The Trials of Genetically Modified Food: Bt Eggplant and Ayurvedic Medicine in India

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Although planting of genetically modified (GM) crops has topped 148 million ha. worldwide, direct consumption of GM foods remains extremely rare. The obstacles to GM foods are highly varied and they can provide windows into important cultural dynamics. India's heated controversy over its would-be first GM food—Bt brinjal (eggplant)—is driven not only by common concerns over testing and corporate control of food, but by its clash with the Ayurvedic medical establishment. GM brinjal may outcross with wild relatives commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, and claims that outcrossing would not affect medical efficacy miss the point. Ayurveda emphasizes polyherbal treatments and has developed an epistemology oriented towards complex combinations of compounds. As such it does not recognize the authority of specific studies of transgene effects. The conflict is not with genetic modification per se, but with the reductionism that is central to the biotechnology approvals process. This opposition has played a significant role in the government moratorium on the plant.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2013

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