The BBC's science correspondent Pallab Ghosh waxed lyrical not so long ago about India's GM "protato" which he said would soon be in all Indian school children's lunch boxes in order to enhance the protein content of their diet.
His much publicised report for the BBC claimed this GM protein-enriched potato was "expected to be approved in India within six months". However, Ghosh's story, hanging as it does purely on the claims of the Indian bureaucrat Manju Sharma, has caused irritation even to pro-GM scientists in India.
Here a fervent GM supporter, Prof. C Kameswara Rao, points out that far from being approved within months the protato is 'unlikely to see the light of the day in this decade'!
According to Prof Rao, 'I noticed that the potato used to make wafer chips in England has 6.0 to 6.5 per cent of protein, while that of the GE potato is only about 2.5 per cent. I do not understand how this dismal product could generate so much euphoria...'
Announcement of Release of GE Potato in India is Premature
- Prof. C Kameswara Rao <[email protected]>
I appreciate the doggedness with which the Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, is pursuing the issue of release of GE potato in India. If, as per the information from the Director CPRI, Shimla, the GE potato is in the preliminary stage and is going to take some three years, another three to four years would be needed for the regulatory process to complete. The product is unlikely to see the light of the day in this decade.
A single variety of the much hyped protein rich GE potato is not adequate, as the country needs several different varieties, to be grown in different potato growing states. Developing such varieties in itself would take a long time and there is no information on time frame in this regard.
While the idea of a protein enriched potato is welcome, trying to sell it in the name of improving school children's nutritional intake through the mid-day meal project is not entirely honest or convincing. The amaranth grain has about 16 per cent of protein (much more than in any cereal or millet, though far lower than in pulses), but only a very small portion of this is realized in the GE potato. No explanation is available on this insignificant expression of the transgene(s).
I noticed that the potato used to make wafer chips in England has 6.0 to 6.5 per cent of protein, while that of the GE potato is only about 2.5 per cent. I do not understand how this dismal product could generate so much euphoria in the product developer and its sole promoter.
Where is the need to hurry this inadequate product? On every count, the repeated announcement of the release of the GE potato is premature. In fact, this effort is worsening the already vitiated climate for genetically engineered crops in the country.
If all of us got this 'protato' wrong and the DBT is right, the situation can be remedied only if the DBT publicizes all information relating to this curate's egg. Keeping the scientific community and the general public in the dark does not augur well, not just for the GE potato, but more importantly for the future of transgenic products in India.
Professor C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, India; www.fbae.org
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