London (April 20th, 2005)
– There's something to be lost and a lot to be gained by accepting genetically-engineered
seeds as the call of the farm’s future. Last month, South American powerhouse
Brazil became the last major food producer to legally permit Genetically Modified
(GM) seeds to be used in growing one of its most important cash crops: Soya.
Though the news has barely filtered in at home, industry-watchers are excited. Soya is not a part of the staple diet in any part of India, though it is grown here, mostly in Madhya Pradesh, and even exported in small quantities.
The secret behind the enthusiasm, say farm analysts, is the open support that Brazil has given GM seeds. ‘‘Till a few years ago, nearly all of Brazil’s neighbours, especially Argentina, had accepted GM seeds were necessary for food and cash crops. Brazil itself was growing tonnes of soya using GM seeds, but these seeds were either cloned illegally or smuggled in from Argentina.”
“Now, Brazil’s farmers will legally use GM seeds. No doubt, this is good news, especially for Brazil’s trading partners,’’ said a CII agriculture expert. Most nations with significant agricultural production are divided into the pro-GM or the anti-GM camps.
India falls in the latter, creating what many analysts call a situation of ‘‘false safety’’. Others, opposed to any modification in the genetic structure of plants, particularly food crops, say the waiting is a wise decision. They regularly demand that the Indian government hear them, and this sometimes does happen.
‘‘The only instance where it didn’t (hear them), was to do with Bt Cotton, Monsanto’s cotton seed. And there is news today that the Bt Cotton varieties have yields up to 400 per cent higher than other traditional kinds,’’ says a Ficci analyst.
The opposition to GM food crops stems from two concerns. First, that inadequate trials of the seeds can cause more harm than economic good to farmers. The second problem, say international trade watchers, is that GM is at times used as a lobbying power-tool rather than a means to empower farmers or improve crop yield. ‘‘For instance, the EU has always been opposed to GM”. But, in fact, they have a wait-and-watch policy that, perhaps, many other countries such as India cannot afford.
“The key benefits of GM lie with the farmers, which explains why 50 per cent of the soya grown in Brazil was already illegally using the GM seed,’’ says CII’s biotech expert. In all, industry watchers are keen over Brazil’s acceptance of GM seeds for soya.
‘‘This is a very good development. However, India and Brazil have not harmonised their legal systems yet. Despite China being a major trading partner of Brazil, we have dragged our feet on phytosanitary issues that have held back discussions on a variety of crops that can be exported,’’ says a seed industry source. These crops include wheat and mustard, in which Brazil is interested.
Genetically Modified seeds for thought. India Daily(10 April 2005) Permission requested (http://www.indiadaily.com/breaking_news/31066.asp)