Impact of GM crops on human health

I refer to the article, “A crop of questions,” (Spectrum, August 20). The impact of GM crops on human health and biodiversity remains unpredictable, untested and irreversible. Despite seven years of laboratory and field experiments and five years of cultivation of Bt Cotton, the debate on unexpected health and environmental risks of genetically engineered cotton remains unresolved.

The price of this unscientific approval is being paid by the debt-ridden farmers of Vidarbha and other cotton-growing areas. Approving Bt Brinjal for open-air trials would be a shorsighted decision; one that would lead to probably the largest human feeding trial ever conducted.

This decision will adversely impact our country’s biodiversity and impact human and animal health, simply because GM crops can never adequately be tested for safety. Additionally, these are likely to increase pesticide use instead of lowering it. Any GM experiment that is released into the field can never be reversed. These crops were designed not because they are more nutritious but because they help the likes of Monsanto-Mahyco sell more seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.

Gene Hashmi, Director-Communications Greenpeace India, Bangalore


Partition victims

This refers to Margaret Bourke-White’s remarks quoted by Humra Quraishi in her write-up “Khushwant goes down memory lane” (Aug 20): “Babies were born along the way. People died along the way. Many of them simply dropped…From sheer weariness…”

What occurred in the wake of the Partition was perhaps the goriest of gory happenings which ever took place in the world. Barbarity supplanted humanity. Lakhs of people were ruthlessly killed. Thousands of women and girls were abducted and raped. Sahir Ludhianvi said: Zamin ney khoon ugla aasmaan ney aag barsaai/ jab insaanon key dil badley to insaanon pe kya guzri.

The very thought of the trauma we had to undergo while leaving our village in Pakistan in a state of chaos when a mammoth mob of ruffians attacked it around midnight and the hardships we had to face in reaching India sends shivers down my spine.


Fighting corruption

This has reference to Harihar Swarup’s profile of Anna Hazare (Sunday Oped, Aug 20). Anna Hazare has two missions in life — fighting corruption and ensuring economic and social transformation of all the villages.

Apart from corruption, India today is facing major problems such as population explosion, price rise, poor infrastructure, inadequate irrigation, drug addiction, illiteracy, religious fundamentalism, poverty, unemployment and so on.

Thousands of poor farmers commit suicide and the minorities live in constant fear. Corruption has become a way of life leading to poor infrastructure, poor regulations and day-to-day hassles for the common man.

Instead of making India a land of skyscrapers and software corporations, the government should also focus on vital issues and solve crucial problems faced by the people.


In defence of Simbal trees

IT is an excellent idea to draw upon religious texts to spread awareness and respect for nature among the masses as opined by Prabhjot Singh (Spectrum, Aug 20). The first major initiative in this field was taken by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edenburg, in his capacity as President of World Wide Fund for Nature in 1962.

Prince Philip organised an inter-faith ceremony at the Basilica of St. Francis (the patron saint of animals and nature) at Assisi in Italy where the five participating religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) declared that their religion and faith are deeply rooted in the ethos of symbiotic living by mankind with nature.

While all religions respect nature, it would be fallacious to use their religious texts in the manner of scientific treatises which they certainly are not. So it would be wrong to infer from the Sikh scriptures that the Simbal “flowers lack nectar”. That is how it would appear to any observer, lay or divine, because the need of each bird for nectar is served by a quick sip(s) and the bird instantly makes way for the next and the next and so on.

In reality, each Simbal flower holds nectar close to half the regulation “chhota” peg of whisky! D.V. Cowen in Flowering Trees and Shrubs of India (1950) writes: “No tree attracts birds to quite the extent of the Silk Cotton (Simbal)” and that the “birds squabble and jostle for a sip of the delicious nectar”.

Of course, the observation about the Simbal flower and fruit being tasteless is absolutely flawless. Nevertheless, the tribals of the Chhotanagpur plateaue make a delicious curry from the fresh petals of flowers and also from the thick skin of the buds before flowering. The buds are also eaten by the fruit-eating bats.

As for the Simbal fruit, it is nothing but compacted silk-cotton fluff and black seedpods which would be as palatable and wholesome to eat as a fistful of carded cotton fluff! It has its uses as luxury stuffing for pillows, mattresses, winter jackets and in life-saving jackets as it is resistant to water.

Lt-General BALJIT SINGH (retd), Chandigarh



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