Exporters say no to large-scale field trials of GM rice

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 10 2014, 09:06am hrs
India's rice exporters have expressed concern over allowing large-scale field trials of the crop's genetically modified (GM) version, saying it could adversely impact its marketability abroad.

Recently, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved 'confined field trials' for 10 agricultural crops, including rice.

These approvals, however, need no-objection certificates from the concerned state governments.

The trials approved by GEAC in February include Bayer Biosciences GM rice for insect tolerance, Mahyco and BASF Indias proposals on GM rice.

"Questions also might be raised on Indian rice growers adopting GMO varieties purely for the higher yield and pest resistance while choosing to ignore the undesirable effects on consumers," MP Jindal, president, All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA), told FE.

Jindal said unless there were conclusive reports based on extensive testing in controlled environments, it would be against the interest of the rice industry to support trials of GM crops.

However, KV Prabhu, deputy director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), said trials approved by GEAC is only for restricted cultivation under strict supervision. Large-scale trails of GM rice would take time after obtaining scientific validation, Prabhu noted.

Till now, the government has approved commercial cultivation of BT cotton while commercial cultivation of BT brinjal has been put under moratorium since 2010.

India is estimated to have earned Rs 30,000 crore in the last fiscal from rice (basmati and non-basmati) exports. India ships grain to mostly to West Asian countries, US, EU and many African nations.

The sharp rise in demand for basmati and non-basmati rice in Africa and Asian countries is pushing India to top of the world's rice exporting nations' list.

According to AIREA estimate, more than 3.9 mt of basmati rice and 6 mt of non-basmati was exported in 2013-14. In the previous two fiscals, India shipped 10 mt of the key foodgrain.

Thailand and Vietnam are the other key rice exporters who ship around 7 mt of rice annually.

India is all set to earn close to Rs 40,000 crore from rice exports this fiscal from Rs 33,000 crore earned in the previous year.

Apart from Iran, other key destinations for Indian basmati are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Iraq. Non-basmati rice is exported to mostly African countries, including Nigeria and Senegal.

The last seven years have been watershed years as far as India's basmati rice exports go. From a modest Rs 2,792 crore in 2006-07, exports crossed the Rs 25 ,000-crore mark last fiscal.

A commerce ministry official said rice exports have been rising steadily since the government lifted a four-year-long ban on non-basmati rice exports in September 2011.