Study indicates farmers not keen on GM crops

The nationwide survey was conducted to help formulate a policy around biotechnological innovations in India, taking into account public perceptions and attitudes

In the backdrop of the controversy over the safety of use of Bt brinjal in the country, a study has claimed that most farmers do not favour genetically modified (GM) seeds for producing food crops while there is also a lack of information among consumers about their usage, reports PTI.

Around 4,000 farmers and 2,500 consumers nationwide were surveyed in the last three years in five States jointly by Gene Campaign, an NGO, and Hyderabad University, to study the general attitudes and perception of farmers and consumers towards GM seeds and foods. “Among farmers, about 40% said that they were willing to cultivate cash crops with modified seeds (often referred to as transgenic fertilisation) while 80% refused to use such seeds, that contain a poison to control pests, for producing food crops,” says the study.

It also noted that their attitude towards food was conservative and there was sacredness attached with it.

About 90% of farmers did not agree to take the risk to use technology that allows the use of chemicals to control all weeds effortlessly but also destroyed surrounding flora, as per the study.

The seed "modified" with animal or insect parts were viewed as "tempered," not normal and natural and different from regular seeds, said Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, claiming that such perceptions was seen across all age groups and educational status.

However, the respondents, both farmers and consumers, trusted the government with respect to agriculture and food technologies rather than the media or NGOs—or for that matter, scientists—according to the study.

“The government must be humbled by the trust placed in it by the country's farmers and consumers with respect to agriculture and food technologies and this should propel them to safeguard public interest," said Ms Sahai, advocating further research in this area. She said that the government's biotechnology policy must take into account the societal contexts of technology adoption to strengthen the interest of the public who, according to the survey, have posed faith on the government for information and regulations.

"The overall goal of this first-ever study in the country is to contribute towards formulation of a meaningful and transparent public policy around biotechnological innovations in India, which takes into account public perceptions and attitudes," said E Haribabu, who is associated with the Hyderabad University.

Consumers were equally sceptical of GM foods mainly because of lack of information and the respondents felt they had no benefit from such items while private companies were the prime beneficiaries.

“Attempts to introduce foods into a situation where the majority of the population is not aware of the nature of GM foods or of their benefits and risks is not democratic or enlightened policy making,” said the study.

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