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3-Food: Critique on "Genetically modified 'protato' to feed India's poor"

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SOURCE: Research Foundation for Science Technology & Ecology, India
DATE:   Jan 9, 2003

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First it was the "Golden Rice Hoax" to sell genetically engineered foods as 
a solution to hunger and poverty and blindness due to Vit A deficiency. We 
showed that greens and fruits and vegetables that could be grown in every 
backyard provided hundreds of times more Vit A than "golden rice". 
Coriander leaves, curry leaves, drumstick leaves have nearly 14,000 
microgram/100 gm of Beta carotene (pro Vit A) compared to only 30 microgram/
100 gm in Golden rice. Even the farmer bred "Red Rice" of Uttaranchal has 
higher levels of Beta Carotene than "Golden Rice".

The flop of Golden Rice as a public relations gimmick of the biotech 
industry failed to salvage the faltering image of genetically engineered 
food as a miracle cure of hunger.

We are now being sold a "Protein Potato" hoax as part of anti-hunger plan 
formulated in collaboration with charities, scientists, government 
institutes and industry.

As reported in the New Scientist of Jan 2, 2003, the plan was presented at 
a conference in London by G. Padmanaban who as director of India's 
prestigious Indian Institute of Science had signed a secret deal with 
Monsanto which even his fellow scientists of the Institute knew nothing 

Even though it is independent institutes in the Third World like our 
Research Foundation for Science Technology & Ecology which work on 
Biodiversity, Farmers Rights, & Food Security, which first exposed the 
Golden Rice hoax, G. Padmanaban deliberately distorted the debate and 
identified "Western environment groups" as "demonizing" the golden rice 
project. This is the biotech industry strategy  silence & suppress Third 
World voices for food sovereignity & biosafety, present GMO's as the 
solution to hunger, & present all centers as "rich, western, 

The GM potato has been developed by Asis Datta of the Jawaharlal Nehru 
University in New Delhi who had earlier tried to sell & patent the same 
genetic engineering technology by introducing amaranth genes into rice. Dr. 
Datta has also been on Department of Biotechnology committees which give 
grants and he is thus both the giver and receiver of biotechnology funds.

The genetically engineered potato that is now being offered in this 
desperate attempt to offer GMO's as part of an anti-hunger strategy has 
genes from amaranth.

Amaranth is available in huge quantities in the Indian Himalaya. Navdanya, 
our organic movement, is increasing the use of amaranth products, such as 
ready to eat cereals, flour, baked goods - beyond the traditional use of 
amaranth as a fasting food.

Amaranth contains 14-7 gms per 100 gm of grain, compared to 6.8 gm/100gm in 
milled rice and 11 gm/100gm in wheat flour and 1.6 gm/100 gm in potato.

However, inserting genetically engineering genes for proteins from amaranth 
into potatoes, and promoting potato as a staple for mid-day meals for 
children is a decision to not promote amaranth and pulses (the most 
important source of protein in the Indian diet).

When compared to bringing nutrition through grains like amaranth, 
genetically engineered potatoes will in fact create malnutrition because 
they will deny to vulnerable children the other nutrients available in 
grain amaranth and not available in potato. The table below gives the 
comparative nutrition from amaranth and potatoes.

            Iron          Calcium          Protein
Amaranth    11mg/100gm    510mg/100gm      14.7gm/100gm
Potatoes    0.7mg/100gm    10mg/100gm       1.6gm/100gm

Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth protein genes compared to amaranth
         -10.3 mg/100gm  -500mg/100gm       Assume same (in GE-potato)

Thus genetically engineered potato will in fact spread iron deficiency and 
calcium deficiency in children. A much smarter option is to spread the 
cultivation and use of amazing grains like amaranth. The ancient people of 
the Andes treated amaranth as sacred. In India it is called "Ramdana" or 
god's own grain. The root word "amara", in both Greek and Sanskrit means 
eternal or deathless.

Dr. Datta & Dr. Padmanaban's recipe of GM potato is one of pushing out the 
amaranth from cultivation & consumption, reducing it to a "mine" for 
protein genes, and spreading a monoculture of potato cultivation and 
consumption. This is a recipe for biodiversity erosion and hunger creation.

In any case, amaranth is not the only source of protein in India's rich 
biodiversity and cuisine. Our "dals", pulses, legumes that are a staple 
with rice as dal-chawal and with wheat as dal-roti are very rich in protein.

Proteins in different pulses:

Pulse                    Protein
Bengal gram (whole)      17.1 gm/100 gm
Bengal gram roasted      22.5 gm/100 gm
Black gram               24.0 gm/100 gm
Cow pea                  24.1 gm/100 gm
Field Bean               24.9 gm/100 gm
Green gram dal           24.5 gm/100 gm
Horse gram               22.0 gm/100 gm
Lentil                   25.1 gm/100 gm
Moth bean                23.6 gm/100 gm
Peas dry                 19.7 gm/100 gm
Rajma                    22.9 gm/100 gm
Redgram                  22.3 gm/100 gm
Soya bean                43.2 gm/100 gm

The consumption of dals & pulses provides much higher levels of proteins 
than genetically engineered potatoes can. Pulses are also necessary for 
sustainable agriculture, since they are nitrogen fixing crops and provide 
an ecological alternative to chemical nitrogenous fertilizers.

Pulses have been made expensive by being made scarce through the spread of 
green revolution monocultures of wheat and rice. In Punjab alone, the area 
under pulses went down from 13.38 % to 3.48 % during 1966-67 to 1985-86. 
Traditional agriculture was based on mixtures of cereals & pulses. New 
initiatives like Navdanya are rejuvenating mixed cropping with pulses to 
increase both nutritional security and ecological security.

Genetically engineered potatoes are not the solution to the artificially 
created scarcity of pulses through monocultures & industrial agriculture. 
The protein solution for India's poor lies in rejuvenating our rich 
biodiversity and food culture. India is nutritionally better off without 
the pseudo solution to hunger offered by Datta & Padmanaban and the biotech 


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