THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Of all the scientists, activists and engineers who spoke at the national seminar on genetically modified crops organised by the Institution of Engineers here on Saturday, it was former Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran who left the audience in awe.
In his fluid, easy yet forceful speech, Mullakkara presented his views on why GM crops should not be permitted in a biodiversity-rich country like India. Comparing nature to a bowl that creates food for mankind, Mullakkara said that it was the duty of the human beings to protect that bowl from destruction.
“We are a country that led the world with our vision. We are a country that worshipped nature. What was here in the environment for our forefathers and for us should be preserved for the coming generations too. How can we, who live for just about 50 years or so, make decisions that will negatively affect the world for generations to come?” asked Mullakkara.
The former minister who banned GM crops in the state, said GM crops goes against the ethics of nature, where organisms naturally not intended to cross, are joined together, the detrimental effects of which are still unknown. Asserting that corporate giants that sell the genetically-modified crops have no values, he raised a pertinent question whether any responsible global body like the UN would declare that GM crops are absolutely safe, without any ill-effects on human beings and the environment.
The former Minister busted the argument that GM crops are necessary for food security of the country by saying that what causes starvation is lack of a proper distribution system for what is produced on the field. “Nature produces more than enough for everyone on this planet. Man needs to learn to share whatever is produced with his fellow-beings and unless he does that, GM crops or otherwise will not help,” said Mullakkara, who also asked scientists to approach science with a love for nature, not by destroying it.
The debate, that tilted heavily in favour of those who opposed the technology, saw former KU Biotechnology head G M Nair and B R Reghunath of the College of Agriculture making a weak attempt to justify the GM technology and crops. G M Nair based his arguments on the fact that all organisms in the world share the same genetic material - the DNA and this meant that nature actually allowed for the mix of genetic material.
The DNA is chemically the same in all organisms. The difference is in the way it is organised.
The technology of genetic engineering is a marvel of technology which is very fast and precise. Mankind needs that kind of saving of time,” said G M Nair.
Citing examples of human insulin produced in bacterial cells, interferon and examples of gene therapy that created cures for cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anaemia, G M Nair talked of an ideal possible situation when no baby will be born with abnormality. “If a technological intervention can bring in human welfare, why should we shy away from it?” he asked. National convener of the Coalition for GM Free India R Sridhar asked why should anyone use a technology just because it is available, without even studying the ill-effects.
He went on to say that applying the GM technology to one organism or crop is not limited to just that organism but will have a cascading effect on a number of associated organisms and called for a better understanding of the agroecological system before using the controversial technology.
Rajesh Krishnan, campaign coordinator for Green Peace India also gave a lecture opposing GM crops.
Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment executive vice-president V N Rajasekharan Pillai called for a detailed study into the ill-effects of the technology. Kuttanad package special officer V Ganesan was the moderator.