs), i.e. in the non-regulation of these novel laboratory organisms. The U.S. invented GMOs and commercialised them despite serious safety concerns expressed by government scientists.

Problems with GMO:

  • GMOs carry risks of ‘unintended’ effects and toxicity, which confront us with a double problem: scientists don’t know what to look for, and health impacts become apparent only in the long term, such as cancer.
  • California reaffirmed last month, despite GM behemoth Monsanto’s best efforts, that its glyphosate, considered the safest herbicide, will be included in a list of chemicals labelled as “cancer-causing” (following the categorisation of glyphosate by the World Health Organization as a “probable carcinogen”).


  • There is serious concern that Monsanto may have known for 30 years that glyphosate is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor; no regulatory agency anywhere regulates for endocrine disruption despite overwhelming evidence from Argentina of horrendous birth defects because of glyphosate used in herbicide-tolerant (HT) soybeans.
  • In this context, Bayer’s glufosinate, the herbicide linked with Indian HT mustard, is an acknowledged neurotoxin banned in the EU.
  • The Supreme Court-appointed technical expert committee recommended a ban on any HT crop in India for this among several other reasons.

The current stable of GMOs comprises just two products:

  • Bt (e.g. Bt cotton) and HT crops (HT mustard), and they account for nearly 99% of GMOs planted worldwide.
  • Both, on empirical evidence (including India’s Bt cotton), are proven unsustainable technologies.
  • There are promises of GMOs with traits for disease, drought etc., but these are complex, multi-gene traits and remain futuristic. 


  • Globally and in India, the conflict of interest is pernicious: our regulatory institutions/ministries are funders, promoters, developers and regulators, a fine blend of multitasking. There is neither independence nor rigour.
  • We must learn from the lessons of the history of hazardous technologies, DDT, asbestos, etc. But GMOs, critically, stand apart from these.
  • GMOs are self-replicating organisms and genetic contamination of the environment, of non-GM crops and wild species through gene flow is certain: it cannot be contained, reversed, remedied or quantified. Our seed stock will also be contaminated at the molecular level.
  • Any toxicity that there is will remain in perpetuity. The traits for disease, saline and drought resistance, yield, etc. are found in nature, not biotech labs.
  • We must maintain India’s still-rich genetic diversity for the future of our agriculture.


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