Playing God

Genetic engineering research is most often carried out on animals such as pigs, mice, sheep, cattle, and fish, and on plants such as the tomato, tobacco, corn and brinjal. Genes taken from these animals as well as from smaller lives such as spiders, lizards, cockroaches, grasshoppers and earthworms could be implanted into crops. In short, biotechnology is crossing animals with plants, leaving the vegetarian confused.

State Governments can at present oppose Genetic Modification (GM) crops but they won’t be able to do so if the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill if passed and GM permitted throughout the country.

It is worth noting that buffaloes in Haryana have refused to eat cottonseed cakes if made from GM cotton plants. Similarly, pigs and chickens have refused to consume GM food in South Africa and else where in the world. Geese migrating through USA do not eat GM soybean. Squirrels refuse GM corn. Likewise, elk, deer, raccoons and rats all avoid GM produce. They all instinctively know that GM crops are harmful. Rightly so, research has revealed that toxins implanted into GM food crops to kill pests are also reaching the bloodstreams of humans, including unborn babies. Till this was proved the proponents of GM crops argued that if these toxins were eaten by animals or humans they would be destroyed in the gut and pass out of the body causing no harm. It is obviously not so.

Genetic Roulette

One of the world’s leading authorities on the health dangers of GE food, Jeffrey M Smith’s second book “Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods” and film expansion discloses what we already know – genes are taken from a specie and forced into another, resulting in two main types of GE foods:
• Herbicide-tolerant crops: plants engineered to withstand heavy herbicide spraying without sustaining damage.
• Pesticide-producing crops: plants engineered to produce their own pesticides – so if a bug bites one, its stomach explodes and it dies.

Based on compelling evidence Smith is convinced that one of the primary forces driving a high rise in cases of autism, type 2 diabetes, Celiac disease and Alzheimer’s disease in America is GE foods.

In most parts of the world the following are common GE products: soy, corn, canola oil, alfalfa, sugar from sugar beets, cottonseed, some zucchini varieties, Crookneck squash and Hawaiian papaya.

Genetically Modified Vegetables

It is next to impossible to distinguish non-vegetarian tomatoes called Flavr Savr from the natural ones. To improve the shelf life of these tomatoes they are genetically altered with the antifreeze gene from the Arctic Flounder, a long-lived fish.

Similarly, scientists of India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) in their Field Research Laboratory at Leh with the help of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) have identified the cold tolerant gene and Osmatin gene and transferred them into tomato plants through tissue culture and genetic engineering, thus producing transgenic tomatoes.

Normal tomatoes soften, shrivel up and spoil soon, whereas the GM ones remain “fresh” for up to 45 days.

As is evident, India has not been far behind in producing hybrid foods – genetic engineering started here in 2002 with BT (biotech) cotton called Bollgard being introduced by the multi-national company Monsanto which claimed the death of 1,800 sheep that grazed on the crop in Andhra Pradesh during 2006. The gene inserted into the BT brinjal is the same that was used to genetically modify the cotton. So BT brinjal is another GM (genetically modified) crop in which the DNA of the brinjal has been irreversibly altered by introducing the extra gene Cry1Ac which is a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. Inserted genes can interfere with natural genes and result in toxicity (lung, kidney and liver damage) as has shown in studies abroad.

Along with BT bringal, BT rice, BT okra and BT tomato may also hit the Indian market soon. The total area in India under biotech crops was 7.6 million hectares in 2009 and is increasing. Ten BT crops awaiting commercial cultivation are brinjal/egg plant, cabbage, castor, cauliflower, corn/maize, groundnut, okra, potato, rice and tomato. Moreover, other BT crops being developed are banana, melon, citrus fruit, wheat, gram, Bengal gram/chickpea, pigeon pea, mustard, rapeseed, coffee, and tobacco. The aim is to make the crops resistant to pests, viral and fungal diseases, drought, water-logging and salinity, plus delay the ripening process.

The drawbacks are not worth the claimed benefits which are in themselves doubtful, e.g. evidence shows that modified crops yields are generally lower than their conventional counterparts. Unrelated genes of organisms including bacteria, spiders, scorpions, etc. being inserted into cells of other organisms to develop new irreversible characteristics besides making vegetarian foods, non-vegetarian, result in enormous health risks for those who consume the BT produce. Unless Government of India realises the potential harm and immediately halts tests and production of all GM food, there will soon be no truly vegetarian or even safe foods available in the country.

A little relief was achieved when in July 2013 the Supreme Court appointed panel (Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests reviewed and gave recommendations on the BRAI Bill) failed to reach a unanimous decision. Five members of the Technical Expert Committee recommended an indefinite ban on GM food crops whereas one dissented. It is therefore still uncertain whether GM crops will be commercially released in India. Meanwhile, more and more countries are rejecting Monsanto… in June 2013, while backing away from Europe, Monsanto declared that they would not be seeking approval for their new GM seeds in Europe because no one there wanted them for cultivation. However, the fear is that this much hated, moneyed and powerful corporation may surreptitiously introduce their seeds in the region just as it is believed, they have in the past, done elsewhere. GM soy and corn continue to be grown in America and are thrust upon countries like India and China despite unethical corporate control over food sources, loss of biodiversity, adverse impact on environment, and known and unknown health hazards upon humans and animals.

However, it was a big surprise and set back in February 2014 when the new Union Minister for Environment & Forests cleared with immediate effect GM crop trials by approving the March 2013 decision of the GEAC to allow more than 200 successful gene modification trials for rice, wheat, maize, castor and cotton. Trials of GM rice would be conducted by Bayer Bioscience, MAHYCO and BASF India. (In January 2014 the newspapers reported that MAHYCO and Arcadia Biosciences of US had announced that they had developed salt tolerant rice and that the technology enabled plants to produce increased yields under saline water and soil conditions thus expanding the range of acreage for crop production.) In addition MAHYCO would grow GM wheat; Monsanto India would test GM maize; Hyderabad-based Directorate of Oilseeds Research would conduct GM castor re-approved field trials; and, GM cotton varieties would be grown by Bayer, BASF and MAHYCO. This was soon followed by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) scientists mooting for these field trials without NOCs (non-objection certificates) from state governments. Last but not least, it was obvious that the political party whose reign was coming to an end had made these decisions in a desperate attempt to win votes – even those in favour of GM believed the clearance was half-baked, while those like us who are against GM, felt that the decision was in violation of the Supreme Court’s directions.

Labelling produce as GM is not the only answer for vegetarians. It would no doubt give vegetarian consumers a choice of whether or not to eat the items. But another important aspect is that they should be informed whether the gene inserted is of animal or plant origin and for this labelling standards need to be adopted fast. If this is not known, it gives us another good reason not to consume the so-called vegetables and grains because they may even have been engineered with human genes.

For detailed information on Genetically Modified Vegetables please see

Genetically Manipulated Animals

Tinkering with the genetic make-up of animals is disgustingly playing God.

Researchers boast of breeding animals without legs and chickens without feathers – “unwanted” body-parts. Similarly hybrid wiper fish have been produced for anglers.

In India the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture offers a technology of mono-sex for Tilapia fish required to be fed a steroid supplementary diet so that in about a month’s time the females get the characteristics of male fish and grow faster.

Other reports talk of “the commercial success of the BST hormone which enhances milk yield in cows” and the coming of “a whole new flock of genetically engineered products which include a recombinant growth hormone for pigs which has been shown to reduce pork-fat by 30%; a cow whose milk contains human proteins; and alligators genetically altered to ‘manufacture’ blood containing human haemoglobin so as the deliver the higher oxygen capacity required during surgery.”

Every one has heard of Dolly, Polly, others and more Dollies. Dolly was the widely publicised lamb/sheep developed from a single cell taken from an adult tissue mammary gland after 277 earlier attempts having failed, by a British scientist. Almost seven years later in 2003 she was administered a lethal injection after they discovered arthritis and signs of progressing lung disease.

As scientists in most countries are developing several transgenic animals, such experiments are of deep concern to supports of animal rights and to thinkers on ethical, philosophical and theological issues. Often animals thus born have fatal bleeding disorders. Umpteen negative happenings are rarely covered by the media but when ever scientists have been ‘successful’ it makes global headlines.

Animals and humans have a right to their own identity and their own genetic make-up, which should not be replicated. The only thing that technology improves are corporate prospects for mass-producing animals that yield leaner meat or more meat, generate high quantities of human proteins that can be harvested for the pharmaceutical trade, or even provide spare parts for humans needing organ transplants thus turning animals into chemical factories.

The sad thing is that in India, such research is looked upon with great respect and admiration, with little realisation that new animals generate new diseases that humans will be ill-equipped to treat. There is even nobility associated with such development research, because the ends that are sought are ostensibly for the cause of human beings. As has become a habit with us, we seek to emulate everything of the West without screening it through our own standards of good and bad. Not to be left behind in the race for trying our hand at altering nature’s course, Indian scientists vie with each other to produce cows with better milk yields. Super-ovulation and Embryo Transfer Technology (ETT) are tried out in addition to artificial insemination. Results achieved in the yield-increasing race are published with pride and reported to be our deliverers from starvation or, in general, poverty. Ironically, organisations such as Pinjrapoles (in many cases unfortunately run as dairies) and those using the name of Mahatma Gandhi like the Sabarmati Ashram Goshala (Ahmedabad) are the nerve centres for such research, development and training activities. The National Dairy Development Board (Anand) with the assistance of the National Institute of Immunology (New Delhi), the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI, Karnal) and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (Izatnagar), has started propagating ETT on a countrywide basis. The National Research Centre on Camel on the outskirts of Bikaner at Jorbeer also subject different camel herds to the unnatural ETT and selective breeding for genetic improvement of indigenous breeds and the females have been made to super ovulate and with the aim of reproducing thrice, instead of twice, in two years.

A project between the World Bank and Indian Council of Agricultural Research costing Rs 7 crore aims at developing technology to enhance the population of high-yielding, elite buffalos. In its quest to increase milk production, in 2009 scientists of the NDRI’s Animal Biotechnology Centre at Karnal (Punjab) cloned a buffalo and called it Samrupa. Although this female calf died due to pneumonia six days after its birth, similar “experiments” continued using a new hand-guided cloning technique in which the sex of the calf could be determined. The second clone was aborted, however, a third cloned buffalo calf named Garima was successfully cloned with tissue from foetus tissue instead of taking tissue from the ear of a female buffalo as was the case last time. This “prized research material” (read buffalo calf) survived in an air- conditioned intensive care unit with round the clock care and weighed 170 kgs as against 130 kgs of calves her age of 5½ months old. Garima was not allowed to mix with her kind because calves are playful and bite each other. The cloning project was furthered with another cloned buffalo Garima II born in August 2010. The seventh (of which three died) cloned buffalo calf Lalima was produced in May 2014.

The milk we buy might very likely be the result of experiments performed upon animals in any of the breeding laboratories that the government supports using tax-payers’ money. The material benefit of this research is indirectly supported by us, the consumers who purchase the products.

To conclude, genetic manipulation is becoming the order of the day. Man playing creator with innocent animal lives is the first step towards scientists wanting to manipulate humans. We need no freaks. Research and reverence for all life can go hand in hand without tinkering with and cloning innocent lives.

If not for animals, then for our own well-being, we need to protest and boycott all GM products before it is too late.

For detailed information on Genetically Manipulated Animals please see

Page last updated on 18/06/14