Prashamsa Gadtaula

Kathmandu:

Life sciences and biotechnology are in a stage of exponential growth. They have opened up a vast range of potential in terms of future benefits, competitive advantage, economic growth and employment opportunities. Also, modern biotechnology has been hailed as a miracle to solve problems such as world hunger, health and environmental degradation. Over the last 50 years, biotechnology has culminated in the genetic modification of living organisms to produce crops, trees, animals and microorganisms with “novel” (modified) characteristics. Put technically, some products of biotechnology include genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by natural process.

Genetic engineering (GE) has been a relatively new technology involving the manipulation of genes by a process that transfers genes from one species to another, unrelated, species. For example, a gene can be transferred from an animal to a plant. This newly created genetically modified organism (GMO) will pass the genetic changes on to its offspring. Genetic engineering currently applies mainly to industrial agriculture, with crops generally bred to be herbicide-resistant or insect-resistant. Food produced by this technology is commonly referred to as genetically modified food. Though, GMOs do not occur in a natural way, they could be designed to enable more environmentally sustainable management practices, on one hand and the release of GMOs may introduce a number of risks to human and animal health and the environment, on the other. There is no long-term study showing that GMOs are safe, however, doctors around the world have warned that GMO foods may cause unexpected health consequences that may take years to develop. Some of the key elements of concern are the unknown potential toxic and allergenic effects of GMOs, unnatural manipulation of nature and health hazards by eating ‘chemically derived food’.

With the trend of GMOs becoming a much ‘talked about’ and well debated issue, the ultimate stakeholders to bear the fruits or become victims of biotechnology are consumers. It is, thus, important that consumers are well aware of the benefits and potential risks that arise out of the use of those technologies. It is their right. The right to be informed is one of the basic consumer rights. Consumers need facts to make informed choices. The absence of adequate information infringes this consumer right. The other consumer rights are: right to safety, right to choose and right to a healthy and sustainable environment. Consumers must be protected against production, processes or services that are hazardous to their health, should be able select from a range of products in accordance with their beliefs and preferences and the well being of present and future generations is another consumer right that should be protected. All these rights are rightly put forwarded by this year’s Consumer Rights Day.

Every year 15 March is celebrated as the Consumer Rights Day in celebration and solidarity in the ongoing consumer movements. It was first observed on 15 March 1983 when the UN formally declared the day as World Consumer Rights Day and has since become an important occasion for mobilising citizen action. The day is generally concerned with the foods we eat, the medicines we take or the products we use in our homes. This kind of concerted effort all over the world in a single day augments the global consumers for a single cause.

“Our Food, Whose Choice?” was the concern raised by consumers all over the world five years ago in 2000, when Consumer Rights Day took its first look at GM foods. Realising the gravity of GM foods, again in 2003 consumers raised their voices against the “Corporate control of the food chain: the GM link”. Since the issue holds relevance to core and has become ever more pressing with the advent of biotechnology in the recent years, this year, consumers return to the issue once again and say “No to GMOs!” With something as personal and cultural as the food we eat, it is a choice the consumers deserve to have!