Índia se livra das sementes trangênicas da Monsanto
Tue Feb 16, 2010 1:28am EST
MUMBAI (Reuters) – The purple eggplant
that Indian shopper Tanuja Krishnan picks out at a Mumbai market stall
every week is an unlikely protagonist in a raging debate about whether
genetically modified foods should be introduced into India.
MUMBAI (Reuters) – The purple eggplant
A genetically modified version
of eggplant, a staple in fiery curries, was slated to be the first GM
food introduced into India in a bid to stabilize food prices and
mitigate some of the effects of climate change on Indian food crop
Yet, Environment Minister
Jairam Ramesh blocked the release of the vegetable until further notice
following an outcry by environmentalists and some farmers. The
opposition to GM foods was so heated that some protesters burned
Ramesh said there was not
enough public trust to support the introduction of such crops into
India’s food supply until more research was done to remove all doubts
that GM foods were safe for consumption.
while those from the camp that opposed GM foods are celebrating, there
are concerns that rising food prices will be a major problem for Indian
policymakers in the future unless the country starts embracing
genetically-modified food crops.
is bad for the country’s agricultural and biotechnology future. Our
scientists have lost their credibility, companies will be unwilling to
invest more money, and it will take us a long time to pick up the pieces
again," said C. Kameshwar Rao, an official at the Foundation for
Biotechnology Awareness & Education, a GM advocacy institute.
"Scientists can’t win a shouting match with
India’s farm sector
has changed very little since the advent of the Green Revolution with
crop yields failing to keep up with soaring population growth and rising
At the same time, damage
to crops from pests and disease have worsened due to rising temperatures
from climate change.
Known as Bt brinjal, the Indian word for
aubergine, the GM vegetable is able to resist some pests responsible for
devastating crops across India thanks to a gene from soil bacteria
called ‘bacillus thuringniensis’ (Bt).
thought of eating a genetic hybrid has made consumers such as Krishnan
wary. "I would try it to see if it tastes any different, if it has fewer
pests, but I think I would prefer organic brinjal just to be safe," she
The moratorium against the
release of the GM eggplant followed harsh criticism by environmentalists
and farmers who demanded rigorous testing and labeling standards before
Bt brinjal was cultivated.
monitoring measures should be immediately put in place to ensure that
no releases of GM crops happens," said Rajesh Krishnan, a manager for
sustainable agriculture at Greenpeace India.
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) opened the way for the
commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal last October, seven years after
approving Bt cotton, which is now grown on more than 80 percent of total
genetically modified cotton, India has become the world’s second largest
cotton producer and exporter after China, with about 5 million farmers
growing Bt cotton.
with Bt cotton has showed the technology has benefited the farmer, the
consumer and the states’ economies," said Bhagirath Choudhary, head of
the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) in Delhi.
have a solid case in Bt cotton, with higher yields, double the output
and less use of insecticide. But the technology is so sophisticated, the
general public is ignorant about it." India is among the top biotech
crop growing countries, trailing only Argentina, Brazil and the United
NO OTHER OPTION
India is the world’s second largest producer
of eggplant after China and the vegetable is also used in traditional
medicine to treat diabetes and hypertension.
1.4 million farmers grow eggplant, which is very susceptible to pest
attacks. Farmers tend to spray the crop with pesticides 30-50 times
during a crop cycle.
we eat now is more harmful because of the pesticide residue," said Raju
Shetty, a farmer leader in western Maharashtra state and a member of
He supported Bt brinjal
because he said "it will cut the cost of pesticide and boost yields.
That’s what farmers are seeking."
though the GM seeds for the vegetable would likely cost three times the
price and farmers would need to purchase seeds for every sowing rather
than reusing crop seeds, proponents say the extra expenses would be
compensated by lower pesticide costs and less devastating crop loses.
Expanding India’s food supply is crucial in
a country of one billion people, with predictions the population might
reach 1.4 billion by 2025.
United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization has said food
production will need to double by mid-century to meet demand from a
growing world population, prompting calls for a second Green Revolution.
But Greenpeace maintains GM crops are a
costly distraction from tackling hunger through fighting poverty and
helping small holders in developing countries sell their products.
A combination of changing diets, a growing
population, demand for farmland for industrialization and high energy
prices have stoked food prices globally, including in India, where the
food price index rose 17.56 percent in the 12 months to January 23.
India is also battling with lower crop
yields and more pests and plant disease because of higher temperatures,
raising concerns that India’s farm output could lag demand and the
world’s second most populous country will become a large food importer
unless crop yields jump.
economists and scientists in India favor a raft of policy initiatives,
including genetic engineering, to improve yields and increase resistance
to pests, disease and drought.
have a large population that’s growing in affluence, but our resources
— land, water, cheap labor — are all shrinking, so we have to increase
output quickly and efficiently," said Gyanendra Shukla, director of
Monsanto India Ltd.
"I don’t see
any other option but GM crops."
Monsanto launched the world’s first GM crop in 1996, more than 25
countries have taken to biotech crops including soybean, corn, tomato,
squash, papaya and sugarbeet.
brinjal was developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco) under
license from Monsanto, and estimates show economic benefits from higher
yields could top $400 million a year.
has also approved studies of GM okra, tomato and rice, but opponents
say GM should be a last resort.
can’t simply abandon all other solutions, including organic farming, to
focus just on biotechnology when the testing, labeling and enforcement
standards are so inadequate," said Kushal Yadav, an official at the
Center for Science and Environment.
Aside from health and
safety concerns, critics worry that the widespread use of GM crops will
put India’s food supply largely in the hands of a few giant corporations
that make the seeds.
There is also
the possibility of genetic contamination if the Bt genes cross
pollinate with other varieties.
recent report by U.S. health and environment protection groups said that
rather than reduce the use of pesticides, genetically engineered crops
had actually prompted increased use of these chemicals, caused an
epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds and resulted in more chemical
residues in foods.
against the technology also appears to be growing globally, with
consumer resistance to what British tabloids have dubbed "Frankenfood"
Even advocates in
India admit genetically modified crops are no magic bullet.
"Bt can’t be the panacea for all the
problems in Indian agriculture. But if we miss this, we miss the chance
to usher in a new technology, see how it can help us," Choudhary said.
(Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav
Dhar; Editing by Megan Goldin)