After Bt Bringal, will Himachal GM Potato find acceptance?

Shimla: With pressure on improving productivity mounting to meet food needs of today and tomorrow, scientists at Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla (CPRI) have succeeded in developing a late blight disease resistance potato through genetic modification for boosting production and in a separate experiment have silenced a gene line to extend shelf life of a harvested potato for processing industry.

With controversy surrounding genetic modified foods have led to a moratorium on commercial production of Bt Bringal , the future of GM potato in the country remains uncertain.

Defending the experiments being carried out BP Singh director CPRI says, “meeting the food security needs of our country is a challenge before agri-scientists.

He said, because the disease resistant GM potato variety being developed by CPRI only carries a gene implant from another potato specie, it actually is not a transgenic experiment like that where a bacteria gene implant in a bringal gene has been done to make it a disease resistant Bt Bringal.

Such GM engineering is known as cis-gene, which involves a gene from the same specie pool and is considered bio-safe,” he added.

To prevent sweetening of potato under cold storage conditions, CPRI scientist have been able to re-orient an active gene that converted starch into sugar. “Though the technology involved genetic engineering but there is no gene added,” says Singh. The institute has applied to patent the technology involved and intends to sell it to the processing industry should it obtain all mandatory clearances.

One year trials for both experiments stand completed and permission from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GECA), the nodal body for GM experiments and permission for another year of field trial is awaited.

Should approvals come through, sowing of the GM crop would start in April-May.

After achieving the desired results, bio-safety protocols applied for GM crops have to be tried out before then new variety is released for commercial production. Depending up clearances from department of bio-technology department that would take at least 4 years, said Singh.

Should approvals come through, sowing of the GM crop would start in April-May.

With plans of carrying out field trials of GM Potato at the institutes farms in Jalandhar encountering resistance and bio-safety protocols yet to be addressed, Alliance for GM Free and Safe Food, Punjab has asked the state government to disallow such trials.

Whereas commercial production of GM potato has the potential to enhance India’s food security, say the scientists, but those opposed to it consider it as mere propaganda to advance the cause of GM foods by overlooking health and safety concerns.

For lack of long term studies about effects of Bt Bringal on human health, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has imposed a moratorium on commercial production of the GM crop in February, 2010.

As Editor, Ravinder Makhaik leads a team of media professionals at Hill Post. Spanning a career of over two decades in mass communication, as a Documentary Filmmaker, TV journalist, Print Media journalist and with Online & Social Media, he brings with him a vast experience. He lives in Shimla.

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