Imagine maize, or corn, having cellular structures resembling those of humans, making them easier for scientists to manipulate.
Much more disconcerting to discover however, was why scientists were tinkering with maize. Non-reproducing seeds apart, they were developing ‘contraceptive corn.’ It was easier to nip births in the bud through food rather than pills. And only enough had to be eaten to cause irreversible infertility in both men and women. The problems of overpopulation would be solved.
When in 1999, Epicyte, a small US biotechnology firm patented and launched the “Terminator” seed (labeled rather repugnantly by the media), there was global outrage and massive protests were held by Latin American and Asian peasants demanding a ban. Epicyte was forced to bow to global pressure. Later it transpired that
The following year in 2000, 193 countries signed the
To calm misgivings,
“After consulting with international experts and sharing many of the concerns of small landholder farmers,
Not that anyone believed them. Egged on by
The track record makes uncertain the suitability of maize seeds in local markets. In 2003-04, bad policies and corruption led to severe wheat shortages in
Have your chapattis or naan from local tandoors been tasting like leather lately? That betrays a maize-wheat mixture, not pure wheat. This may be unsafe for those suffering from stomach ulcers or allergy to corn, and should be labeled accordingly to warn consumers. There’s a quick layman’s test to check it out, though. Roll some dough and let stand at room temperature; it’ll become quite hard compared to dough made from pure atta.
Provincial regulatory and food departments need to conduct regular laboratory tests, and compel
Previously, when all plants and food were naturally produced, it wasn’t necessary for consumers to understand what they ate. Today, in a world where crops, food, medicines, cosmetics, grooming products and even fabrics are produced with GM plants and saturated with chemicals, it is necessary for consumers to be informed for their own safety, (and especially now that in Khyber Pakhtunwa province, a proposed Seed Act 2014 has confused the issue by dangerously lumping all seed kinds together.)
The high-handed, covertly monopolistic bill that would destroy traditional farmers, aims to prevent them and domestic seed’s businesses from selling their surplus seed unless registered with the provincial authorities. Not only do they seem uninformed about GM hazards, a heated
But traditional seeds, hybrids and GM seeds are not the same thing. Traditional seeds are natural seeds, saved by hand. So are hybrids, except they are selectively cross-bred.
GM seeds, on the other hand, are wholly unnatural, an alien GM from an unrelated species, whether plant, animal, or microorganism, having been artificially transferred into them; something impossible in nature which created barriers to prevent exactly such a thing happening. Some feel that even hybrid and natural seed treated with insecticide or fungicide carry risks, and therefore should be considered ‘modified.’
Try obtaining traditional seeds for growing vegetables and fruit at home. Urbanites will have difficulty finding any, and settle for a seed-and-supplies store selling packaged hybrid seed. They grow fine, but the seeds they produce in turn, will not. That’s the problem with hybrids.
How are hybrids different from GMO/Bt and ‘Terminator seeds?’
On discovering every plant had hundreds or thousands of varieties, farmers began to combine desired features from different plants by cross-pollinating two dissimilar but related plants, until a new plant variety evolved that worked well in the local ecosystem. The slow, painstaking process took 6 to 10 plant generations- 3-5 years- until Darwin and Mendel found a method of producing hybrids within one generation.
This spawned the modern seed industry, promising farmers’ higher-yielding and uniform seeds. Agro-businesses were delighted. But in the South, countries took away seed-saving employment from women.
There was another catch to hybrids that farmers weren’t told about. Although the first harvest was bountiful, their seeds were not. They did not necessarily inherit the strong features of the parent lines, and yield and quality would eventually fall.
Initially, farmers thought it was their own fault - perhaps not enough fertilizer or other care- returning again and again to buy hybrids. That was the whole objective of the seed industry - to create a highly profitable dependency. By the time they realized it, most farmers were ‘hooked’ and had forgotten the art of seed-saving, dealing death to biodiversity in the process.
The so-called Green Revolution seeds were hybrids. But the chemical industry and big landlords gained- not the peasants. And pests, pesticides and profits boomed because of monoculture.
A handful of multinational corporations control 75% of the global agrochemical market. Our lawmakers should realize that sterile-seed technology could eventually give them 100% control, wiping out a billion livelihoods by seed, or by terminating human life before birth.
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