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Free the grasspea

Is there a valid scientific reason for the grasspea (Lathyrus sativus) ban in India? We’ve blogged about this before. Mongabay is now on the case.

The claim that khesari dal can cause lathyrism is increasingly being challenged by researchers who feel that the ban was not based on systemic research over a prolonged period.

So what’s the problem?

Sources in the FSSAI1 say that the ban has helped people associated with the import of other pulses such as toor dal2. “In the wake of drop in production of popular pulses ensuing imports, traders lobby is benefitted. (Shortage of pulses in India, increases prices, benefitting traders.) They would never want the ban lifted,” said one official on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, research and breeding continue.

  1. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. []
  2. Pigeonpea, or Cajanus cajan. []

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Would curing agricultural plant blindness have any effect?

From Jeremy’s latest newsletter. We included the paper he discusses in Brainfood recently.

There’s a pretty fascinating paper in Plants, People, Planet. Resetting the table for people and plants: Botanic gardens and research organizations collaborate to address food and agricultural plant blindness wants to enlist botanic gardens in a broad effort to restore our ability to see plants. There’s a good long list of previous exhibits and displays mounted by botanic gardens and demonstration farms around the world, and to me they all sound absolutely fascinating.

But, as my friends will tell you, I’m weird. I’m very happy lingering among the multiplier onions and dye plants at the botanic gardens here in Rome, or tut-tutting at the labels, lack of, on the potatoes at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, my two most recent forays. And let me share a tip; if you’re looking for peace and quiet in a botanic garden, useful plants is the place to be, because most visitors are not weird like me.

The authors of the paper, of course, are weird like me. They’re the kind of people I’d like alongside at any of the exhibits they talk about and others they don’t. But although they cite one set of visitor numbers – 600,000 people saw the Amber Waves of Grain exhibit at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC in 2015 – there’s precious little evidence it had any impact on any of them. I’m sure, too, that many directors of botanic gardens would love to put on the sort of exhibits being called for, if they but had the cash.

It may be a shame, but people are generally blind to the plants that sustain them. And yet, they still manage to eat. Would it make any difference to food policy if people at large had clearer vision?

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