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Checkbiotech: GM 'Protato' to cure India's poor
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: September 22, 2004 08:52AM ;

Protato to cure India's poorGenetically modified potatoes are to play a key
part in a 15-year plan to combat malnutrition among India's poorest
children. Anti-poverty campaigners have greeted the "Protato" with caution
and varying degrees of support, but what actually is a Protato? September
2004 by Matt B

The move aims to provide children with clean water, better food and
vaccines. "Zero child mortality in underprivileged children would be the
goal," says Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist at the Indian Institute of
Science in Bangalore.

Formulated in collaboration with charities, scientists, government
institutes and industry, the plan is currently being considered by the
Indian government.

The protein-rich GM potatoes are in the final stages of testing, before
being submitted for approval. Padmanaban, who outlined the plan at a
conference at the Royal Society in London in December, hopes Western-based
environmental groups and charities will not reject the project in the same
way as they did AstraZeneca's "golden rice", a strain modified to make more
vitamin A.

"The requirements of developing countries are very different from those of
rich countries," he says. "I think it would be morally indefensible to
oppose it." This is a very strong point, as it?s easy enough to sit in a
warm house eating a meal, complaining about GM foods, while others in
less-fortunate countries starve.

Asis Datta's team at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi added a
gene called ?AmA1? to potatoes, resulting in a third more protein than
usual, including substantial amounts of the essential amino acids lysine and
methionine. AmA1 is a gene from the amaranth plant, a crop long grown by
native South Americans as a source of income, and now available in some
Western health food stores.

"The potato doesn't contain a pesticide gene," says Padmanaban. "It's a gene
that improves nutrition, and it's from another plant that is already eaten.
Moreover, it's not a known allergen." Surely complaining that we?re ?playing
God? is simply a void counter-argument, as there is nothing harmful about
this product, unlike Bt cotton, which was recently licensed in India, much
to the disgust of activists due to it carrying a bacterial pesticide gene.

The idea is that the potatoes will form part of a midday meal to combat
deficiencies in children's diets. A lack of lysine, for example, can affect
brain development.

The potato should only be adopted if it passes all safety and environmental
requirements, and if the extra protein is digestible, says Suman Sahai of
Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based sustainable development group opposed to the
patenting of plants. Should it surpass these requirements, then there will
be no logical nor moral argument against the growth of the Protato.

"If you're going to use GM at all, use it for this," she says. "India's
problem is that we're vegetarian, so pulses and legumes are the main protein
source, but they're in short supply and expensive. The potato is good
because it's cheap." Yet another argument for growing it!

Siddharth Deva, policy adviser for south Asia for the British-based charity
Oxfam, agrees that the potato could serve a useful purpose. But he calls for
the government's judgements on GM crops to be independently assessed by
panels of experts, including environmentalists. "We want to ensure that
introductions of GM crops don't have harmful implications," he says. This
effort to ensure that the idea is reviewed by a wide range of authorities
provides further reassurance that all possibilities of risk are covered and

The Protato is not the first protein-enriched crop as we all know: strains
of GM maize rich in lysine have been created for a while now, which have
many uses and benefits. However, as many protesters point out, it is not
necessary to resort to genetic engineering, of course: bread and wheat flour
can also be enriched in protein simply by adding agents such as peanut
flour, a harmless addition. However this is costlier and none of the various
schemes to provide this bread to malnourished children since the 1960s has
survived, despite the benefits.

As far as I can see, there is no counter-argument at all ? The Protato can
and should be introduced, for a better way of life for those less privileged
than us, in our cosy Western society


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