Category Archives: Pros and Cons

A Lateral View on Genetically Modified Crops

I recently had to write an essay on Genetically Modified Crops for my Biology project, which took up most of my weekend. This got me into thinking further on the subject.

Genetically modified crops, or GM crops, are very simply put crops with foreign genes inserted into them. The most popular GM crop is Bt cotton, which is grown in India, and is the only mass-produced GM crop in the country.  GM crops have been the subjects of controversy from the word get go – but what exactly are people debating about? Some people are debating GM crops as a product itself; saying that they can be injurious to our health, kill pollinating agents and lead to super bugs and super weeds. But other people are protesting the role of multinational corporations like Monsanto. So how many of these allegations are true?

GM crops are known to produce highly evolved species of pests and weeds. This is due to evolutionary pressure being put on that species as crops like Bt cotton are made to kill bollworms, which eat cotton leaves. Now there have been reports of bollworms eating the GM cotton and surviving, along with reports of weeds not dying with herbicides. In Andhra Pradesh Bt cotton yield decreased because of bollworms eating Bt cotton, and the farmers were forced to buy an improved variety of the seed, which was more expensive and is said to have no effect on the bollworms in some regions. GM crops are also known to kill pollinating agents such as bees and butterflies. That is what one group of people says.

The other group has no problem with GM crops; they just have problems with Monsanto. Monsanto is a huge multinational corporation and the leading producer of GM crops in the world; exporting it’s products throughout the globe except most of Europe. It mainly exports corn, soybean, cotton, wheat, canola, sorghum and sugar cane seeds, each with it’s own modification or ‘version’. Monsanto drew attention (the bad kind) when it patented a gene for a GM crop. This had never been done before and people didn’t like it. The patent meant that if you buy the GM seeds, you can’t harvest the seeds, and if you do, you will be prosecuted. Monsanto has sued more than a 100 farmers for doing this, alleging breach of contract and infringement. Most farmers couldn’t afford the costs of a prolonged legal battle with a giant like Monsanto and went bankrupt. The others couldn’t even afford to pay a lawyer to take Monsanto to court. Monsanto also sued a farmer who harvested the seeds of a GM crop unknowingly after the seeds blew in from another farm. Bottomline, all the farmers who raised a voice against Monsanto, perished into oblivion, enraging this group who are now protesting against the MNC.

People also think that GM seeds are too expensive. That is true. While regular cotton seeds cost Rs. 50-60/KG, Bt seeds cost Rs.3,000-4,000/KG. And since Bt cotton stopped working, Monsanto released a new seed with two Bt genes instead of one, and some people think this is a marketing strategy and does nothing different. The high price of GM seeds combined with the fact that GM crops are now fast replacing organic crops, encourages farmers to harvest the GM seeds – against Monsanto policies – and risk getting sued.

On the plus side, GM crops have bigger yield and less use of herbicides and pesticides. Crops like Bt cotton kills the bollworm so that the farmers don’t have to spray pesticides on their crops. GM crops have better flavor and some GM crops contain extra nutrients like Golden Rice containing extra Vitamin A. Also crops can be cold tolerant or drought tolerant so that it can be grown in places that the normal seed cannot be grown. GM crops are also disease resistant, and some GM crops are herbicide resistant – this leads to less herbicide sprayed on the crops and thus damage to the environment is reduced. Although these benefits don’t look very important they however are. GM crops can grow in a variety of climates, which means that more food can be produced in areas where food is scarce. Golden rice can help in Vitamin A deficiency. Crop yield is increased because farmers don’t have to worry about weeds, pests or diseases. This can have major implications as GM crops become more and more mainstream, cheaper ways to produce them can be invented and this could end world hunger. But corporations like Monsanto who patent the gene for pure profit stop this from happening. If other people could research the gene, GM crops could be much more advanced. If Monsanto changes its policies, it would be beneficial for the entire world.

So, which group are you a part of?


A Lateral View on Video Games

Gaming has become a popular activity among adults and children alike. If you are like me, you will be reading every article you can find on the game that you’re itching to get your hands on, and feel conflicted because you want the day it releases to come faster, but at the same time you don’t want your exams to come faster. *Sigh!!* Talk about first world problems.

Video games are fun, but they do come with their downsides. First off, they can ruin your eyes. Who doesn’t know that? Some people think that it’s the games that ruin your eyesight. It is actually the screen itself, whether you’re playing video games or not, and gadgets like the Oculus Rift  don’t affect your eyes at all. Although it’s meant for video games, it can be used for military practice, education etc. And some of the most popular channels on YouTube are related to gaming. But you can play too many games, for too much time. If you play video games while you are supposed to be doing something else, the results can be disastrous. Excess of video games can take a toll on your work and social life. If you have a project due, you will procrastinate and put it off for later just so that you can play a few more hours! This can get serious and your career and social life can take a huge hit.

But, on the other hand, video games are fun, engaging, and they improve hand-eye co-ordination, team work, reduce depression and improve your decision making skills. First person shooters are said to increase aggression in kids, but several studies have been done in this regard and the consensus is that the aggression shown in violent video games are not transferred to all the kids playing them, and is dependent on the home environment and the overall nature of the child. Games like Minecraft also help build resource management skills. Games also help increase the eyes’ agility, as long it is not exposed to the screen for a long period of time. The video game industry is in it’s prime and joining a game developing company such as EA or Ubisoft as a game tester or game designer is a  viable career option. In 2012 the video game industry was worth $67 billion, and is expected to rise to $82 billion by 2017.  Video games are also used to cure many mental illnesses and cataracts. Video games provide the player with a surreal experience that can’t be found in real life, and although this is the cause for most addictions, if they are balanced with other things, they can be fun and engaging.

A Lateral View on Formal Education.

My tests have just gotten over, and I’ve been thinking about formal education, specifically about its necessity in today’s day and age. Formal education in the olden days was only provided to the higher classes and the lower classes had to be educated by their parents. Not much has changed today. The best education is given by big private schools, while the poorer people have to make do with whatever education the government provides them in the government aided public schools. That being said, what is the benefit of a school as an institutionalized education provider? As members of the privileged classes, we have access to the internet, and all the knowledge in the world. Yet we children are still sent to a private or public school as soon as we learn to utter our first sound. I am referring to the standardized K-12 education, especially in India. Everything we learn during this period, can be taught to us by our parent/s and/or the internet. Universities like Harvard and Yale also accept home schooled students, and they also get more scholarships. So why isn’t that a mainstream choice? Sometimes this type of education is better than institutionalised education. There is no stress of exams, there is no standardized curriculum, and we can focus on our strengths and interests. For example, I am interested in Theoretical Physics and Math but I hate Biology. I want to become a Physicist and can’t stop wondering how will the knowledge of asexual reproduction in plants help me later in life? I will memorise the chapter for the exams, but I will forget it soon after.  With homeschooling , I can focus on Physics, Math and other subjects that I find interesting, some of which are not in the standard curriculum, e.g., Quantum Physics. I may also focus on topics which I may need later in life, whether I like them or not.

But on the other hand, the discipline and pressure of schools give us the initiative to study and exams give us something to strive for. We get to meet new friends, share experiences and expand our horizons. It is good for developing all round skills, but we can start honing our skills after the 10th grade. We get occasional endorsements from teachers (as rare as getting a Master Ball in Pokemon), access to equipment in the labs and certain practices of application to the theories we study in books (although this is more of a feature of the international curriculums and not practised in the national curriculum). I went to a school called Singapore International School and I remember doing Science experiments in third and fourth grade which I should be doing now in eighth (and which I’m still not getting to do because now I’m in a national curriculum). That is all that comes to mind as to the benefits of an institutionalised education system. These don’t seem like a big enough returns to offset the amount of money and energy we spend on private schools. So why do parents do it? Is it because they themselves went to school? Is it because other parents do it? Or is it out of fear that their kids won’t get into good colleges? My best guess is that social convention dictates it, and laws like RTE carve it in stone.

So why can’t we all be like Sheldon?

Social Convention is Stupid