Please note: After several successful years, the Open Minds blog will be closing. For further details, please visit our FAQ

Currently showing: Food security > GMOs

07 Jan 14 16:55

A lot of the debate in emerging markets such as India is around the pros and cons of GM food. While the improvements in yield and quality due to GM is well documented, what is often overlooked is the ingenious ways in which GM can counter prevalent health risks.

Attached herewith is a link to an interesting piece on Golden Rice - rice infused with Vitamin A, to prevent night blindness and other such ailments.

While I am in no way discounting potential risks of GM (alien species/ incompatibility/ increase in disease incidences), can one afford to continue to ignore GM completely?

What's the way forward? I'd love to hear your perspectives...

Forbes India Magazine - Can a Hungry World Say No to GM Crops and Still Have Food Security?

The world is running low on food. Can we afford to reject GM crops out of hand?

Category: Food security: Gmos

Location: Worldwide


Rashunda Tramble - 8 Jan 2014, 8:15 a.m.

There are many, many issues that affect food security. My reply is not exactly on the subject, but I think the article misses one point: the world may be "running low on food," but lack of infrastructure and distribution are big factors. Yes, GMOs may have benefits, but if the crops rot in storehouses, what's the point? In my opinion, whether we use GMOs or not is a topic to be taken up later in the argument. Working out exactly *how* to get food to people should be addressed first.

Sidharth Srinivasan - 8 Jan 2014, 9:11 a.m.

That's a fair point Rashunda - we need to improve our distribution systems to ensure that grain reaches those who need it the most.

The article, however, points to some tangential benefits of GM food - in this case, tackling preventible diseases like night blindness (which affects more than 200 million people worldwide) through the Vit. A infused 'Golden Rice.'

Given the amenability of GM technologies to deliver remarkable variants such as Golden Rice, what do you see as a potential policy roadmap?

Furthermore, given how inter-connected global food systems are, can we afford to have a piece-meal, country specific policy approach to GM foods or should they be globally regulated?

Rashunda Tramble - 8 Jan 2014, 12:11 p.m.

Thanks for understanding my rant.:-) Okay, back on topic: I'm not sure if there is a way to globally regulate GM tech...the system would become bloated under so much bureaucracy that no real meaningful policies would emerge. I think countries should be allowed to decide regulations based on their own needs, but even that in itself is a loaded issue: bodies such as the FDA are perhaps prone to making decisions, whether subliminally or on purpose, based on politics.

As for the use of Golden Rice itself, Montagu makes an extremely good argument. I can't find any holes. But since I'm not a expert, this may be a dumb question: how long does Vitamin A last in the grains after they're harvested? Knowing that would help me formulate my opinion better. If Vitamin A stays long enough in the grain as it's being transported for it to do some good, then I think the addition is worth the effort. If not - meaning Vitamin A degrades to the point where it doesn't have that much of an effect -then I'm not so sure about taking the GMO path with this.

Again, excuse my question if this is an elementary one.

Thought+Food - 8 Jan 2014, 3:27 p.m.

Thanks for inviting comments on what is sometimes a polarizing topic! There are a number of tools we need to feed the world and GM technology should be one of them. The crucial reason is not simply to increase yield but also to combat the effects of climate change. As farmers deal with changing conditions,they need to grow crops that can deal with wetter or drier growing conditions, increased salinity in the soil and more pests (which thrive in warmer conditions) and GM gives us the ability to modify seeds to thrive in different conditions.
Golden Rice is the best example of biofortification (among others) and using this tool will improve health outcomes. The use of fortified bananas for women suffering from anemia would improve maternal health and improve in utero development of the child as well.
People often say" oh we are producing enough food but it goes waste." Certainly, better post harvest storage and handling decisions are needed but even on the level of a family home, a lot of food is wasted. GM technology that , for example, prevents apple slices from turning brown and being thrown out simply because they look bad while being fit for consumption ,would be helpful as well.

Claudio Beretta - 8 Jan 2014, 4:37 p.m.

I see that some GM crops like Golden Rice can have useful advantages if they behave in the same way we wish. But unfortunately the introduction of new GMOs is always related with ecological and health risks that can be irreversible. Therefore I suggest looking for solutions to hunger and undernourishment without GMOs, because there is still a huge potential with a better distribution of the products, with fight against poverty, with sustainable but efficient crop systems without GMO, with the prevention of food waste etc. If all these potentials are realised and we still have unsolved problems, than we can discuss if the risks of GMOs are more acceptable than the negative consequences of the problems. But I am quite sure that we can find solutions to the problems without having to accept the risks of GMOs.

Paritosh - 9 Jan 2014, 9 a.m.

There are still risks associated with GMO and could be found on this WHO site:

Besides, would it be possible for GMO companies to allow reuse of the seeds instead of buying again for the next plantation? Crosspollination will happen, and then only companies having propriety of these genes will benefit by flexing their IP muscles. From the angle I see, it is more of a marketing gimmick than anything else.

Its a known fact that GMO crops e.g. Bt cotton lose their efficacy over a period of time ( From there onwards only the IP could bring in money to the companies who own propriety to those genes, irrespective of their usefulness anymore.

P.s. If pests could adapt to the modified genes, do you doubt the gut microorganisms in humans will not?

We have humans still debating on evolution of mankind and here we have companies selling things with absolute confidence, whose effect could take a few generations to discover. Is it all worth it?

Not to forget a similar discovery a little less than a 100 year ago which revolutionized and still is the main driving force in Agriculture across the world called "Urea". Fritz Haber being awarded a Nobel prize for Ammonia synthesis used in manufacturing of fertilizers and explosives.

What is happening now is organic food is being considered the best form of food and is now expensive and is out of reach of the common man. But the same organic food was a norm a 100 years ago!!

Some lessons like these take a century to learn, hope we learn faster on GMO issue than suffer for centuries to come...

Jennifer Rodney - 9 Jan 2014, 9:45 a.m.

Thanks for your views Claudio. I fully agree that we *could* make significant improvements to food security risk with approaches other than GMOs, but I wonder if we will be able to do so when there is money to be made by the powerful industry that is developing these new crops, as Paritosh points out below?

Jennifer Rodney - 9 Jan 2014, 10:04 a.m.

Thanks for joining the conversation Thought+Food! It is striking how strongly people react to this topic. Beyond its obvious importance in keeping us alive, food can be so intimately connected to our our sense of self, our culture and therefore values. This adds another layer to an already complex topic and it's no wonder people take debates on the topic (whether it's about vegans vs. carnivores (, GMOs or just what style of cooking you prefer) very personally!

Science, research and development have so much to offer when it comes to figuring out how to feed the world, but I personally think a lot of skepticism and anger comes up around GMOs because it can be hard to trust whether these developments will really benefit humanity in the long term or if they are just another means for corporations like Monsanto to make more money. I'm no expert, but from my viewpoint, trust of big corporations and big government is pretty thin on the ground and Monsanto often doesn't do its reputation any favors by some of its actions. More transparency - and more ethical behavior - might be a step forward in cooling the flames of the on-going debate. Would be great if we could really be working together to find best-practice solutions to the issue of food security!

Rashunda Tramble - 9 Jan 2014, 3:49 p.m.

Claudio wrote: "I see that some GM crops like Golden Rice can have useful advantages if they behave in the same way we wish. "

I think that's what I was trying to say in my reply above. If it is a sure thing that vitamin A-fortified rice would do as advertised, without risk (or with acceptable risk), then I say go for it. If not, then another route is needed.

Karthik Sampath - 12 Jan 2014, 6:22 p.m.

So here comes the counter from none other than Dr. Vandana Shiva on Golden rice calling it a blind approach to a blindness problem.

Dr. Shiva, a staunch advocate of seed sovereignty (see earlier post says that GM crops which might contain specific nutrients, leads to more monoculture when our focus should rather be on promoting biodiversity and food democracy.

She cites the example of India's green revolution back in the 70's (, which though helped increase crop yields and introduced new methods of farming, it also led to led to genetic erosion, monoculture and pollution. States which have biodiverse farms and diets infact report fewer cases of Vit. A deficiencies than those who don't.

"Golden Rice is a Trojan Horse to introduce GMOs, and GMOs are a Trojan horse to introduce Intellectual property rights on seeds of rice."

Tammy Piccirillo - 14 Jan 2014, 2:40 p.m.

Okay, Karthik. I hear you. Please allow an IP attorney to wade very gingerly into these waters. First, all the disclaimers:

(1) I have no expertise on the science side of this issue meaning I would not even try to address those issues aside from the public policy questions ( do GM crops affect biodiversity, insect ecosytems, etc. – way out of my field).
(2) I was born and raised in the US where farming – both family and factory – have been using GM crops for many years and there is virtually no wide spread citizen dissent and as of now, no known health issues. We also have tasteless tomatoes but that is another discussion.
(3) Just for the record, I purchase all my fruits and vegetables from a local farming coop and buy those products only in season.

However, I will offer this up – Herr Mendel started the practice, so far as I know, of hybridization and there is no putting that genie back in the bottle. And innovation, be it agricultural, pharmaceutical or otherwise, takes time, resources and very often a lot of money. In a perfect world these innovations would be provided to those who need them most without remuneration be they life-saving cancer treatments or golden rice that provides vitamin A enriched diets. But, short of a perfect world how should we pay for agricultural innovation that needs to help feed a planet undergoing the dual challenge of a rapidly growing population and climate change? I would argue that if innovation could not be monetized, there would be a lot less innovation. I know there are those who vehemently disagree. I also acknowledge that as modern pharma and agricultural concerns have become wealthy beyond any 'decent' or morally defensible measure, their intellectual property monetization strategies and the attorneys hired to implement and defend it, can be easily categorized as 'greedy' and even 'evil'. Nevertheless, short of living in that perfect world I mentioned – what is the alternative? Shall we all move back to the countryside? This is one IP attorney who is open to suggestions.

If you would like to leave a comment, please, log in.