May 9, 2015

While US forced to import organic foods on consumer preference, India is pushing for GM crops

While Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar is known to be aggressively pushing for more State Governments granting permission to hold field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, the United States is being forced by growing consumer demand to import more of organic foods.

According to trade data compiled by the US Organic Trade Association and the Pennsylvania State University, the rising demand for organic foods has pushed the import bill for corn and soybean, the two most important GM crops being cultivated in America. Although corn and soybean go primarily into cattle and poultry feed, consumers are increasingly wanting milk and food products to be free of GM ingredients.

While import of soybean from India has more than doubled to $ 73.8 million in 2014, import of organic corn into US from Romania has risen from $545,000 in 2013 to more than $ 11.6 million in 2014, just in a gap of one year.

Most imports of organic corn and soybean into US is from Romania, Turkey, Netherlands, Canada, Argentina and India.

In India, 4 State Governments – Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab – have allowed field trials of GM crops. Pressure is mounting on other State Governments to fall in line. The biotech industry led by the Association of Biotec Led Enterprises (ABLE) has reportedly written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to expedite the regulatory process for clearing the field trials.

Sales of foods free of synthetic chemicals and GM ingredients in the US have reached $ 35.9 billion in 2014, Bloomberg reports. It shows an annual increase of 11 per cent, which is indicative of the rising preference for organically produced foods. Led by the White House where the First lady Michelle Obama grows only organic food in the sprawling gardens and is also known to serve organic food to guests, the consumer preference for safe and healthy foods in the US is growing rapidly.

Since most of the GM crops have led to the doubling in the application of chemical herbicides like Glysophate – whose use has increased to over 283.5 million pounds in 2012 – and has also led to the emergence of superweeds in some 60 million acres of crop land, there are questions being asked on the need to promote GM crops which exacerbate environmental damages. More so with WHO classifying Glysophate as a probable carcinogen, public opinion as seen in grocery sales data is indicates a gradual shifting to safe foods grown without the use of chemicals and GM.

While the export of soymeal from India to US has shown an increase, India’s soymeal exports for feed purposes are down to a 26-year low with Iran and Japan shifting to cheaper supplies from China, Brazil and Argentina.  This is worrying considering that India had dominated the soymeal market all these years.
It was primarily because of the resistance from the Soybean Processor Association of India (SOPA) that former Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh during his tenure had opposed research trials of GM Soybean. The industry had claimed that importers preference for Indian Soymeal would be lost once contamination from GM crops becomes obvious.

This is also true for exports of commodities like rice, including basmati, for which GM crops are being readied. Allowing GM rice field trials, even if its cultivation was excluded from the biodiversity rich hotspots including in Orissa where it is believed to have originated, would not be able to curtail contamination. One the genie is out, it is out. Considering that rice and corn shipments detected with GM ingredients have been sent back by some countries in the recent past, India’s rice exports too could face a formidable challenge. India is at present the biggest exporter of rice. 

At a time when no GM crop is known to increase crop productivity, utmost caution has to be adopted before the country is opened up for field trails. India cannot allow its agricultural commodity exports to suffer. Research can easily be conducted under contained conditions, and it is open secret that the push for field trials (in large areas) is primarily for seed production interests. #

While US forced to import organic foods on consumer preference, India is pushing for GM crops May 8, 2015.

1 comment:

Aparna Tiwari said...

It is not as if organic food is entirely free of pesticides. Bt is the most widely used pesticide in the organic food industry.
The same has been used to develop Bt cotton - after the adoption of which cotton yield in India has increased 2.6 times over a period of 10 years.

Therefore, it isn't black and white - organic vs. GM.