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MARCH 2010

Transgenic food has its uses, says DRDO
Special Correspondent
MYSORE: Not withstanding the controversy that raged over the introduction of Bt brinjal and the Government's moratorium on it, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) sees future in transgenic crops for the welfare of combat troops in high altitudes.

Delivering the keynote address at a seminar on “Futuristic food requirements of the armed forces” organised by the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) here on Thursday, W. Selvamurthy, DRDO scientist and Chief Controller, R and D (Life Sciences), said although it was controversial in certain areas, the DRDO was looking at it for specific and limited applications.

He said providing fresh food for army personnel entailed cultivation in areas where water was scarce, in high altitude and in cold regions like Ladakh. Hence the DRDO was looking at transgenic crops and hybrid variety as a solution and was experimenting on tomatoes to overcome the problem. The transgenic tomato would be subjected to field trials and cultivated. But it would be analysed for safety and subjected to tests.

Dr. Selvamurthy said the challenges of providing fresh food to troops in sub-zero conditions was enormous and the DRDO, which not only provided weapon systems but also worked on nutrition aspect of the troops, had made several innovations in this field.

“We not only formulated the calorific requirement of troops in different terrains but also their composition such as vitamins, carbohydrates and so on,” said Dr. Selvamurthy who pointed out that the DRDO had formulated 18 ration scales based on altitude, temperature and other parameters.

He pointed out that the DRDO's innovations in vegetable seeds had enabled production of over 5,000 tonnes of vegetables in the high altitude region of Ladakh and had benefited the local community and farmers to earn more.

They depended entirely on tourists but with vegetable cultivation their income had increased.

This had helped usher in greater harmony between the civilians and troops in the region, said Dr. Selvamurthy. The other innovations included development of hybrid variety of cows whose yield was 18 litres per capita while it had worked on broiler sheep for rearing in the cold regions.

The DRDO was working on pisciculture in sub-zero temperatures and solar thermal cookers.

Major General B.P. Tiwari, Deputy Commandant, ASC Centre and College, Bangalore, in his inaugural address, underlined the importance of nutritional requirement of combat troops and quoted Napolean Bonaparte who said an army marched on its stomach. Combat troops worked in inhospitable conditions and in areas where food was not available.

He said the involvement of the private sector was inevitable to meet the needs of the defence forces and called for technology transfer and underlined the role of DFRL in this connection.

R.B. Srivastava, Director, Directorate of Life Sciences, DRDO; said new technologies were in the offing to meet the ration for long hours of flying, processed food for low intensity conflict zones in Jammu and Kashmir apart from energy capsules to help soldiers replenish themselves.

He called for greater interaction with the industry and the academia to meet the challenges of food requirement for defence forces.