GENET archive


2-Plants: India 'to approve GM potato'

genet-news mailing list

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  India 'to approve GM potato'
SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation, by Pallab Ghosh
DATE:   June 10, 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

   "We see this as a technology for the future"
                                                 Dr Balvinder Singh Khalsi

   "What this country pulses. The pulses contain 20-26%
    proteins... this potato has 2.5% protein. Please tell me which one is
                                                        Dr Devinder Sharma

India 'to approve GM potato'

The commercial growing of a genetically modified potato which contains
nutrients lacking in the diets of many of the poorest is expected to be
approved in India within six months.

Experts say malnutrition affects huge numbers of people in India The
influential head of the Indian Government's Department of Biotechnology,
Dr Manju Sharma, said the potato would be given free to millions of poor
children at government schools to try to reduce the problem of
malnutrition in the country.

The potato contains a third more protein than normal, including essential
high-quality nutrients, and has been created by adding a gene from the
protein-rich amaranth plant.

But critics describe the plan as risky, naive and a propaganda tool to
promote the merits of GM food in India.

'Technology for the future'

The "protato", as it has become known, is in its final stages of
regulatory approval which Dr Sharma said she was very confident of getting.

She plans to incorporate it into the government's free midday meal
programme in schools.

"There has been a serious concern that malnutrition is one of the reasons
for the blindness, the vitamin A deficiency, the protein deficiency," Dr
Sharma told the BBC.

"So it is really a very important global concern, particularly in the
developing world," she added.

One of India's leading industrialists in biotechnology, Dr Balvinder
Singh Khalsi, chief executive of Dupont, said the project had enormous
potential for the country.

"We see this as a technology for the future, because the real need for
India is to feed its growing population. This technology is really going
to the benefit of improving the yields, better quality food, larger
quantity," Dr Khalsi said.

He pointed to last year's controversial introduction of GM cotton, known
as Bt cotton, saying that "the Bt craze has caught up" with Indian
farmers very quickly.

"Once [GM technology] is introduced into other crops, and the people
start seeing the values of it, we believe the technology will be accepted
by the farmers and the growing population," Dr Khalsi said.

'No sense'

But critics such as Dr Devinder Sharma dismiss the potato project as a
mere propaganda campaign to promote GM food in India.

"What this country needs and which it has in abundance is pulses. Now the
pulses contain 20-26% proteins. This potato they talk about has 2.5%
protein. Please tell me which one is better," he says.

Some environmental campaigners also say biotechnology companies may have
overstated the case for GM crops.

"The potential for the technology has to be assessed in terms of what is
being offered and are there alternatives?" environmental campaigner
Vandana Shiva says.

"If it's the only way to get to a certain place, then sure. But if I can
control weeds by doing mixed farming... it makes no sense to permanently
introduce genes, to introduce toxins into my biodiversity, allow
contamination of related crops," Mrs Shiva says.

The team that created the "protato" says it now plans to use genetic
engineering to develop cereals, fruits and other vegetables rich in protein.

It hopes this new generation of crops will sell the benefits of GM to a
wary public.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  GM Potato Hoax : Future of GM Foods Rests on Lies
          Lies about GM Potato to solve 3rd World Hunger
SOURCE: Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, India,
Press Release
DATE:   June 11, 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

GM Potato Hoax : Future of GM Foods Rests on Lies
Lies about GM Potato to solve 3rd World Hunger

New Delhi: The BBC reported today that, "the commercial growing of a
genetically modified potato is expected to be approved in India within
six months. The protein-rich genetically modified potato could help
combat malnutrition in India. Its developers say the "potato" could help
tackle nutrition problems amongst the country's poorest children".

First it was the "Golden Rice Hoax" to sell genetically engineered foods
as a solution to hunger and poverty and blindness due to Vitamin A
deficiency. We showed that greens and fruits and vegetables that could be
grown in every backyard provided hundreds of times more Vitamin A than
"golden rice". Now we are being sold a "Protein Potato" hoax as part of
anti-hunger plan formulated in collaboration with government institutes,
scientists, industry and charities. The potato is claimed to contain a
third more protein than normal, including essential high-quality
nutrients, and has been created by adding a gene from the protein-rich
amaranth plant.

However the claims of the developers of GM potato are laced with lies and
is suspected to be violative of the biosafety regulations in India.

1. Lies about solving Problem of Hunger and Malnutrition

BBC reported Dr. Manju Sharma, Head of the Department of Biotechnology
(DBT), saying that "the GM potato" reduce the problem of malnutrition in
the country". She plans to incorporate it into the government's free
midday meal programme in schools.

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 not to promote amaranth and pulses (the
most important source of protein in the Indian diet). Amaranth contains
14.7 gms of protein 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.

When compared to bringing nutrition through grains like amaranth,
genetically engineered potatoes will in fact create malnutrition because
it 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.


Amaranth        ( 11   mg/100gm)
Potatoes        (  0.7 mg/100gm)

Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth protein genes compared to amaranth
                (-10.3 mg/100gm )

Amaranth        ( 510 mg/100gm)
Potatoes        (  10 mg/100gm)

Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth protein genes compared to amaranth
                ( -500mg/ 100gm)

Amaranth        ( 14.7gm/100gm)
Potatoes        (  1.6gm/100gm)

Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth protein genes compared to amaranth
                ( Assume same )

Thus genetically engineered potato will in fact spread iron deficiency
and calcium deficiency in children. 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. A much smarter option is to spread the cultivation and use of
amazing grains like amaranth.

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 also very rich in
protein. The consumption of dals & pulses provides much higher levels of
proteins than GM potatoes can.

The poor Indian children would get full balanced diet in dals, pulses and
amaranth instead of getting malnourished by consuming "protein rich" GM

Proteins in Different Pulses
Pulses              Protein per 100 gm

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

Not yet cleared by GEAC: BBC reported that the GM potato would be cleared
for commercial cultivation in next six months. It also reported Dr. Manju
Sharma, saying, "the potato is in its final stages of regulatory approval
which she was very confident of getting". However in response to our
phone call, GEAC authorities said that till today Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC) has not received any request for large-scale
field trials of GM potato from DBT or developers of the GM Potato. It is
under the jurisdiction of GEAC to clear large-scale commercial trials of
GM crops.

In India potato is a winter crop and the winter season starts around
November. Since there is no application in GEAC till today, it is almost
clear that DBT and the developers of GM potato have bypassed GEAC for
regulatory trials and would straight get clearance for commercial
planting. In that case DBT through its agency Review Committee on Genetic
Manipulation (RCGM) would repeat the blunder committed in the case of Bt.
cotton when it cleared large scale open field trials of Bt. cotton
usurping the jurisdiction of GEAC. In violation of the biosafety
regulation and the EPA Rules of 1989 on GMOs, the RFTSE went to the
Supreme Court of India against RCGM and DBT as well as other regulatory

So far India has not cleared any GM food. Early this year India sent back
a consignment of two shiploads of 10,000 tons of GM corn soya blend
imported by CARE-India and Catholic Relief Services. This was made
possible because of a major mobilisation of women's groups against the GM
import, organized as the National Alliance of Women for Food Rights under
the movement of Diverse Women for Diversity. Like the two charity
organisations tried to force feed the GM corn soya blend to poor Indian
children on the name of relief programme, Head of the DBT as well as
developers of GM potato plans to force feed the poor school children with
GM potato and subsidizing the biotech industry and thus treating poor
Indian children as guinea pig.

GM Potato, Death Trap for Indian Farmers: This year several potato
growers of Uttar Pradesh and other parts of country committed suicides
because of over production and no buyers. While the farmers are spending
Rs. 255/quintal on production, potatoes are being sold for Rs. 40/
quintal, leaving farmers at a loss of Rs. 200 for every quintal produced.
Per hectare the costs of production are between Rs. 55,000/ha to Rs.
65,000/ha, of which Rs. 40,000 is the cost of seed alone.

The crisis for potato growers, like the crisis for producers of tomatoes,
cotton and oil seeds and other crops is directly related to World Bank
and W.T.O. driven trade liberalisation policies, of which the new
Agricultural policies is a direct outcome. The policies of globalisation
and trade liberalisation have created a potato crisis, in particular,
because of the shift from diversity and multifunctionality of agriculture
to monocultures and standardisation, chemical and capital intensification
of production, and deregulation of the input sector, especially seeds
leading to rising costs of production.

The impact of the new agriculture policy has been to promote a shift from
food grains to vegetables and perishable commodities. While grains can be
stored and consumed locally, potatoes and tomatoes must be sold
immediately. A vegetable centred policy thus decreases food security and
increases farmers vulnerability to the market.

The genetic uniformity and monoculture of potato through introduction of
GM potato would be disastrous for Indian farmers and could lead to more
suicides due to increased cost of production and vulnerable market due to
withdrawal of state from effective price regulation leading to collapse
in prices of farm commodities.

Genetically engineered potatoes is not the solution for malnutrition and
hunger in the country which is mainly created because of 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
Dr. Manju Sharma and the developers of the GM potato.

For any further information please contact:

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE)
A - 60, Hauz Khas, New Delhi - 110016 - INDIA
Tel: 0091-11-2656-1868, 2696-8077
Fax: 0091-11-2656-2093


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

phone:  +49-531-5168746
fax:    +49-531-5168747
mobile: +49-162-1054755
email:  genetnl(at)