Are we ready for genetically modified vegetables?

October 14, 2009

You may soon find India’s first genetically modified vegetable, Bt brinjal, making its way to your vegetable market.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, which is responsible for approval of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered products, on Wednesday approved the environmental release of the vegetable but it still has to get a nod from the central government.

Many in India are concerned over the harmful effects of the vegetable and question the need for a genetically modified vegetable.

“Bt brinjal should not be launched in the country as the Bt toxin gene produces poison and when it can harm pests, where’s the proof that it won’t be harmful to humans?” says Suman Sahia, Convener of Gene Campaign.

A report by Debi Barker, Executive Director of the International Forum on Globalization, says that genetically modified crops can spread in the environment and contaminate other crops and plants.

Concerns over their effect on wildlife and human health have been expressed all over the globe.

Food policy analyst Devinder Sharma raises a few important questions — “First of all, do we even need Bt brinjal? Why take a risk? Where is the crisis in brinjal production that necessitates it?”

Bollywood filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt and Ajay Kanchan released a documentary in March 2009 called “Poison on Platter” to create awareness about genetically modified products in the public.

“We want to highlight the fact that you cannot tamper with Mother Nature without sensitising the nation first,” Bhatt said.

Do you think genetically modified vegetables are a good idea? 

Will Bt brinjal set a trend and we’ll have other genetically modified vegetable as well?

As a consumer, would you prefer a genetically modified vegetable over a naturally grown one?


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Last point first: As a consumer, would you prefer a GM veg…

Unfortunately, there are no food safety standards in India. If the GM food comes into the market, they won’t be labelled. Why?
India is already the second largest producer of Brinjal in the world. And Bt Brinjal will carry no labels unlike in Europe where it is clearly mentioned…GM or non GM ingredient.

We need to demand adequate food labeling so that those of us who choose to not consume GM crops can make that choice.

Other facts:
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC, the clearing house for all gm crops in India), has cleared Bt brinjal on the basis of test results submitted by seed company Mahyco, which has developed the crop.

Mahyco is owned by Monsanto.

Activists managed to get their hands on Mahyco’s test results through a Right to Information petition. They sent the results to several independent scientists for review. Two scientists got back. Their analyses showed inconsistencies in Mahyco’s interpretation of the test results.
They also showed the tests were inadequate.

Instead of putting the question to Indian consumers, we should be putting questions to the government and so called experts who are approving GM Crops.

What gives them the right to force GM Food down our throats. Let us make a choice and we will astonish the world by choosing non-GM food.

Posted by Hemant Anant Jain | Report as abusive

And here’s a different perspective:  /07/poor-little-rat.html

Posted by Hemant Anant Jain | Report as abusive

Genetically Modified food is absolutely a bad idea. In the US we have all kinds of health problems because people eat that kind of food. I mean it is not like if we produce more food that it goes to the people who really need it. it is not that we dont have enough food in the world produced, the problem is access to it. so lets fix the accessibility/design problem not lets make more food , drive down the prices and give subsidies to make crappier food for everyone. Lets fight to have control over our health and healthy lifestyles. We can fight this and we will.

Posted by harishi | Report as abusive

One word – greed. That’s all! India doesn’t need genetic mutilation, but better production methods. Then again, modern Indian motto is – appana appna.

Posted by Johny | Report as abusive

Mankind has been genetically modifying plants and animals since farming stated. Genetic modification, i.e., changing the genetic makeup of an organism has allowed humans to grow and prosper.

Posted by Jerry Johnson | Report as abusive

This is nothing new. Whether it’s to make them immune to weather or parasites, or just to make them larger or more colorful, 70% all fruit and vegetables served in !!1998!! were genetically modified. It’s been more then a decade, do you really think that trend has slowed?

Posted by Chomp | Report as abusive

Are you kidding me? There’s no problem with regular brinjal…

This is just a HUGE PROFIT MOVE.

Monsanto: “Let’s dominate ALL the commodities and “MOST POPULAR FOODS AROUND THE WORLD” ESPECIALLY India.

We’ll SUE if ANY of our GMO genes get into the regular supply – it ALWAYS DOES with the wind, and all. HHAHAHHA we will DOMINATE food around the world.”

Hey! It’s just a business decision!

Why fight it? Buy Monsanto stock. BUT remember you will have to live with GMO food and nothing else all day long.

Fake food, fake fertilizer, fake genes, fake modified, NOTHING ELSE WILL BE AVAILABLE.

Sick. But, profitable….

One day, there will be just one company. And we will all be their GMO fed serfs. Organic will be ONLY for the Rich.

Foo on THAT!

Posted by Alluitiusse | Report as abusive

We need to take a more balanced approach on this issue and eschew extremism. And stay with facts. First of all, Mahyco is not owned by Monsanto, as Hemant Jain says. Monsanto has a 26% stake in Mahyco. That does not mean Monsanto “owns” Mahyco.
Let’s also not pretend that everything we eat or wear is “natural” as it was from time immemorial, or pristine pure. Everything we eat or drink or do has undergone modifications. Why dont we all grow beards without even timming them if we are so hung on not chahnging what nature has given us. All our food is the result of the efforts of breeders over the centuries. Time to stop pretending, posture and play-acting and time to get real. Where is the land, water, resources to gorw food for a billion people if we are going to leave it all to “mother” Nature? This is all good for film maker Mahesh Bhatt who needs a creative licence. But the rest of us need to stay with the fact and not mislead people.

Posted by Allwyn Fernandes | Report as abusive

If the only food for sale at a shop is genetic altered vegetables, I would starve first.
GMO foods produce POISON, that is what they do.
Are u like cr8zy?

Posted by carl | Report as abusive

Mankind has NOT been genetically modifying plants for centuries. This is a lie. Don’t believe it.
I refuse to eat proteins that cannot be broken down by the body which would build up in the brain cells causing deseases.

Posted by carl | Report as abusive

Mankind has NOT been genetically altering foods for thousands of years. Putting strange genes and proteins that cannot be broken down into a food will not allowe the body to break it down with the old set of enzymes, I think they will build up in the brain cells and cause mental illnesses.
Any increas of mmental illnesses recently?

Posted by penny | Report as abusive

in the US all vegetables are big. they are tasteless. manipulating the natural process is not productive. i don’t support this. indian vegetables are much tastier today. lets keep it.

Posted by vivek | Report as abusive

[…] to be doing the trick.There’s lots of talk about genetic engineering being the answer. Is this solution just tampering with mother nature? India’s debating this now. Do we need to push the […]

Posted by Why can’t we feed the world? « BBC World Have Your Say | Report as abusive

I made my first genetic modification to wheat in the early 1960 by introducing insect resistance into adapted cultivars. This was possible by studying the early work of others. Genetic changes in crops HAVE been made for centuries by man.

Posted by Jerry Johnson | Report as abusive

Please do not allow this.

It does not matter whether or not GMO food is safe.
It does not matter whether GMO food grows more abundantly.
What does matter is that you must resist those who would hold your families for ransom.

That is what GMO food does, puts you, your farmers, your country at the mercy of some foreign corporation.

“Want to plant a crop next year?
Well, you’ll have to pay twice what it cost last year.
Grow anything else, and we’ll sue you.”

Is this what you want to see happen?

Posted by Irv | Report as abusive

Mankind HAS been genetically altering food for centuries.

-Animal husbandry

All of which have created animals and plants far removed from their original natural state, and have created new species and strains of biological life.

Genetic modification is simply the next step. Cutting out the guesswork and the lengthy timescales.

If people are going to be frightened of what they don’t understand, then at least find a basis for doing so. Like accidently creating “Man-eating corn” or something.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

@ Hemant Anant Jain- That is a very interesting point and raises another very important question, how will the consumer know the difference between a naturally grown vegetable and a genetically modified one? Will the labelling laws be followed? Will they be strict enough?

Posted by Raashi Bhatia | Report as abusive

Several comments have been made in opposition to and in favour of GM. Like Allwyn has pointed out, i am inclined to agree that the time has come for us to face fact and not criticise because we have the liberty and the tools of new media to allow us a voice. By all means, an opinion is a right; but the opinion needs to be an informed one. I have been following this debate for sometime now – Yes, there are valid points but the positives more than outweigh the opportunity costs that critic so claim GM brings. India needs GM; opposing it would be tantamount to negating ebverything that modern science has brought to bear. I would urge balance in criticism and open up the debate to push for a constructive acceptance of the changing times. My cousin, threw up his cushy job and grows his own produce in a small village in TN. When he says GM is not an alterative to regular form of produce, he doesnt mean GM is satan. What he means is that it is an additional supplement to our ongoing efforts to push productivity, cost effectiveness. How many of the esteemed writers here understand the farmer’s psyche sitting in our urban homes on a computer, far and removed from the leaps being made by biotechnology and the efforts at the grassroot level. It is this duplicity that is restricting our progress as a society. It is time civil society partners progress and not be an impediment. Theres too many people here at stake for us to be making tall claims based on what we read; rather than what some of us have had the privilege to experience.

Posted by Bharat Ramanan | Report as abusive

what i strongly believe is that we can’t compete with nature in any case and so far as this gene mutation is concerned, I think, being one of the largest producers of brinjal, India doesn’t need it. Most important of all, we have created more problems, irrespective of some short term benefits, by disturbing the process of nature.

Posted by Syed Wahid | Report as abusive

Genetic Engineering of crops was never an exact science and still isn’t. When the new dna splice is pushed in by the ‘gene gun’ the scientists dont have any control over which part of the host’s genome sequence this new gene will get attached to, making the entire process very unpredictable. Have none of you heard of the l-tryptophane case? Google it.

Posted by Subir | Report as abusive

Monsanto must have adopted some shady tactics with the explicit backing of the US government to arm twist the Indian government to conduct field trials and introduce GT Brinjal.

Today it is Brinjal tomorrow it will be wheat and then rice and Monsanto won’t rest till it controls a major portion of the Indian agricultural market.

This is backdoor colonialism and we alongwith future generations will pay the penalty.

Posted by Kannan | Report as abusive

Hybridization in agricultural products is changing the trend across the Globe, I do not know any lab has done any analysis between naturally grown and Genitically modified vegitables for understanding by a common person in any society. If the analysis shows same components, why can’t we go with Genitacally modified vegitables. Because natural ones will take long time and hybridization is taking less time to yield, so that growers can achieve more benefit. In case of natuaral disasters geniticall modified can be grown faster and supply can be met against demand

Posted by Mavahalli S Somaiah | Report as abusive

There really isn’t a choice in this issue.

As the climate warms, and population increase, the price of food is going to increase to much higher levels. And as oil reserves lower, the price will increase further still.

The third world will have two choices:
-GM Crops, or
-Mass starvation.

You will be surprised how willing people will accept GM crops, once they have no alternative.

Posted by Hmmm | Report as abusive

India was ruled by whites in india before 1947.It is still in our genes and psyche….
Now they are going to remotely rule….
The politicians are not bothered. They need power some how to stay in power.

we should resist the GM crops.

There is no awarness…

Posted by hasthamivar | Report as abusive

As a plant breeder I can tell everyone that this Brinjal is necessary not because there is a crisis in Brijal production but this will reduce the use of chemicals which kill the insects whihc attack Brinjal. These chemicals are more poisonous than what you can imagine. So minimizing the use of these chemicals is both nature and man friendly. yes there are numerous trials being done between GM and non GM material and any genetically unstable material is discarded. Please dont belive the fearmongers who still are having a colonial hangover where all their decisions are based on the thinking of colonizers and colonies rather than moving forward into a new age where food sufficiency needs of people are met without more land being cleared for agriculture and more chemicals being used. I am neither attached to any company nor do I make any profit from any company. GM soybeans, cotton, cheese have been eaten for over a decade now and no one has suffered any adverse effect. These monster stories are spread around by people who have their stomachs full. ask a vegtitable farmer if he prefers to purchase more chemicals or ore expose himself and his family to more dangerous sprays. Let us publish the answer. By the way since time immemorial man has been genetially modifiying crops. If he did not there would not be much to eat today. Have alook at what wheat or rice used to look like. With GM technology only difference instread of large chunks of genes one desired gene is inserted into the plant. Stop the fearmongering.

Posted by Varuni | Report as abusive

I believe in simple things – go against nature; mother nature will take revenge.
There are so many examples : Chinese man made earthquake from SICHUAN dam, Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Bird Flu, Swine flu, AIDS, Mad cow disease, … so many to come.
BT brinjal could be another Frankestein in vegetable format.

Posted by Sujay Bhattacharya | Report as abusive

This is lack of vision and thinking capability of dogs who are blinded by supremacy theories and jump in air to catch whatever their master throws.

Posted by Juxt Appose | Report as abusive

The Bt gene is Bt brinjal is perfectly safe for higher mammals and humans, and is only toxic to a specific group of insect larvae known as Lepidopterans. Bt spray has been use for over 60 years wihtout any deleterious effetcs, and anyone who is suggesting today that it might affect humans is wilfully ignorant of scientific facts. Bt brinjal is a necessity and an environmentally alternative. Let farmers decide if they want to grow it. Hybrid brinjals and GM brinjals have been compared in addition to many other GM crops. The scientiifc matter of the fact is that hybrids show a lot more gene perturbations than single or double or triple gene insertion events. Comparing British rule to a technology regime is preposterous. In that case, we might as well throw out TV, mobile phones, computers, drugs, pharmaceuticals, and jets and go back medeaval times. It is astonishing how so many educated people in India in the 21st century have such false notions.

Posted by Dr. Shanthu Shantharam | Report as abusive

This type of infidelity among general public about Bt Brinjal is due to lack of basic understanding about plant breeding techniques. We require such genetically modified varieties for another green revolution to come. Human beings would not have existed but for genetic variations. You can not discard something out of suspicion. For producing higher food productivity to feed the growing millions, we need to believe our scientists.If you do not believe them, you have no right to produce more babies and add to the 1.2 billion population of the country.

Posted by Uppada | Report as abusive