Resetting the debate on GMOs: maybe one day they will be different…Let’s keep our mind open for that

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There are few issues so polarizing and dividing like genetically modified organisms alias GMOs and once again recently Nepal was the center stage of a contentious debate about public related health risks of their introduction in the country.

Immediately after the announcement by CG to import hybrid seeds from Monsanto, the so much criticized American multinational, a furious backlash against the move started.

A series of open-editorials strongly denounced the attempt as a total “evil” that would bring considerable damages to local farmers with catastrophic consequences to our health.

National policies are still not very clear about the pros and cons of GMOs though certain types of hybrid seeds are already allowed in the country.

I am not an expert on the issue and I do trust the prevalent mass opinion about the dangers related to GMOs.

At the same, by nature, I always try to see the others’ perspectives and try to tackle the issue also from different angles. In short I do not mind,sometimes, daring to go “against the stream”.

Then the fact that I am moderately pro-market and pro-capital (with a strong regulatory role of the state, after all I am an European….) and the fact that I am definitely not on the leftist side of political spectrum, the one that mostly vigorously keeps bashing the GMO solution, enhances my curiosity to understand if the impact of GMOs are so devastating and terrible as denounced so vocally.

I am wondering why CG did not “counterattack” more strongly the vehement opposition expressed by civil activists by claiming that hybrid GMOs can actually offer some positive contributions to local farming outputs without the claimed side effects.

A defense by an American pro GMO scientist/lobbyist, published in one of the national daily, was brushed off as partisan, biased and based on a huge conflict of interest that linked the author with the GMO industry.

Among international development partners, USAID has been the one more inclined to experiment the use of new technology in the agriculture sector and  for the same reason it was strongly criticized.

The Mission Director of USAID through an open editorial piece tried to defend the agency’s openness towards the use of healthy technology in enhancing farming productivity. Also in this case there was no shortage of criticisms.

So following the common feelings against GMOs through with the  benefit of the doubt I assume that GMOs are not healthy and can lead to unthinkable consequences for the national farmers.

ConsequentiallyI am also assuming that CG could not really prove their genuine position not because of lack of “campaigning and lobbying” skills but simply because also hybrid GMOs bring negative consequences on farming (let’s forget for the moment that the effects of hybrid GMOs are not so clear and spelled out as the pure, totally modified seeds).

This is the current situation according to my assumptions. Nothing prevents that, also because of the ongoing and unrelenting resistance to GMOs, the industry can improve its products by offering a more healthy technology with the provision of full safety guarantees on any possible side effects, making GMOs more “acceptable” to the world public opinion.

Why excluding the possibility that GMOs can evolve and by becoming less controversial, be considered as a valid technology to enhance living conditions of farmers all over the world?

I was recently impressed by a recent article published on the International New York Times “Lonely quest for facts on modified crops”that tells the story of a county politician in the Hawaii that tried to oppose a local ban on GMOs.

The twenty years old councilman became a sort of Don Quixote, the famous character described by Miguel Cervantes as a lonely and crazy nobleman trying unsuccessfully to fight against a mill in the Spain of sixteen century.

By reading the story I really liked the decision making processtaken by a relatively small county in one of the Hawaiian Islands: written petitionswere submitted and live testimonies given before the local council could take a final decision, allowing open and transparent deliberations where an high number of people had the possibility to express their views.

Though it was a very heated debate, a civilized debate emerged. I find this way of dealing with an extremely contentious issue extremely democratic though time consuming.

Eventually as expected, the ban against GMOs was approved but at least its opponents, a tiny minority, had a forum to express their dissenting views.

I loved the enduring spirit of the councilman trying to fully understand and weigh the pros and cons of GMOs, showing courage to keep a lonely standing against a public opinion that was overwhelmingly in favor of the ban.

Can we adopt a similar approach in Nepal? The year 2014 has been proclaimed as International Year of Family Farmingand we could have the opportunity in Nepal to genuinely table a serious discussion on how hybrid GMOs can be the evil so far described or can also be an agent for positive change.

While currently there are lots of well-grounded proofs against GMOs, still I am convinced that the possibility of improvements in technology related to GMOs should not be totally disregarded.

Strong regulation and tight oversight would remain a pre-condition for any experiment of any new technology.

While celebrating organic food, let’s allow our rational thinking, driver of human progress, not to preclude others and complementary ways to enhance healthy farming are not only possible but also desirable.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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