Science in Society Archive

GM Potato = Malnutrition

A GM potato will solve Third World hunger, said pro-GM scientists in India and Britain. Dr. Vandana Shiva and Afsar Jafri expose the lies they tell to force GM foods on a defiant world that will also put school children at risk from malnutrition by displacing nutrient-rich indigenous staples.

At the start of Britain’s public GM debate in June, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said that approval for commercial growing of a genetically modified potato is expected in India within six months. Indian scientists were reported to have said that the protein-rich genetically modified potato could help combat malnutrition in India. This is reminiscent of an earlier attempt by pro-GM scientists to convince critics that GM ‘golden rice’ is needed to cure vitamin A deficiency among the poor in the Third World, a ‘potential benefit’ that’s being hyped by the pro-GM British scientific establishment to this day.

At the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), we have shown that fruits and green vegetables that could be grown in every backyard provide hundreds of times more Vitamin A than ‘golden rice’.

Now the people of India and the rest of the world are sold a ‘protein-rich potato’ hoax by our scientists as part of an anti-hunger plan, formulated jointly with government institutes, the biotech industry and charities. The potato, it is claimed, contains a third more protein than normal, including essential high-quality nutrients, and has been created by adding a gene from the protein-rich amaranth plant.

According to the BBC, Dr. Manju Sharma, Head of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), said that the GM potato will "reduce the problem of malnutrition in the country", and she plans to incorporate it into the government’s free midday meal programme in schools.

But, inserting protein genes from amaranth into potatoes and promoting potato as a staple for school-children’s mid-day meals is also a decision not to promote amaranth and pulses, the most important source of protein in the Indian diet. Amaranth contains 14.7 gm protein per 100 gm of dried grain, compared to 6.8 gm/100gm milled rice, 11 gm/100gm wheat flour and a mere 1.6 gm/100 gm potato.

Compared to the nutritional value of grains like amaranth, GM potatoes will actually create malnutrition because it will represent a huge protein deficit, and deny to vulnerable children many other essential nutrients present in much higher amounts in amaranth (see Table 1) or that are not available in potato.

Table 1. Nutritional content of Amaranth compared with GM potato
Content (per 100gm)
Nutrient Amaranth Potato Deficit
Protein 14.7gm 2.1gm* - 12.6gm
Iron+ 11.0mg 0.7mg - 10.3mg
Calcium+ 510.0mg 10.0mg -500.0mg

*Assuming an increase of 33% protein content in GM potato, as reported.
+Assuming these remain unchanged.

As can be seen, the GM potato will actually cause severe iron and calcium deficiencies in children as well as severe protein deficiency. The ancient people of the Andes regarded amaranth sacred. In India, it is called "Ramdana" or God’s own grain. The root word "amara", in both Greek and Sanskrit means eternal or deathless. A much smarter option is to promote the widespread cultivation and use of amazing grains like amaranth. [Editor’s note: In Britain, amaranth has already entered the specialty market as a high protein and nutritious breakfast cereal, thus fully exposing the short-sightedness if not downright hypocrisy and wickedness of those who are intent on promoting monoculture grains at the expense of far superior indigenous varieties.]

In any case, amaranth is not the only source of protein in India’s rich biodiversity and cuisine. Our dals, (also pulses and legumes), a staple mixed with rice as dal-chawal and with wheat as dal-roti are also very rich in protein (see Table 2). The consumption of dals also provides much higher levels of proteins than GM potatoes.

Poor Indian children will get a full balanced diet in dals, pulses and amaranth, instead of getting malnutrition on "protein rich" GM potatoes.

Table 2. Protein content of some Indian pulses
Pulses Protein per 100 gm
Bengal gram (whole) 17.1 gm
Horse gram 22.0 gm
Bengal gram roasted 22.5 gm
Lentil 25.1 gm
Black gram 24.0 gm
Moth bean 23.6 gm
Cow pea 24.1 gm
Peas dry 19.7 gm
Field Bean 24.9 gm
Rajma 22.9 gm
Green gram dal 24.5 gm
Redgram 22.3 gm

Article first published 30/07/03

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