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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid