The Government’s move to allow duty-free imports of soyameal for livestock feed has not gone down well with the green brigade.

Environmentalists fear such imports could result in genetically modified (GM) material landing up in the food chain, as most of the soyameal produced overseas is of the GM variety.

The Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) early this week decided to scrap 15 per cent customs duty on imports of de-oiled cakes of soyabean, sunflower, mustard and canola, among others.

This was done to augment feed supplies to livestock as drought-like conditions have hit fodder availability in some areas.

“Given that most soya in the world is now GM, the oilmeal will be genetically modified. It is not in the jurisdiction of the EGoM to make this decision,” said Vandana Shiva, noted environmentalist.

“This decision needs to be made by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). And the Supreme Court has set up a high-level technical committee to which I have made submissions to elaborate the full bio-safety testing. The EGoM decision is thus ultra vires,” she said.

India is yet to approve GM food crops on safety concerns.

“There is definitely a concern on the safety aspect, as most of the soyabean import will be GM and there are studies showing the impact of such feed on animals,” said Kavita Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

“This obviously has to go through the regulatory approval procedures since any import has to be cleared by the regulatory body/GEAC and should also be declared as GM in line with DGFT guidelines, after passing through GEAC approval processes. Also, the regulators have to look at the health implications before they clear it,” she said.

Kavita Kuruganti said that even in 2006, when the GEAC was seeking to give approval to import of soyaoil and de-gummed soya crude oil, they found residues of glyphosate to be a problem.

In that sense, apart from the GM issue, there is the issue of herbicide health impacts also, she added.

Eminent Scientist and Parliamentarian, M.S. Swaminathan, however, called for transparency.

“So far, there has been no adverse report on the feeding of soyabean cake from genetically modified varieties. However, there should be proper labelling indicating that the de-oiled cake is from genetically modified varieties,” he said.

In fact, he sought a ban on export of soyabean meal and other animal feed concentrates.

“We are the only country which has non-GM soyabean on such a largescale. Instead of exporting our meal and importing genetically modified ones, it will be prudent that we conserve all our animal protein sources to take care of the needs of over a billion farm animals in our country,” Swaminathan said.

Fearing an adverse impact on the domestic oilseed industry, Vandana Shiva said, “In 1998, the Government allowed duty-free imports of soya oil, which has replaced our healthy oils with unhealthy soya. Now the import of oilmeal will further destroy the oilseed sector.”

vishwa@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on August 2, 2012)
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