Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in:  Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 5 April, 2002, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Are developing countries right to use GM crops?
Environmentalists have attacked the Indian government for permitting the growth of genetically modified cotton.

This is the first genetically engineered hybrid allowed for commercial sowing by the government after over five years of field trials and lab tests.

India's decision to allow the use of genetically modified (GM) cotton could help it boost traditionally low yields and leapfrog leading growers China and the United States, experts have said.

But critics say the government was working in the interests of multinational companies, not Indian farmers.

What do you think? Should developing countries use GM crops? Will it help them?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

We all need to stop having GM wool pulled over our eyes

Paul, UK
This is lunacy unparalleled. For politicians to make the decision that somehow god, mother nature, or however we choose to name it, didn't know best when designing the tomato, or rice, or in this case, cotton, indicates to me, just how far we really have gone. Who, actually needs more? The world is capable of sustaining us, if we're not greedy. Unfortunately, as we see all too often, this is not a mentality politicians or big businesses agree with. Who needs more competition? We all need to stop having GM wool pulled over our eyes.
Paul, UK

Philosophy is not for the hungry stomach. Research and its practical application need to proceed in parallel not sequentially. Those who think otherwise have obviously not seen the hunger and despair of the Third World.
Tejovikas Suravajjala, USA

In response to the naive assumption that GM crops will feed and clothe the world - it is the distribution of food and clothing which is at fault not the quantity of food and clothing available. The road networks are just not efficient despite the mountains of aid that are dumped on these places, and the corruption that takes place in the countries that need assistance ensures that the greedy and able are spoiled whilst the needy are overlooked. GM is a terrible excuse for a licence to print money, using the developing world as a pretext for this heinous exercise.
E Coldwell-Hall, England

Traditional methods of breeding a new variety of plant or animal have built in limitations that go a long way to prevent significant eco-disasters. Even so, disasters have still happened just by introducing traditional species into an environment where it has no natural controls. As is the case with cane toads in Australia and African bees (killer bees) in the U.S.

The problem with GM crops is the scientists don't know when to quit. They are introducing genes from other species to create brand new hyper-aggressive life forms that did not evolve in tandem with other species. This means there are no natural controls for these species anywhere in the world. One misstep and we will be up to our eyeballs in a new species we have no way of controlling and is aggressive enough to replace all our more passive traditional crops. Like one of the characters in the movie Jurassic Park said: "nature will always find a way". We are strolling casually into a situation that has the potential to be the biggest eco-disaster in the history of the world.
Brian Gonsalves, Canada

The whole debate about GM is dominated by fear rather than fact. There have been many claims put about by individuals and groups purporting to show the "dangers" of GM. They have almost invariably been proven false. The modified crops actually use far less pesticide, and normally weaker versions. In China for example one region achieved 100% elimination of pesticides on the cotton crop.
George Baxter, Great Britain

Apparently technology has changed but stupidity hasn't

Quentin Holt, New Zealand
I live in a country where many species of plant and animal were introduced to improve crop and meat yields. Gorse for fencing, rabbit and possum for pelt, deer for hunting. The animal species didn't have natural predators, so they multiplied to the extent where they wrecked whole forests. We've got the deer problem under control now. Rabbit and possum control is a never ending war. Experts of the time were adamant of the benefits to our nation. Now it's gene modification. Apparently technology has changed but stupidity hasn't.
Quentin Holt, New Zealand

GM'ing crops is like cloning animals and humans. Today they'll claim better yield, good quality crop, but after some time, some study will prove otherwise. I'm sure India needs not fall for this and will continue the traditional ways of agriculture.
Vivek, India

GM crops are too recent to be certified for widespread use. A recent example is "golden rice" developed in Switzerland with claims that it will solve the requirements of nutritional lack of vitamin A in the Third World. It turns out that to get any nutritional benefit poor children would have to consume prodigious amounts of the "golden rice"; much more than the normal dietary amounts for an adult.
Ralph Sato, USA

Genetic modification is a natural process that has been trained to ignore the unwanted outcomes of mutation and to reinforce the required properties of a food. It becomes slightly dubious when genes are transmutated across species (wheat which glows thanks to glow-worm genes), but why not? I believe such modifications are not dangerous. But I do believe that the effects on the environment could be disastrous when pests are controlled by GM defences and no longer controlled by predator insects, which in turn do not sustain sufficient populations to sustain the birds or cross-pollinate non-GM and natural crops/weeds, etc... Our diet (as well as our countryside views) may become very bland if we continue aggressively in promoting GM-only crops!
Julian, UK

Almost every plant that we have used for food throughout history has been genetically modified for our use.

PhilT, Oman
This is another case of the mis-informed environmentalists trying to con the public. There are good forms and bad forms of genetic engineering. Almost every plant that we have used for food throughout history has been genetically modified for our use. However, in the past it use to be done by cross pollinating and it use to take up to ten years to achieve a commercially viable product . These days it is done by transferring the gene into another plant. This means that several years can be saved when trying to develop a better strain of plant. Where genetic engineering becomes unacceptable in some peoples eyes, is when substances like insecticides, are inserted into the genetic code of a particular plant as is the case with some cabbage and corn varieties. This leads to the consumer unknowingly digesting insecticides through eating the crop. However, creating crops which produce heavier yields or can grow under adverse conditions, or grow at a faster rate, has to be a good thing.
PhilT, Oman

The issue of GM has been viewed as a political and economical battle. But there is a larger scientific issue behind genetic modification, and one that transcends the afore mentioned issues. Namely, the accidental modification of wild type or natural strains due to cross-pollination. The effects of GM plant and animal material and its consequences for ecology have not been carefully evaluated, and thus, the risks are not known. One does not have to be a Luddite to argue against GM. As an Indian, a biologist, a scientist, and one who is more than interested in seeing India prosper, I am compelled to argue that if the risk to natural life forms is not evaluated, then we should put a brake on GM. Anything less than this could result in irreversible damage to the environment, and one that we will regret when it is too late. At the end of the day, the rule of the free-market, such as it is, dictates that profit is all important, but the cost of an error is to be borne by the public.
Rama Ratnam, USA

To become dependent on artificial stimulants is bad, whether for bodily energy or agricultural production. Pushers have their own agenda.
Developing countries should not make deals deepening dependence.

There's already enough food on the planet to feed everybody twice over. All GM crops do is make it possible to copyright and trademark basic food stuffs. You say potato, I say "ICI Chicken Tikka flavoured Potato, all new special edition Spring 2004 release"
Neil Pearce, London, England

GM crops have great potential in the less developed world to raise yields of staple crops, however I find it ironic that this approval is for a cash crop. Cash is king, I guess.
Edward Adams, California

Why are the "Greens" so upset over the idea of the population of the third world being well fed and clothed?

Richard T. Ketchum, USA
GM crops will help feed and cloth the poor of the third world. The scientists are working overtime to insure that the GM crops don't harm people.
Why are the "Greens" so upset over the idea of the population of the third world being well fed and clothed?
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

Nobody should be using them, "developing" or otherwise. The only people to benefit will be the suits that run GM businesses - until they all die out like the rest of us from the diseases the technologists in the lab didn't predict.
Phil, UK

If the GM cotton has been bred and patented by Indian scientists then perhaps it should be allowed. If the seed has come from a foreign company, then it shouldn't be used. India should be developing its own resources. There are many ways to increase yields of crops. GMOs should be an absolute last resort, as it is a drain on the local economy and ties farmers to companies who don't care what happens after the seed is bought.
Fatimah Begum, UK

One day you might not have the choice to not eat GM crops

Fraser Heath, Aberdeen, UK
Put simply the world can not hold as many people as we require, thus farming will need to intensify to grow food for people and as more people need more space, crops WILL need to develop faster and stronger to match demand. Whether it's good for someone or not is not an issue, its food, you need it; one day you might not have the choice to not eat GM crops.
Fraser Heath, Aberdeen, UK

I am not aware there is any detectable difference between traditional and GM improved crops, as far as the consumer is concerned, so why is this still a matter of debate?
Barry, UK

I prefer it if India banned Ludditism first. Greens AKA luddite socialists just want India to be nice and poor, like it should be. India should rightly ignore these fools.
Rob Read, UK

See also:

27 Mar 02 | Business
Warning over India GM cotton plan
26 Mar 02 | Business
India allows use of modified cotton
23 Apr 01 | South Asia
Concern over Sri Lanka GM ban
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Talking Point stories