Will the approval for GM soyameal imports open the route for GM crops in the country?
The DGFT under the Union Ministry of Commerce has issued notification for the import of 12 lt soyameal obtained from GM soyabean. Relaxation has been offered for this in the clause of Import Policy 2017 under which it is essential to seek the approval of the GEAC for GM soyameal imports. The decision has given rise to a discussion about the issue of GM crops. People are asking whether this decision could clear the route for the approval of GM crops within the country. Research on GM varieties of several crops are in various phases in the country, but the government is yet to allow field trials for these crops.
The Director-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) under the Union Ministry of Commerce has issued notification for the import of 12 lakh tonnes (lt) soyameal obtained from genetically modified (GM) soyabean. Relaxation has been offered for this in the clause of Import Policy 2017 under which it is essential to seek the approval of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for GM soyameal imports. The decision has given rise to a discussion about the issue of GM crops. People are asking whether this decision could clear the route for the approval of GM crops within the country. Researches on GM varieties of several crops are in various phases in the country, but the government is yet to allow field trials for these crops.
A deadline of October 31, 2021, has been fixed for the import of GM soyameal. Besides, only two ports have been allowed for this import — Nava Sheva (seaport) and Petrapole (land port). Permission from the Minister of Commerce and Industry has been cited for the import. It has also been told that the proposal for the import came from the Ministry for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying (MFAHD).
The debate has started on GM crops in the country along with this decision. After the animal husbandry ministry had given its consent to soyameal imports on August 11, 2021, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) wrote a letter to the Animal Husbandry Secretary protesting the decision. It asked him to cancel the permission and termed the decision as illogical. Subsequently, correspondence went on between the ministries concerned, and on August 17, the Ministry of Finance said in an office memorandum that despite there being no living organism in GM soyameal, it was necessary to seek GEAC approval for it under the prescribed import policy provisions. However, only days later, the DGFT notification was issued with regard to exemption from the clause for GEAC approval.
Besides, it has been said that strict vigil will be kept on the said imports and these will be done only via two ports. As for the deadline, these imports have been allowed till October 31, 2021.
Questions are now being raised on the GM issue due to this decision of the government. Despite researches being conducted on GM crops in the country, field trials are yet to be allowed. Speaking on this issue to RuralVoice, several agriculture scientists have asked why the country is hesitating to advance research on GM crops when approval has been granted to soyameal obtained from GM soyabean. The big issue here is that of GM mustard, research on which has been conducted by Deepak Pental, ex-Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi. India is dependent on imports in the case of edible oils and imports about two-thirds of its consumption. The estimated expenditure on these imports is to the tune of more than Rs 1 lakh crore for the current year. Given this situation, why are we not moving ahead with work on GM mustard varieties, which offer more yield in comparison to the common mustard species? It is natural that such questions are being raised.
Protests may intensify in the country on this issue from farmer organizations and others that oppose GM crops and products. The controversy may only worsen in the days to come.
DGFT says that 12 lt of GM soyameal imports has been approved subject to certain conditions. The imports should be done before 31 October 2021, failing which, fresh approval will have to be sought. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has said that since soya de-oiled does not contain any living organism, it has no objection to its imports from the environmental angle.
Besides, DGFT has said that the said imports of 12 lt of soyameal will be done at the ports under strict vigil and inspection from the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) so that there is not any sort of violation of rules.
There has been a record spike in soyabean prices this year due to a steep fall in production across the world. This has led to a near doubling of soyabean prices within just a few months. Which, in turn, has led to a steep rise in the feed prices for the poultry industry. In order to resolve this crisis, the poultry industry has constantly been pressing the government with its demand for soyameal imports. At present, the poultry feed manufacturers are working much below their potential.