Departments express ignorance about field trials for potato
THE Central Potato Research Institute conducted field trial for genetically modified potato at its Jalandhar research station between October 2010 and February 2011. But the Punjab government failed to monitor it.
As per the Environment Protection Act (EPA) of 1986, it is the responsibility of the State Biotechnology Coordination Committees (SBCCs) to supervise GM trials.
S C Aggarwal, chief secretary of the state, says he knows nothing about the field trial. According to the Act, the chief secretary of a state is also the chairperson of SBCC.
The potato research institute (CPRI) experiment aimed to solve a problem associated with storing problems. When stored at 4°C, the tuber produces an enzyme which converts starch into sugar. As a result, the potatoes turn sweet, explains a scientist at CPRI, Jalandhar, who did not want to be named. When fried in hot oil, sugar reacts with amino acid in the oil and turns the potato dark in colour. Such potatoes are rejected by companies involved in making chips and french fries. In India, most cold storages maintain temperature of 4° C. Storage is, therefore, a problem.
Scientists at the institute silenced a gene in potato that produces the enzyme responsible for sweetening. The institute is experimenting on the Kufri Chipsona-1 variety of potato. CPRI director B P Singh, however, claims the potato developed is not genetically modified.
The institue had asked the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which works under the Union environment ministry, for approval to conduct the trial. The committee gave its approval at a meeting held on November 15, 2010. It also asked CPRI to manually remove the potatoes in case they started flowering, as their pollens could spread to other fields. The Punjab government did not monitor this.
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