The Killer Eggplants are coming…they should arrive in 2009.

I’m joking, of course.

But Science Daily News reports that scientists have developed a newer genetically modified eggplant, which is now in the testing phase and so far it has tested safe and nutritious.

If it passes the test, the new variety would allow farmers to grown eggplant without the danger of the crop being destroyed by borers.

It is estimated that the Bt eggplant will reduce insecticide use by 30 percent while doubling the yield of marketable fruit (although eggplant is eaten as a vegetable).

Eggplant is a popular crop in the subtropics and tropics, especially in India and Bangladesh, where it is grown on about 1.5 million acres.

Ah, eggplant.

After I moved here, I quickly learned to check the boiled eggplant for high protein worms before putting it into my mouth. Our eggplants are the thin, Japanese variety (we also grow the “duck egg” sized round eggplants in this area). Borers are a major problem.

Traditionally, you plowed and planted eggplants as a side crop to your rice field. Nowadays many are growing it as a vegetable to sell to the Manila markets which are 50 miles away. The government is sponsoring programs to grow various vegetables using an “organic” method: the seedlings in plastic greenhouses and then planting them under plastic mulch so that you don’t need to weed them or use herbicides. We have a test farm where local farmers take classes; they then can ask for microcredit loans or loans from the government to set up similar farms to grow organic vegetables, using natural fertilizers.

However, borers remain a problem

A lot of the “green” movement views any genetically modified food as “killer” food.

There are reasons for this:

One is the worry that the modified genes might contain unknown gene fragments, leading to poisonings or the inability of the body to digest aand utilize the nutrition in theplants.

A second worry is that such “modified” seeds mean that the BIG COMPANIES make a profit from selling seeds (any multinational company is considered the devil to many in the green movement, which overlaps with the anti globalists; they never quite figured out that if the seed is no good, they company loses money, whereas “dogooders” get paid no matter how lousy their seeds).

There is a valid worry about any seed (including ordinary hybrid seeds) replacing the numerous native seeds, since such monoculture not only replaces the native seeds, but results in many strains that are suited to certain conditions being lost to posterity. There is also the worry that pollen might result in cross contamination of “natural” seeds growing nearby.

Of course, just because some people use such seeds, it doesn’t mean that small farmers can’t be paid or persuaded to grow smaller gardens to keep traditional seeds alive: I mean, it’s not an “all or nothing” decision.

Another problem with high yield crops is monoculture, the reliance on one or only a few strains of a crop. Monoculture can result in mass die offs by parasites or plant diseses. One example of this danger was the terrible famine from the Potato blight that struck Ireland in the 1840’s. Only a few varieties of potatoes were imported into Europe from South America, where the plant originated, and as a result, there were no other strains to hybrid or to use as seed to replace the vulnerable strain.

Again, the way to prevent this is for NGO’s who now are busy stopping GM crops to intead pay small poor farmers to grow their traditional crops.

Those who argue against genetically modifying crops ignore facts too:

One, that isolated genes can be added to crops to enhance the nutritional value of these crops (for example, golden rice, which contains vitamin A to prevent blindness).

Two: it ignores that often the result is not much different than what could be developed by ordinary “hybrid” methods, but is a cheaper and faster way to develop new strains.

And three, those worrying about nutritional value ignore that such food is widely eaten in the US without any major harm to the population, except, of course, that since food is cheap, people tend to eat too much.

The irony is that, thanks to “green” groups opposing genetically modified food, countries in Africa on the verge of starvation have refused such food, resulting in thousands of deaths.  Even in the Philippines, “green” advocates from Europe pressured the Catholic church from distributing American rice as government subsidized rice for fear it might be “contaminated” with GM crops.

The zeal of some NGO’s to stop modern food production methods that allow poor people to get cheap food is a modern scandal,  as is the similar scandal of malaria deaths that skyrocketed after the DDT ban.

Africa might do better to imitate China rather than take the advice of European greens. After all, China was once a basket case with massive starvation, but now is facing a growing epidemic of obesity, and is exporting food, mainly because the government allows capitalism, and encourages (some would say pressures) small farmers to use lots of fertiizer, minerals, hybrid crops, and lots and lots of pesticides.

Getting back to eggplants: the new strain, if allowed in the Philippines, would allow a similar increase in eggplant production while eliminating the use of more dangerous pesticides.

Since eggplant is a common vegetable in Southern and South East Asia, the benefits of such strains in improving the diet of poor people is obvious.

Of course, the Manila yuppies who follow every bad US trend will probably write loads of editorials against it, but I don’t see a lot of Manila yuppies working in the fields under a hot sun to make a living.

Besides, I’m happy the Manila yuppies are encouraging green and organic eating for the upper middle class. It’s probably healthier, the real reason is that the trend means opportunities for us and other nearby farmers to sell our organic vegetables and rice, for a higher price, of course.

But your maid, who is paid six dollars a day, might prefer the cheaper variety…her choice is not “organic versus high tech”: it is “cheap versus none”.

If our local farmers aren’t allowed to grow high tech crops because some European yuppie is pressuring the government to stop them, you can be sure that Chinese farmers will grow it, using herbicide and insecticides and the highest yield seeds they can find, and it will be imported one to sell in our palenkes anyway.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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