News / Health

India Debates Genetically-Modified Eggplant

Critics question safety of the pest-resistant strain

An Indian seed company has developed an eggplant that it says will dramatically reduce the need for pesticides.
An Indian seed company has developed an eggplant that it says will dramatically reduce the need for pesticides.

Multimedia

Audio

Indians call the eggplant the "king of vegetables". It's a popular ingredient in many native dishes.

But a hungry little caterpillar causes big problems for Indian eggplant farmers.

The caterpillar, called the fruit and shoot borer, eats holes in the stem of the plant, weakening it and reducing yields. It also munches on the eggplant itself, which is called a brinjal in India. Swapan Datta, deputy director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, says consumers won't buy a worm-eaten brinjal.

"Instead of a damaged brinjal, if they see a nice-looking brinjal, they buy it," he says. But he says, "They're also getting a lot of excessive residues of the pesticides."


Built-in pesticide

They're getting pesticides with their eggplant because farmers must spray dozens of times each growing season to keep the fruit and shoot borer off their vegetables. In addition to the health considerations, these applications cost farmers a lot of money.

An Indian seed company called Mahyco has developed an eggplant that it says will dramatically reduce the amount of pesticides eggplant farmers will need to spray. Mahyco's genetically modified eggplant produces a protein called Bt, which kills the caterpillar. Bt is found naturally in a soil bacterium and has been used for decades as an organic insecticide.

Safety testing

Datta's institution was among those reviewing the B-t brinjal for health and environmental safety.

"It is absolutely safe," he says. "There is no unintended effect, there is nothing indigestible left, there is no toxicological effect. So the data with the Bt brinjal and non-Bt brinjal, there is no difference."

But every new genetically modified food has generated controversy, and the Bt brinjal is no exception.

"I think it's a disaster," says Pushpa Bhargava, one of the pioneers of biotechnology in India. He recommends a different set of tests that should be performed before any genetically modified crop is released. "Only about 10 to 15 percent of these tests have been done," he says. "And even these have been done by the company applying for permission for open release. And the company's credentials are as bad as could be."

New crops, old conflicts

The company at the heart of this debate is Mahyco's partner company, the U.S.-based agribusiness giant Monsanto. Monsanto has a long history of conflicts with green groups over its chemical business, which included such controversial products as Agent Orange and DDT. Conflicts have continued as Monsanto has become a leader in crop biotechnology.

 

A U.S. food policy expert says flaws in India's regulatory system may be adding to concerns about genetically-modified eggplants.
A U.S. food policy expert says flaws in India's regulatory system may be adding to concerns about genetically-modified eggplants.


Other Bt crops, including cotton and maize produced by Monsanto and other companies, have been reviewed, approved and grown widely in the United States, Canada, Australia and parts of Europe. To date, there have been no reports of serious environmental or health problems.

But Vandana Shiva, a prominent Indian opponent of crop biotech, is not convinced that something won't come up.

"I think for decades after DDT was sprayed you [heard] nothing. Many of these impacts take place much later," Shiva says.

Regulatory questions 

Guillaume Gruere follows the biotech crop debate at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC. He points to some flaws in India's regulatory system that may have added to people's concerns.

"Maybe...part of why it's all debated, and why people are not confident in this process," he says, is because, "there have been some mistakes on whether they should include people or not [and] what types of tests they were running," and other problems with the system.

Gruere says the tests that were done were sufficient, even if the process has been lacking.

Public outcry

India's genetic engineering approval committee endorsed the B-t brinjal. But with debate swirling around the issue, India's environment minister held a series of public meetings across the country in January, some of which became shouting matches between supporters and opponents.

"He really asked for criticism, and he got it," Gruere says.

Whether that criticism swayed him against Bt brinjal, or whether farmers eager to spray fewer pesticides will win out may be evident soon. On Feb.10, the environment minister is expected to issue his opinion.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid