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

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs