Genetic engineering can help solve food crisis: US expert

July 30th, 2008 - 10:25 am ICT by IANS  

By Sreya Basu
Kolkata, July 30 (IANS) Over 850 million people across the world will not be able to get a square meal by 2025 due to food shortage, but it can be tackled, at least partially, through genetic engineering, says American agricultural expert Bruce M. Chassy. The assistant dean (office of research) of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Illinois said: “By 2025, there will be a shortage of 400 billion tonnes of cereal grains that make up our staple diet.”

Speaking to IANS here, Chassy said: “Biotechnology, more precisely genetic engineering, can be a part of the solution, if not a complete answer, to this problem.

“Simultaneously we can produce biofuels to produce energy sustainably. But the drawback is that it can drive food prices” upwards.

Chassy does not think using genetically engineered seeds is at all complex for farmers. “Genetic farming is the easiest way to cultivate crops. All that farmers have to do is to plant the seeds and water them regularly. The genetically modified seeds are insect resistant, so there is no need to use huge amounts of pesticides.”

But is the method suited for developing countries like India since the genetically modified seeds are more expensive than ordinary ones?

“The first 12 years of biotechnology has been highly successful with no adverse effects. We had experimented in 22 countries like Australia, US, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Out of the 300 million farmers using biotechnology, 10 million are from developing countries,” Chassy said.

“In the process it was found that use of pesticides was reduced by 224 million kg while crop production was increased by 40 percent. The seeds are not terribly expensive and ultimately the process is profitable for the farmers.”

Chassy denied that genetically modified food is injurious to health. “This is a complete misconception. Truth is, genetically modified food are more nutritious and wholesome than organic food. About 70 percent of world’s food is genetically modified. People fall ill by having unhygienic organic food, not genetically modified ones.”

Major products that are genetically modified in most countries include cereals, vegetables like tomato, papaya and brinjal, and cotton, Chassy said.

According to him, it is possible to use genetically modified crops in India too, at a much larger scale than now.

“India has the infrastructure. It does not lack the technology. But the government is afraid of criticism from opposition parties and fails to take the risk that will be beneficial for its countrymen.

“The Indian government suffers from the misconception that if it develops genetically modified food then it will have problems in marketing it in other countries, leave aside the hassles of getting regulatory approval from them,” Chassy said.

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