‘No GM’ tag is crucial for India’s trade
by Ashwani Mahajan on 14 Jan 2023 1 Comment

Recently, the United States’ Trade Representative (USTR) complained to the World Trade Organization that US exports are suffering because of India’s restriction on genetically modified (GM) imports. Significantly, in the context of food imports, India has mandated the certification of non-GM products. US says that the World Trade Organization should instruct India to lift the restriction on GM imports so that US can send its GM foods to India. Significantly, the production of GM products is allowed only in a few countries of the world, of which US is a prominent one.


The US says that due to this condition, their exporters are finding it difficult to export rice and apples to India. It’s notable that India’s food regulator, FSSAI, has made non-GM certification mandatory for countries exporting food to India from March 1, 2021. The US says that the compulsion of this certificate should be removed. US says that the justification for this order has not been explained. There should be a scientific basis to justify non-GM certification and it needs to be accompanied by a risk assessment, US argues.


Interestingly, in a yet another dramatic move, a committee of the Ministry of Environment, Government of India, the Genetic Engineering and Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has recommended the environmental release of GM mustard, and in the most unprecedented manner, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has also given its approval, paving the way for commercial production of GM Mustard.


Those who oppose this say that if GM is allowed in food items in India, then this will pose a huge hindrance in the export of food items from the country, and may lead to flooding of imports of GM items in the country, which are not allowed as per India’s laws so far. With Government of India allowing GM Mustard, a food item, this restriction will automatically be removed and there may be a flooding of GM imports in the country.


It has to be understood that India has become self-sufficient in food items today. Except for edible oils and some pulses, all other food items, namely, food grains, fruits and vegetables, milk and milk products, eggs, fish etc. are produced in sufficient quantity in the country. Not only this, India is also exporting food items worth rupees $50 billion today. Many times, the consignments of India’s food exports have been rejected by some countries on the grounds that they were found to contain pesticides banned in those countries, beyond limits. But once it also happened that our rice export consignments to the Middle East were rejected as GM rice was mixed in them.


Recently, in the month of October 2021, according to a release of the ‘Rapid Alert System’ of the European Union, Mars Wrigley, the famous candy company, had to recall its product ‘Cripsey M&M’ from all over Europe because it contained GM rice, and their origin was said to be in India. Though the Ministry of Commerce said this was not possible as GM rice is not produced in India, it is possible that seeds of GM rice were mixed as farmers know that field trials are going on in GM rice. Since then, European countries are becoming more apprehensive and cautious about rice imports from India. It is natural that according to the rules of Europe, products with ‘GM tag’ will be rejected outright.


Food exports and imports of India


Food exports from India are about Rs 4 lakh crore every year, some of which are processed food and rest are raw food products. These food exports are made to around 40 countries of the world. The important thing is that today GM is banned in 26 countries, and it’s notable that these countries import a large amount of food from India. This clearly means that as soon as GM enters in food items in India, such countries (Europe, Middle East Asian countries, Mexico, Russia etc.) will be apprehensive about food imports from India and our exports to these countries may be badly hit.


On the other hand, America, Canada, Australia and other countries enjoying surplus of food items, which are not able to export to GM free countries, are looking for ways to dump their goods in India. If GM is allowed in food items in India, then these countries will be able to export food products to India with ease, even if it’s against our interests.


Thus, allowing GM can be a double whammy for India. On the one hand it would create major hurdles in our exports, such that they would be blocked in GM free countries and on the other hand GM producing countries will be able to sell their products easily in India. On the one hand foreign exchange inflow will be hit adversely, while its outflow will increase due to increase in GM imports. Meaning thereby a double whammy on valuable foreign exchange for India.


Double whammy


Whereas the supporters of GM are arguing that the permission of GM is going to benefit the farmers and their income will increase, the fact is that if India’s food exports decrease and food imports increase by allowing GM, then not only will there be big loss of foreign exchange, but farmers will also have to bear huge economic losses. Food exports from India enable farmers to get better prices for their crops. Exports of rice, wheat, spices, vegetables, fruits etc. from the country are continuously increasing, due to which farmers’ distress has been reduced significantly, by making them get better prices.


At the same time, due to the jump in food imports from US and other GM producing countries, it will become difficult for farmers to get fair value for their crops. Significantly, GM producing countries are also known for giving huge subsidies in agriculture. It is a known fact that import of subsidized agricultural goods from US can lead to flooding of imported goods in India, due to which agriculture will cease to be a profitable venture.


Perhaps, sensing the ill effects of GM on their economic interests and also impact on the environment, farmers are also vehemently opposing introduction of GM in the country.


India’s responsibility


India is an important country in food production in the world, which is not only free from GM food, but due to government and non-government measures, it is also moving forward in organic farming. Along with non-GM foods, organic products are also being exported in large quantities. In view of the growing health hazards caused by GM products, the world is looking towards India for healthy foods including organic ones.


The entry of GM in the country may prove to be the death knell for organic produce. In such a situation, if GM foods are allowed, India’s exports will get adversely affected and GM imports will increase. In such an eventuality, not only India’s farmers will suffer, given the known impact of GMOs on health, but efforts to curb the growing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the world will also get a big blow.


The author teaches at PGDAV College, University of Delhi, Delhi, and is national co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an economic think tank.



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