Glenn Davis Stone
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.
Keywords: biotechnology, genetically modified food, Ayurveda, India, regulation