News / Science & Technology

India Halts Growth of Genetically-Modified Eggplants

Skeptics urge more thorough testing

Multimedia

Audio

Indian officials have announced they will ban commercial planting of genetically modified eggplants until more tests demonstrate its safety. The decision follows heated public debate over the risks and benefits of the crop, which was designed to reduce the amount of insecticides applied to the vegetable.

Researchers worldwide are developing GM crops to tackle some of the world's biggest challenges in agriculture, from drought in Africa to floods in Asia. But as the ruling in India demonstrates, public concerns about GM crops remain strong even after more than a decade on the market.

Supporters say the GM eggplant would improve yields and reduce the use of harmful pesticides. Opponents say they are a threat to human health and environmental safety. These are the same battle lines that were drawn even before the first GM crops were introduced in the 1990s. And they haven't changed much since then.

Same story

The debate persists despite the fact that, for the past 13 years, GM crops have been grown and consumed without any evidence of a major health or environmental problem. An estimated 100 million hectares of GM crops were grown in 25 countries in 2008. That should put the opposition to rest, says Nina Fedoroff, a plant geneticist and a U.S. State Department advisor. But it hasn't.

"The only way that I can stay patient," she says, "is to recognize that this is not unique to GM foods, and it is not new."

Fedoroff says one reason that hostility to GM foods persists is because scientific advances often move faster than public acceptance. In the 19th century, opposition to a new smallpox vaccine continued after scientists were convinced it was safe and effective. In the 1960s and 1970s, she says, the Green Revolution's high-yielding crop varieties, which fed millions in South Asia, had their detractors, too.

"They were reputed to cause impotence, and all the things that people say GM plants cause today," she says. "And it just took work and dedication on the part of scientists who knew and believed that this was important for people to have. And now we look back and say, 'Oh, gee, that was great.'"

Urgent need to "get beyond" anti-GM bias

Fedoroff and a group of scientists from U.S. universities, international institutes and seed companies write in this week's issue of the journal Science, "There is a critical need to get beyond popular biases against the use of agricultural biotechnology." The article notes that there will be 3 billion more mouths to feed by mid-century while climate change threatens food supplies. GM, they say, is one of the technologies that can help meet the challenges.

"But, you know, we are losing time," adds P. A. Kumar, director of India's National Research Center for Plant Biotechnology. He's been working on developing the controversial eggplant and other GM crops for the better part of two decades. He says the needs in India are urgent.

"The food and nutritional security of this country is really under threat. On top of that, the environmental degradation, the quality of water, the quality of soil, the quality of [the] environment, are being compromised by the heavy use of pesticides in our agriculture," Kumar says.

Not so fast

The urgent call from supporters to move GM technology forward is matched by the intensity of opponents who say, "slow down."

Mira Shiva, with the Indian group Doctors for Food and Biosafety, is one of them. She says, look at the experience with some pharmaceuticals.

"Numerous drugs that were said to be very safe, over time they were found not to be safe," she says. "It happens. But they could be withdrawn. You cannot withdraw genetically modified [crops] at all. You cannot withdraw [them]. So, God forbid [that] tomorrow there are problems."

Unanswered questions

Doug Gurion-Sherman used to look for problems with GM crops as a regulator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He's now with the Union of Concerned Scientists. And he says one reason the doubts about GM crops persist is because even after more than a decade of use, some questions have gone unanswered.

"I don't think there's any definitive data that shows that these plants cause harm," he says. "What [the data] point to is a general inadequacy of the data requirements."

Gurion-Sherman says the data requirements for toxicity, for example, only call for 90-day tests, and they are not sensitive enough to detect problems if they do arise. Though more tests would cost the companies developing the plants more money, he says resistance to more rigorous testing is short-sighted.

Question of trust

"Until the proponents of the crop, who have adamantly resisted strengthening regulations, understand that public confidence is going to depend on regulatory agencies that can be counted on, that huge public mistrust is going to remain," he adds.

The question of trust could surface again. New GM crops are being developed that promise to cope with some of the world's biggest challenges in food production including tolerance to drought and salty soils and more efficient use of fertilizer. But, as India's moratorium on GM eggplant shows, these innovations will likely remain on the shelf unless the public trusts the regulators who say these crops are safe.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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