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Rights activists irked by GM fruit project funding

The Pioneer, New Delhi, 2nd May, 2013

Taking strong exception to the Indian Government and Microsoft owner Bill Gates’ funding of Australian scientist James Dale to develop Genetically engineered bananas enriched in iron to curb death of Indian women during child birth due to anemia, many rights and environmental protection groups have launched a campaign against it on Wednesday.

Spearheading the campaign, noted environmentalist Vandana Shiva wrote to Prime Minister saying that the government is wasting millions of rupees of public money on “inefficient, useless but hazardous experiment on GMO banana”. Bill gates has granted 15 million dollar to the scientist of the Queensland University of Technology while the Indian government has also contributed to 1.44 million dollars and Rs 80 million for the project in the name of saving women.

Though rich in iron, genetically engineered bananas are not solution to anemia, she said. Banana has only 0.44 mg of iron per 100 gm of edible portion and scientists could achieve 6 fold increase in iron content which makes it 2.6 mg. This is 3000 percent less than iron in turmeric, niger or lotus stem and 2000 percent less than in amchur (dried mango powder) which are safe and biodiverse alternatives to curb anemia, she pointed out.

“The project is a waste of money and a waste of time. It will take 10 years and millions of dollars to complete the research. But meantime governments, research agencies, scientists will become blind to biodiversity based low cost, safe time tested democratic alternatives in the hands of women,” she said and cited Bt cotton which despite taking over 95 percent cultivation failed to increase yield.

Moreover, the original research on GM banana was done by scientists of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre while Dr Dale had not a single paper related to iron fortification of banana but both Gates and Dale are strutting around the world as if it is their research and their money is making a technology transfer of GM bananas to India to save its women, Shiva said.

She said that real objective is to get access to India’s rich biodiversity as it has 200 varieties of bananas through biopiracy and control banana production through patents, she said and added Dale already has many patent on banana transformation