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India fourth largest grower of GM crops, says survey (Feb.)

 

Deccan Herald, Bangalore, Saturday 15th February 2014

India is among the world's top five nations in cultivating genetically modified (GM) crops according to a new survey by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, an industry lobby group. This is almost three times more than what China sows.

The US tops the list with 70 million hectares under genetically modified maize, soybean, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya and squash. The next two are Brazil and Argentina followed by India, which is the leader in Asia.

Canada grows marginally lesser than India. Indian farmers cultivate genetically engineered Bt cotton in 11 million hectares (ha) of land with an adoption rate of 95 per cent as of 2013.

In comparion China cultivates 4.2 million ha of Bt cotton. China grows five types of GM crops – cotton, papaya, poplar, tomato and sweet pepper. In India, however, Bt cotton is the sole GM crop, which carries a gene from a soil microbe.

Globally, biotech crop acreage increased from 1.7 million ha in 1996 to over 175 million ha in 2013. This means a 100-fold increase over a 18 year period according to the survey.

However, the survery’s results haven’t been accepted in some quarters.

Tushar Chakraborty, a scientist at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology at Kolkata, said the methodology adopted by the survey is wrong and it gives rise to incorrect figures.

“It does not clarify if the same agricultural field is used for cultivating two or three different types of crops,” explained Chakraborty to Deccan Herald. The survey found little penetration of GM crops in Africa and Europe, where countries have opposed these crops for a long time. Besides the North and South America, the footprint of GM crops is the highest in the South East Asia.

The survey report comes within days of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking Indians not to maintain “unscientific prejudices” against genetically modified crops.

“While safety must be ensured, we should not succumb to unscientific prejudices against Bt crops. Our government remains committed to promoting the use of these new technologies for agriculture development,” he said at the Indian Science Congress in Jammu earlier this month.

Twelve years after the introduction of Bt cotton in India, GM crops remained a highly contentious issue. A Parliamentary panel opined against its wide spread use, even while the Supreme Court is saddling with a public interest litigation on the same matter.

A majority view from a technical advisory committee formed by the court suggested continuing with a moratorium on GM crops till a better and more secure bio-safety system is put in place. GM crop evangelists, on the other hand, seek widespread use, including GM food crops to tackle the challenge of feeding India’s immense population.

After banning the veterinary painkiller Diclofenac, Maharashtra has become the first State in the country to ban the use of Aceclofenac. This will help in saving the last few species of vultures in the country. Aceclofenac is a pain killer administered to cattle and has shown detrimental effect on vulture population.