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Nature India Update: 13 August 2008 A Royal Pain in the Derriere The World Needs GM Agriculture



No One Should Die From Hunger: Bruce M. Chassy
Mona Lisa Jena Kalinga Times (India),
August 6, 2008

Internationally renowned Professor Bruce M. Chassy, Executive Associate Director of the Biotechnology Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, was in Bhubaneswar recently to address reputed universities about his research of genetically modified micro-organisms leading to food safety and safety evaluation of biotech foods. Chassy has served as an expert on WHO/FAO in Geneva too. He spoke exclusively to KalingaTimes.com.

KT: What is the benefit of biotech engineered GM food?
BC: Biotechnology in agriculture was essentially aimed at preserving the environment as well as to produce genetically engineered/modified GMOs which are resistant to herbicides, pests and insects. It is a big success story as it is safe for people and for the environment.

Through transfer of research results, we are able to produce best seeds and get more yields per hectare. All the GMOs we use are genetically engineered. This is called transgenetic or transfer of new gene to the plant. It took almost 100 years of experiments to transform wild plants to carefully genetic implementation. Now it is a completely human made product. It is safer than conventional harvesting and is more sophisticated.

KT: How is biotechnology going to solve the food crisis of the world?
BC: More than 8.5 million people go to bed hungry in the world at present. Seventy percent of farmers live in poor countries. They have no money to buy good seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and cannot produce enough to even feed themselves. We want to change that.

KT: Have the biotech products been approved by developing countries? What is its fate in India ?
BC: In Africa, there was a lot of protest against the GM crops. But in India , the situation is different. They have gone slow and have opted for BT Cotton initially and not for food. This is because India is much more sophisticated, educated and has a foresight and a positive attitude.

India produces a large number of biotechnologists. The Green Revolution succeeded through the efforts of M.S. Swaminathan but it failed in Africa once the USA stopped financing the project after 15 years. The United States of America wanted Africa to be self sufficient and independent after a certain period of time. Biotech brinjal is a success now and BT has succeeded primarily due the good publicity about quality seeds and higher yields by the farmers themselves. Biotechnology is an incredibly useful technology.

The Indian government is aware of the benefits of the technology and has sponsored projects with other countries and companies. It is implementing the use of BT slowly, carefully and with good regulations. India cannot be compared with poorer countries like Zimbabwe . Indian politicians are much more educated and sophisticated. The government has a vision.

KT: Why is there opposition to BT?
BC: Developed countries like the USA where it tasted success with improved maize harvest are benefited largely. In poorer nations, it is ignorance, mistrust and misinformation. Why should we spend so much time, wealth and human power to give something bad to the people? Recently there was a protocol on anti GM which was signed by 150 nations. Malaysia decided to be the leader in Bio Economy in Asia .

We train scientists from all over the world. India has a large percentage. Even countries with which the USA does not have diplomatic ties like Cuba and Vietnam train academics so that they can reap the benefit of this miracle in their own countries and help ameliorate the food crisis.

KT: How is BT going to help rural India ?
BC: The economic impact will be high. It will double the economy with the first crop. Insects and weeds will be managed better. Farmers will be benefited with consistently better yields.

KT: Why farmers are hesitant to use BT seeds?
BC: In some places some farmers buy seeds and some conserve seeds. At many places traditional rural farmers are attached to this concept. In Africa there is this concept where the mother is the 'seed keeper'. But at the same time they have also implemented BT seeds in hectares where they opt for cash crops. If you want to feed people you go for better seeds and if you want to keep cultural identities you preserve the seeds.

KT: What is your dream for the world?
BC: In the USA freedom from hunger is a fundamental right. Scientists have the drive to develop methods to change people's lives. I wanted that no one should die from hunger and throughout my academic and research career and interaction with people across the globe I have tried to spread the message of the benefits of Biotechnology. It has done a remarkable service to mankind. It is a viable, real gold product. I am a good chef too and love to cook for my guests, and I simply love the ambience that involves good food and the happiness of eating good food.

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