GM foods put French agro into `nostalgia'
Hindu Business Line
THERE are many reasons for the French society to distrust
genetically-modified foods, but hardly any of them is based on strong
scientific argument, according to Dr. Guy Sorman, Advisor to the
President of France.
Sharing his understanding of the French experience at a workshop on GMOs
at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) recently, Dr. Sorman
said partly the strong reaction against GM crops stemmed from the
animosity against Americanism and the large US-based MNCs controlling this
``We are in an era of nostalgia,'' he observed. There is a strong charm
for traditional French agriculture and foods. GM crops are seen to be
Science, as well as scientists, do not have a good reputation in Western
Europe. Science is associated with the nuclear bomb, which the French
society does not like to remember. Due to this connection, scientific
reassurance on the safety of GM food does not carry conviction with it.
Then there is the lack of an ideological debate, he said. Gone are the
days of debate between Soviet socialism and capitalism. ``Everybody now is
middle of the road, and genomics has replaced our ideological debate,'' he
The people and the corporations in favour of genomics have been accused
of not having proved that this technology is the only alternative to
increase the productivity of conventional agriculture, he added.
However, the strongest reason why the GMO debate flared in France is due
to the Mad Cow Disease. There is a general feeling that the disease came
from animal food. This has created the anxiety whether there is a risk of
transmitting diseases to the consumers.
``The scientists did not come with an answer to what caused the disease,
and this has reduced people's trust on GM food,'' Dr. Sorman said
Whether in France, Western Europe or India, GM crops have raised many a
debate. Some of the views found expression at the MSSRF workshop.
Putting the matter into perspective Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman MSSRF,
said that there are two challenges for Indian agriculture. There will be
an increasing need to produce more from smaller land. Second is to
increase the marketability surplus for small farmers so that they can get
This would mean increasing productivity to 14 tonnes per hectare. Only
biotechnology holds the promise for this.
However, the technology also raises certain issues, he said. These are
issues of bioethics, biosafety, food safety and consumer choice.
Dr. C.S. Prakash, Director of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology
Research, Tuskegee University, said that transgenic plants go through far
more safety and environmental testing than the earlier crops.
``An insistence on extreme precautionary principle by societies can deny
the benefit of these products,'' he said.
Dr. Swapan Dutta from the International Rice Research Institute said that
the efforts at mapping various crop genomes holds much promise. The genome
map will lead to bioinformatics, genetic technology and improved crops.
However, ultimately it has to be chosen by farmers and has to pass the
Dr. Calestous Juma from the Centre for International Development of
Harvard University, said that if the developing countries missed out on
reaping the benefit from the genomic research then they will find
themselves on the poorer side of the genetic divide.
However, if these countries did not have policy level action to bridge
social inequalities then the new technological tool may even aggravate it.
Biotechnology is scale neutral, felt Dr. P.K. Ghosh of the Indian
Department of Biotechnology. These seeds will perform as well in a small
plot as in a large farm. So they in themselves will not add inequity
between the large and small farmers.
The developmental journalist, Mr. P. Sainath, said that GMOs are being
pushed by large corporations. As the power of these corporations have
grown so have the inequalities in the world. So much so that three of the
largest global corporations have turnover more than the combined GDP of
more than 40 least
``This is an era of market fundamentalism,'' he said. There is a mistaken
notion that the market will fix everything.
The environmental writer, Mr. Darryl D'Monte, said that the entire GMO
discussion raised strong ethical questions. Corporations involved with GM
foods wanted to make profit from food, which is the basic requirement of
Developing nations should formulate policies on gene revolution -- Experts
Chennai: The developing nations will face a `genetic divide' unless they
formulated appropriate policies to become genuine partners in the ongoing
gene revolution, which is embarking upon sequencing of human and other
genomes, according to experts. Speaking at a National workshop on gene
revolution here on Friday, they said the sequencing of human, animal,
plant and microbial genomes was certain to cause a serious `genetic
divide' that will separate those with the capacity to use information
derived from sequencing of genomes and others. "The genetic divide is sure
to be much wider than the digital divide that followed the Information
revolution unless the developing countries placed technological innovation
at the core of their development strategies," Harward University director
of science (technology and innovation programme) Calestous Juma said.
Juma and a host of other experts also called for placing of DNA sequence
data in the public domain so that all those who were interested in using
such data for researches beneficial to the people. Presently only a small
number of developing countries could make use of such data and more work
was needed in these
countries to promote local capacity in scientific and technical research,
it was pointed out.
The experts also highlighted the need for a fundamental view of the role
of universities and their relationship with government, industry and civil
society to benefit from the genomics revolution. "Science must find its
proper and central place in society so that each country could make best
use of the DNA sequence data that are available," the experts said.
Concern was also expressed on whether the poor sections of the society
would once again be excluded from being benefitted by the outcome of the
gene revolution as had happened with the green revolution which, according
to some participants, benefitted only the rich farmers. Well conceived
policy initiatives and legislative measures at National levels to avoid
Guy Sorman, advisor to french President, in his presentation, said that
the public associated genomics with multinationals and USA with the result
that there was an ongoing global war of words against genomics and a
widespread hostility. "This was perhaps due to the fact that there are no
more ideological or political debates in the present globalised scenario,"
Sorman also said that at the same time it was also true that the leaders
of the gene revolution and scientists spearheading it had failed to
counter this notion through the media with convincing arguments. Later
there was an interaction with the experts and mediapersons which was
moderated by Frontline editor, N Ram. The workshop was organised by the MS
Swaminathan foundation here.