The BBC's Phalab Ghosh goes to India and suddenly the airwaves are full of lies.

"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."

Phalab Ghosh is the same BBC reporter repsonsible for the story that Sense about Science had got the BMA to change their position on GM. A claim the BMA flatly denied.
GM Potato Hoax : Future of GM Foods Rests on Lies
Lies about GM Potato to solve 3rd World HungerResearch Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi:
RFSTE Release 11th June 2003

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

Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth
protein genes compared to amaranth ( - 10.3 mg/100gm )
Calcium Amaranth ( 510mg/ 100gm )
Potatoes ( 10mg/ 100gm )
Nutrition in GM Potatoes with Amaranth
protein genes compared to amaranth ( - 500mg/100gm )
Protein 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 potatoes.

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 agencies.

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.  

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