GMO Rice from India Withdrawn in EU

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    • Recently, candy giant Mars Wrigley carried out a mass recall of several batches of its Crispy M&Ms across Europe.
      • It was due to the use of Genetically Modified rice flour that allegedly originated in India, according to the European Commission’s rapid alert system.

    India’s Response

    • The Commerce Ministry pointed out that GM rice is not grown commercially in India, let alone export.
      • India also promised a thorough enquiry by its agricultural exports authority.
      • The Ministry alleged that the case was a “futile conspiracy to malign the image of India as a reliable food security provider”.
      • India suspected that the GM ingredient may have been added in Europe to cut costs, not in India where commercial GM cultivation is banned.
        • The reason behind such suspicion is the quantity involved is too big.
        • Such high quantities can not come from the leaked output from controlled trial cultivation.

    GM Food

    • GM Food is food with modified genes for certain traits.
      • Their properties are altered in order 
        • To enhance their pest resistance like in BT Cotton, DMH-11 Mustard.
        • To enhance nutritional values like Golden Rice.
    • Commercially in India, only BT Cotton can be grown.
      • Worried farmers groups and environmental activists, however, noted that multiple GM rice varieties have been approved for confined field trials.
      • They have warned that any cross-contamination could dampen the country’s agricultural export ambitions.
    • The approval and regulation for GM crops in India is done by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
    • In August 2020, FSSAI had also issued the order that 24 food crops the country imports would need a ‘non-GM-origin-cum-GM-free certificate’.

    Indian Export of Rice

    • India’s annual rice exports amount to 18 million tonnes worth ?65,000 crores and reach more than 75 countries.
    • According to the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, 500 tonnes of broken rice was imported from India.
      • It was converted into rice flour by a French company named Westhove and was flagged during a regular check.
    • On June 21, France issued a notification for unauthorised genetically modified rice flour, identifying India as the point of origin.
      • It also alerted Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States as the possible destination of products made with flour.
    • Since 2007, India’s rice trade has increased from just ?7,000 crores to more than ?63,000 crores. 
      • At the end of the day, it is Indian farmers and exporters who have much to lose.

    Farmers’ Groups Apprehensions and Steps

    • Farmers groups have highlighted the issue of cross-contamination from field trials.
    • The issue with GM field trials is that once they take place, they can contaminate crops long after the actual trials either directly or through seed leakages.
      • E.g. 2006 case, where a Bayer food trial contaminated rice and seeds in the U.S., leading to a plunge in exports from that country.
    • Back in 2007, there was widespread concern about GM rice trials and the possibility of cross-contamination.
      • The All India Rice Exporters Association took up the issue with the Department of Biotechnology and the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. 
      • A policy decision was taken that field trials would not be allowed in the basmati belt, because of worries that the export crop could be affected.
    • Further, the farmer groups have highlighted the issue of unauthorised HtBt Cotton and Bt Brinjal being grown commercially.
      • Taking no action against such brazen violations creates the image of a country that is not serious about health or its food supply chain.
      • It is not good for exports.
    • Hence they are demanding
      •  a ban on field trials, 
      • slapping liability for illegal release of GMOs into the environment on developers, and 
      • a probe to identify the source of the GM rice contamination among other steps to deal with the problem.

    Conclusion and Way Ahead

    • India must pay heed to farmers’ apprehensions and ensure the quality check on food items exported.
    • GEAC, FSSAI and APEDA, etc must train all the stakeholders to ensure that GM crops can not even accidentally creep into the food chain.

    Source: TH, DTE