No Transgenic Tech For Organic Crops: Experts

New Delhi, March 28 | Updated: Mar 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
Indian agro experts are of the view that transgenic technology should not be applied to crops selected for organic farming, if the country is to take any advantage of the lucrative $36.89 billion global market for organic food.

The global market for organic food has grown at the rate of 15 to 30 per cent annually in the last three years, while the Indian export of organic food has remained negligible at $19.99 million (Rs 89.42 crore). Organic food gets a price premium of 20 to 30 per cent over non-organic food.

Organic food retail sales took place in Europe and the US in 2002 is estimated to between $10,000 million to $11,000 million. If the countrys export of organic food increases optimistically by 25 per cent, the gains will be substantial, they said.

Vowing to keep organic crops protected from any possible influence of transgenics, the experts advocated that organic farming areas should be distinctly earmarked away from areas of approved genetically modified (GM) crops cultivation or field trial sites of GM crops. So far, only GM crop approved for commercial cultivation is Bt cotton which is grown in parts of Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

The deputy director-general (horticulture and crop science) in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Dr Gautum Kalloo said, Europe is a growing market for organic food. The European consumers are against any food containing even traces of transgenics. The EU Regulation 2092-91 forbids the use of varieties obtained by genetic engineering in organic agriculture. Further, the regulation insists that parent plants of annual crops are to be grown at least for one generation under organic conditions, while biennial plants and perannials for two years. We should, therefore, be very careful in implementing these basic norms in our organic farming.

Dr Kalloo also exploded the myth that organic practices generally lead to a lower yield. He said, Our field experiments have shown that certain crops respond exceptionally well to organic practices. Organic farming in sugarcane has resulted in an increase in yield by 25 per cent. We should select crops for organic farming with a view to boost our exports in dollar terms. Crops like Basmati rice, soyabeans, cashewnuts, medicinal plants, spices, tea, coffee and select fruits and vegetables should be taken up for organic farming.

Though one of the ICARs affiliate body, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has developed two Bt transgenic rice namely IR-64 and Pusa Basmati-1 and has conducted bioassay for yellow stem borer resistance, the ICAR director-general, Dr Mangla Rai has clearly said, The geographical indications such as Basmati rice should be kept in tact and untouched by transgenics. The developed GM Basmati rice will not be released for commercial cultivation.

The public sector research system under ICAR has developed 14 experimental transgenics in various crops and the private sector has developed 18 transgenic crops. All these transgenic crops will be released for commercial cultivation only after assessing the situation vis-a-vis the organic farming and export potential of organic food.

Several state governments have joined the race for organic farming. Uttaranchal has established an Organic Commodities Board and chief minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari has vowed to keep his state GM-free. Mizoram has also declared itself totally organic and has not asked for allocation of any chemical fertiliser in the current years kharif (summer) season.

Sikkim, Nagaland and Meghalaya are in the process of declaring themselves as organic states. The Madhya Pradesh government has identified about 3,300 villages where only organic farming would be practiced.