Friday, February 15, 2008

The next GM food coming soon: genetically engineered eggplant

An international consortium funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development has been working for the last five years on a genetically engineered eggplant. This controversial biotech eggplant contains the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) -- the same bacteria used in the genetically engineered corn grown on a widespread basis in the United States.

The target market to grow the genetically engineered eggplant is South Asia. The first commercial crops are expected to be planted in 2009. Plans are to grow 110,000 acres of the biotech eggplant in India and Bangladesh in 2010. And by 2015, the projection is to grow 650,000 acres in these two countries.

Some anti-biotech food activists feel that this U.S. government funded project is an aggressive move to finally get a genetically engineered food crop grown in other parts of the world. Currently there are only four countries in the world growing a significant amount of genetically engineered food crops. Those four countries are the United States, Canada, Argentina and China. And the crops grown in those countries are primarily limited to soybeans, corn, canola, papayas and cotton.

If the introduction of the genetically engineered eggplant to India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and other areas of South and Southeast Asia is successful, then the global resistance to biotech crops could start to diminish -- at least that is apparently the hope of some in the biotech industry. In other words, the genetically engineered eggplant is considered to be a "gateway" crop designed to open up the Asian marketplace and rest of the world to other biotech crops.

The other players in the international consortium include Cornell researchers, Sathguru Management Consultants of India, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Greenpeace activists in India are opposing the introduction of the genetically engineered eggplant, also known as brinjal. They recently held a protest in front of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research where they “force fed” volunteers with genetically engineered eggplants.

A spokesman for Greenpeace was quoted in India's National Newspaper, The Hindu, stating: "We are here to demand an immediate halt to all field trials till the bio-safety data generated so far is made public to enable [an] independent assessment. So far, safety studies on all GE crops are shrouded in secrecy that has really hindered the public from analyzing the data and raising a debate on the issue. With emerging evidences of companies hiding critical bio-safety data that could prove the negative side-effects of GE crops on health, an independent assessment is indispensable."

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