You can see why the Indian government got rid of the head of its GM regulatory committee (GEAC) if it's going to be party to PR(otato) stunts like this that take risks with children's health while barely impacting on malnutrition.
'Leading Indian food analyst Devinder Sharma dismissed the GM potato as "another magic bullet from the trashcan of biotechnology industry". He argued that protein could be better provided by the pulses used traditionally in India. "What this country needs is pulses. They contain 20%-26% proteins... this potato has 2.5% protein. Please tell me which one is better."' - Guardian article below
Scientists develop GM 'protato' to feed India's poorest children
Thursday June 12, 2003, The Guardian
The Indian government raised the global biotechnology stakes yesterday by saying it intended to feed "nutritionally enhanced" GM potatoes to poor children as early as next year. But objectors claimed that the plan, which relies on the potatoes being scientifically approved, was risky and naive, and would barely impact on malnutrition
Scientists claim the controversial potato, known as the "protato", contains at least a third more protein than normal tubers, and that it holds "high-quality nutrients". It has been created by the addition of a gene called AmA1 taken from the amaranth plant, which is native to South America and sold widely in western healthfood stores.
The extra gene is said to give ordinary potatoes 30%-50% more protein, as well as substantial amounts of the amino acids lysine and methionine. The transgenic plant, developed by a team of scientists led by Asis Datta, who also leads the review committee on genetic modification in the Indian government's biotechnology department, is now in its third year of field trials and could be approved within six months.
Yesterday the head of the biotechnology department, Manju Sharma, said the protato would be given free to millions of poor children to try to reduce malnutrition in the country.
Dr Sharma said she planned to incorporate the vegetable into the government's free, midday meal programme for schools. "There has been a serious concern that malnutrition is one of the reasons for the blindness, the vitamin A deficiency, the protein deficiency. So it is really a very important global concern, particularly in the developing world," she told the BBC yesterday.
But critics reacted by saying there were other conventionally grown foods with far higher nutritional values which could more easily and cheaply enrich the diets of malnourished children. Leading Indian food analyst Devinder Sharma dismissed the GM potato as "another magic bullet from the trashcan of biotechnology industry". He argued that protein could be better provided by the pulses used traditionally in India. "What this country needs is pulses. They contain 20%-26% proteins... this potato has 2.5% protein. Please tell me which one is better."
Greenpeace campaigners dismissed the protato as an advertisement for biotechnology. "Years were spent in a lab trying to lever protein into potatoes, while cheap, protein-rich pulses grow abundantly all over India," one said. "It makes you wonder what problem the scientists were trying to solve."
New Delhi is committed to tackling serious malnutrition rates among the poor, but it is also believed to have one eye on the £116bn global potato market. India exports 18,000 tonnes of potatoes to 29 countries, including European states, and is the main provider of seed potatoes to Bangladesh and other developing countries.
If, as expected, the protato is approved by Christmas, India will have won the race to develop the first "functional" GM food. British, American and Australian researchers are all working on a range of other vegetables that the industry claims could counter malnutrition and illness. More than 600 million people worldwide are thought to be malnourished.
The GM innovations include vegetables and fruit that could stimulate the immune system, and rice modified to carry extra iron and vitamins. But despite promises that these foods were to have been available some years ago, most are at least five years away from the market.