18 March 2003
GM POTATO CANNOT SOLVE MALNUTRITION PROBLEMS: EXPERTS
Ashok B Sharma
Financial Express, New Delhi, March 16:
The genetically modified (GM) potato developed in India contains only 2.8 per cent protein content which is not enough to solve the problems of malnutrition in the country, said Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) director Dr SM Paul Khurana.
GM potato has been developed by Prof Asis Datta and his team at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He said that CPRI has developed many non-GM varieties of potatoes which has enabled India to become the third potato producing country in the world. India, Israel and Japan are the only three potato-seed producers in the world. Currently, India exports 18,000 tonne potatoes to 29 countries, out of which Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, the UAE and Mauritius are major importers. Five agri export zones (AEZs) for potatoes have been set up. By April about 6,000 tonne of potatoes are slated to be exported to Sri Lanka from AEZ in Punjab.
Speaking to FE, Dr Khurana said that the GM potato developed in the country by insertion of Ama-1 gene from Amaranthus plant contains protiens like lysine, threonine, methionine and tyrocine. The total protein content has been increased to 2.8 per cent per 100 gram, which is not sufficient to solve the problems of malnutrition in the country.
The protein content needs to to be raised sufficiently to solve the problems of malnutrition and also it should be made available at cheaper rates for the common man, he said.
He said that the transgenic Ama-1 gene construct is put into the background of Jyoti, Sinduri, Sutlej, Pokhraj and Jawahar varieties of potatoes grown in the country. He said that the GM potato is now in its third year of field trials and the decision to commercialise GM potato will take some time. He said that the scientists at Jawaharlal Nehru University, National Institute of Nutrition and CPRI are still verifying the impacts of GM potato.
Dr Khurana said that CPRI is not banking alone on the GM potato. The problem can also be otherwise solved, he said. He said that CPRI would be releasing special variety of true potato seeds (TPS) called 92PT 27, red tuber variety of potato, MS 92-2105 and processable variety of potato, MP-97-583 by September this year. By 2005, CPRI will be releasing other processable varieties of potatoes namely HT92-621 and MP-97-699.
He said that CPRI is also encouraging farmers to grow organic potatoes as there is a great demand for organic food in global market. He said that Indian table variety potatoes are being exported to Europe and Bangladesh and potato seeds are being exported to African and West Asian countries. Processable varieties of Indian potatoes are also being exported to West Asian countries. Processable varieties of potatoes like Shepody (grown in Canada) and pink Desiree (grown in Holland) are now being cultivated in India. He urged the government to provide necessary infrastructure and incentives to boost exports. He said that there is need for global database on potatoes.
Speaking on GM potato developed in India, noted microbiologist Dr Arpad Pusztai said, ”žPotatoes are tricky things because they are more prone to something what is called somaclonal variation. This simply means that anything you do to the potato (not necessarily gene splicing) and how you grow it will change it, its composition, feeding value, toxicity etc. Thus, without knowing how the gene splicing was done I cannot even venture an opinion. It is meaningless to say that the GM potato contains one-third more protein without knowing how the GM plant was grown and whether it was grown under strictly controlled conditions and side-by-side with the parent line before any comparison was made."
As regards the claims of increased essential amino acids in the Indian GM potato, Dr Pusztai said, "This is again meaningless."
The nutritional value of potato proteins is high because its amino acid composition is balanced, containing the right amounts of lysine and methionine. It is not clear that the increased essential amino acid content is the result of increased protein content or not."
Dr Pusztai further said, "There is also a claim that this GM potato passed an (undefined) allergenicity test on mice! I am sure, a lot of scientists would like to hear more about this test because it appears that Indian scientists did not only have a GM potato breakthrough but also have developed an allergenicity test."
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