What are GMOs? Are we not using hybrids already in many crops? Are hybrids and GMOs the same?

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have been introduced by certain multinational seed companies to manipulate the genetic nature of a given crop. This modification is done purportedly for the purpose of preventing attacks from certain pests and/or to remove or add certain features from the crop. For instance, in 2010, "Bt Brinjal" was proposed to be introduced in the market.  The modification there was that the brinjal plant would be resistant to the fruit & shoot borer (FSB, an insect that causes damage to the Brinjal crop). This works in such a way that when the FSB eats the plant, it dies immediately, thereby protecting the crop. But this is also an insidious way (business plan) to gain control over the seeds of Bt Brinjal, so that all brinjal farmers would need to pay a high price to get the seeds of this crop, thereby impoverishing the already poor farmer. Thankfully, this plan was dropped and the Central Government of the day granted a moratorium on the introduction of this crop (which was the first GMO food crop), because the scientific community along with farmers and consumers were divided on the issue. So why not introduce it as a choice for farmers and consumers? Because once introduced, the traditional brinjal plant and the Bt Brinjal plant could cross-pollinate in the field and lead to loss of the characteristics of the traditional plant. This would endanger the biodiversity of the plant (as India is known in the world as the centre of origin of this crop). Further, the farmers who were traditionally using their own crop to generate seeds for the next season, would be forced to buy costly seeds from these multinational seed companies. This episode had already played out for Bt Cotton in the 1990s, leading to the entire Indian traditional short-staple cotton variety to be wiped out from existence within 10 years. Today, we have lost the seeds of the traditional cotton plant and we are forced to use only the genetically modified Bt Cotton seeds. This has also led to impoverishment of the farmers (also linked to high number of suicides among cotton farmers in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra) and also, loss of life for many farm animals who fed on the remains of these cotton plants. Introduction of this technology onto food crops can thus be risky for us consumers.

Many confuse GMOs with hybrids. Hybrids are created from within the same species. So a rice plant may be crossed with another rice plant to accentuate certain characteristics or diminish certain others in the resulting hybrid variety of rice. But GMOs, on the other hand, introduce genes from another species altogether to generate a particular characteristic.  For instance, in the case of Bt Brinjal, the genes of [prawns] were introduced to generate the characteristic of [ ].



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