Future of GM foods bleak in India
Economic Times, 31 May 2009
NEW DELHI: With the new environment minister Jairam Ramesh disfavouring genetically modified (GM) foods such as a variety of brinjal and tomato, the
future of such products seems to hang in balance.
"I am not gung ho on GM foods. Should we promote BT brinjal? Jury is still on and I am not sure. I am not great enthusiastic for GM foods," the minister said.
"In fact, I would treat BT Cotton different from BT foods. But GM tea, GM coffee, GM rubber, yes, I am for them. Or for that matter, BT mustard is also important as I believe there is a role for GM crops, Ramesh said while outlining his priorities as he assumed charges of the ministry.
Ramesh's dislike for GM foods goes back to the time when as the Union Minister of State for Commerce he had asked the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) to explain reports that imported GM food products were entering Indian supermarkets and food chains unchecked.
The minister also favoured immediate setting up of National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority to tackle GM-related issues.
India is one of the six leading countries that are conducting field trials of GM crops and foods. BT brinjal is considered to be in the final stages of approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the environment ministry.
Ramesh, however, said he would ensure promotion of genetically modified cash crops on a large scale on the line of BT cotton which has led to a dramatic increase in the yield, benefiting farmers of the country.
"BT cotton has brought about revolution in the country and because of which India is today the second largest producer of the crop in the world and this has happened in barely last six years," he said.
The Minister noted that widespread cultivation of BT cotton has been reported in the country particularly in Gujarat, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, though areas which have water scarcity have not been so lucky.
"Due to remarkable production, the gap between India and China has reduced. Farmers are yielding rich returns. Hence there is need to have more and more GM crops to meet the growing needs of the burgeoning population," he added.
Ramesh noted that BT Cotton has not led to complete elimination of pesticides, but "it has certainly gone down".
The minister did not seem keen on promoting BT brinjal and other GM foods, many of which are in the trial stage in the country.
Besides brinjal, there are over two dozen varieties of rice and an equal number of tomatoes, many types of potato, sugarcane, soy and okra awaiting GEAC approval.
Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, all countries in the European Union and many in Africa have either banned the entry of GM foods or have imposed strict restrictions on their commercial use.