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India's plans to grow GM crops draw flak

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7279.126/b (Published 20 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:126
  1. Ganapati Mudur
  1. New Delhi

    A proposal in India to combat widespread vitamin A deficiency among children by growing genetically modified rice and mustard has drawn flak, with critics calling the plan “unnecessary and hazardous.”

    Indian plant biologists hope soon to acquire technology from abroad to create transgenic rice and mustard that will express b carotene, a precursor molecule that is converted to vitamin A in the body.

    Researchers funded by the Indian government's department of biotechnology will transform local varieties of rice using technology developed by Professor Ingo Potrykus at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

    In another project the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi is acquiring from biotechnology giant Monsanto transgenic technology to produce b carotene in mustard oil, a popular cooking oil in India. “Nutritional enhancement of important food crops will be a major goal for biotechnology in the coming years,” said Dr Manju Sharma, India's biotechnology secretary.

    Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of child blindness in India and also contributes to child mortality from infections.

    India's department of biotechnology said that it could take up to seven years for the local varieties of transgenic rice and mustard to clear safety studies and obtain regulatory approvals for commercial cultivation.

    Indian ecologists and farmers' organisations, however, have accused the government of “blindly promoting genetic engineering on the false grounds that it will increase food production and improve nutrition.”

    The Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology in New Delhi organised a parallel citizens' conference last week and drew up an action plan calling on farmers to prevent the planting of genetically modified crops for trials.

    “Genetic engineering at its current stage of development is an inefficient, unnecessary, hazardous, and untested technology to remove nutritional deficiencies,” said Dr Vandana Shiva, director of the foundation.


    Embedded Image

    Will these children be eating genetically modified rice in future?

    (Credit: JEAN SPRAGUE/PANOS PICTURES)

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