India Says No to Genetically Modified Eggplants

By Smriti Rao | February 10, 2010 1:37 pm

Eggplant_dsc07800After much debate over balancing the need for independent scientific testing and the needs of poor Indian farmers, the Indian government has decided to put on hold the introduction of genetically modified eggplant in the country. The move hampers the expansion of seed makers including Monsanto Co. in the world’s second-most populous nation [BusinessWeek]. The government said there was no overriding food security argument for GM eggplant, and added that more safety studies needed to be done before the ban could be reconsidered.

There is little evidence that GMO eggplant would cause harm to people eating it, but the crop is consumed very often in India, and some scientists and regulators argued that they needed more proof that long-term consumption wouldn’t cause a problem. “It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product” [Daily News and Analysis], said the environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, who delivered the announcement.

The eggplant had been genetically modified by introducing a gene called cry1Ac from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. The gene instructs the plant to produce a protein toxic to certain insects, so the GM eggplants would have been able to fend off common borer pests. The Bt was sourced from Monsanto, which already sells Bt corn and Bt cotton seeds in the United States. In the 1990s, Monsanto triggered a huge debate in India by introducing genetically modified cotton.

Alhough the GM eggplant (or brinjal, as it is called in India) was cleared by a federal agency, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the government put the roll-out on hold. Ramesh also said the national bureau of plant genetic resources had found that India’s diversity rich regions were likely to be affected by the introduction of Bt Brinjal due to gene flow [Daily News and Analysis]—the tendency of crops to cross-breed and share genetic traits with other plants.

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Image: Wikmedia / David. Monniaux

  • Kat

    Woo! Go India! I too wouldn’t mind GM food, if it were better tested. And I don’t just mean health concerns, I also mean environmentally testing it to make sure it won’t overrun native populations or cause unforeseen problems. Or at least, try to see more of those currently, unforeseen effects of GM foods.

  • infoblues

    Thats great news. Further testing is essential not only regarding the safety of the eggplant, but also larger issues in terms of its impact on diversity, gene pool, and role of seed companies in the future prosperity and independence of farmers. We need to understand what the impact of undoing / changing what nature does in the longer term have, and that deserves appropriate long term studies.

  • Teja

    It has more to do with the HUGE amount of bad press that Monsanto got (which I think is justified) when India was going through its first “Green revolution” than its fear of adopting a new technology.

    There are arguments that go both ways, but I tend to agree with this, even if slightly exaggerated – http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Monsanto_in_India

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/02/10/india-says-no-to-genetically-modified-eggplants/ bal

    Eggplant is not a major crop in India. I do not think that we have a shortage of eggplants in India at the moment. So there is no need to introduce Bt brinjal.
    Report says advantage of eggplants to poor farmers in India. How many poor farmers in India grow eggplant?
    What about other (wheat, rice, food legumes) crops?

  • Jack

    One of the fundamental issues with insect resistant genetically modified foods is that they would invariably produce a toxin. Although, the toxin(s) are supposed to “harmless” to humans. The human antigens now have to fight against an array of such “harmless” toxins that they probably are not designed for. While we achieve economic and fiscal successes through these breeding programs, the long term ramifications of these created higher levels of toxicity of to the humans itself need a renewed and perhaps a closer scrutiny.

  • Jay Fox

    The only economic success from this would be to Monsanto. The farmer would have to buy new seeds EVERY YEAR. Monsanto has shown in the past that they are not about providing food crops, but providing SEEDS for PROFIT. That in itself is not such a bad thing. But by selling seeds that produce a crop loaded with poison, they are not doing anyone any favors.

    There are currently many arguments for not using this particular technology due to unknown effects. Monsanto does not release their own study results to the public, and that alone should make one wary. If these GM crops were really as safe as they claim, they should put everything on the table for all to see. Their refusal to do so speaks louder than all of their secret studies combined.

    All GM foods should be labeled as such, and let the market decide if they are viable alternatives. Those who wish to remain ignorant may buy them, but anyone who does not wish to consume these frankenfoods should be given the opportunity to opt out. In the meantime, those pushing these foods can themselves become part of the studies. Eat all of it you want, then submit yourselves to the scientists for dissection. After all, when the rats die from this stuff, you say, “well, they’re rats, not people.”

    Let’s see some real test results done on real people. Document every single bite of everything. Take a pair of twins, feed one this stuff, and the other real food. Follow them for ten or twenty years. Get back to us on how that works out. THEN try to sell us this stuff. In the meantime, I, and many like me, do not wish to become lab rats for Monsanto.

  • Krishnan,M.R

    The very fact that the seeds are contrlled by the Monsonto and the farmer is under their mercy spells doubts

  • meatball

    As a Sicilian conceived via in vitro fertilization, recently denied a student visa in India, I take great offense to the title of this story.

  • http://www.ecovore.org Evz

    Good for India! Glad to see someone gets a say in the issue BESIDES Monsanto: they’ve pretty much been allowed to write national biotech policy in the U.S., with zero accountability for problems caused to farmers, consumers, or the environment. Bt cotton was a disaster, in India; there’s no shortage of Indian brinjal; there’s no reason to think it would be a good idea for *anyone* but Monsanto.

    I strongly encourage everyone who eats food on this planet to watch ‘The World According to Monsanto’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hErvV5YEHkE); or read http://www.ecovore.org/blog/?p=255, or http://www.ecovore.org/blog/?p=647, for why this (evil empire of a) company does NOT need to be in charge of the world’s food supply!

  • charlie bush

    Good one, meatball.

  • http://discovermagazine Iain Park

    Kat, poster 1 , what does over running native population have to do with anything? Corporate farming has CHANGED the beefsteak tomatoe from a deliscious soggy sorta thing (when i was a kid) to a woody, saw it apart, tasteless thing we have today. So what’s your point? It’s already been done with everything we eat, modified through selective breeding for shelf life rather than taste and/or nutrician.

    Infoblues, poster 2, look at my reply to poster 1. Surely you don’t think that your food is the same as what it was 100 years ago. If you do, you need to go get an education.

    I do agree, all GM foods should be labeled as such or containing such and let the market decide.

  • Scott Mcfaddin

    ??

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