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TITLE:  India rejects food aid over GM content
SOURCE: Financial Times, UK, by Edward Luce
        http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/
        FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1039524107359
DATE:   Jan 02, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


India rejects food aid over GM content

India has rejected a large shipment of food aid from the United States 
because it contained genetically modified food, the Financial Times has 
learned.

The shipment of maize and soya - part of the US government's annual USD100m 
in food aid to parts of India that suffer from chronic malnutrition - is 
thought to have contained bio-engineered content, say Indian officials.

The US, which is appealing against the ruling in New Delhi, says it cannot 
guarantee that any shipment of maize will be free of GM content, since GM 
foods are regularly mixed with non-GM foods in the US.

If the US appeal is rejected, it could have negative implications for the 
commercial development of GM crops in India.

Last year Zambia attracted strong criticism when it rejected international 
food aid because it had GM content.

"We are not against GM foods per se," said A M Gokhale, chairman of the 
Indian committee that rejected the consignment last year. "But if there is 
reason to believe that there may be damage to human health, we have the 
right to reject any import."

New Delhi's rejection of the food aid has deepened confusion about India's 
stance on genetic modification. Last year New Delhi gave the green light 
for the introduction of BT cotton in India - its first approval of a GM 
crop.

However, since then the committee that determines India's GM policy has 
regularly held up or postponed approval of other such crops, including 
mustard.

Officials say there is strong political opposition to GM crops, which many 
non-governmental organisations depict as a tool of multinational companies 
to undermine India's farmers. In addition, there are fears some GM grains 
cause allergies, such as skin rashes.

But Kameswara Rao, head of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness in 
Bangalore, said the Indian government was more concerned about protecting 
its own nascent GM sector than about fears over public health. "There is no 
public health issue here - that is a red herring," said Mr Rao. "India is 
developing its own GM variants and there are people on the government 
committee who are funding the research."

The appeal over the US maize, which will be heard later this month, is 
likely to provide a clear signal on whether India will in future accept 
trade or aid imports that include GM content. It could also signal New 
Delhi's willingness to take on political forces opposed to GM foods in 
general.

Indian economists say the country badly needs another "green revolution", 
in which new hybrids developed by scientists helped to boost rice and wheat 
yields in the 1970s and 1980s and to make the country self-sufficient in 
food.

Although India now has more than 60m tonnes in food stocks - about a 
quarter of the global total - its population growth is outstripping 
agricultural yield growth for the first time in a generation.

Many government scientists believe GM crops are the answer to the country's 
long-term food security. But senior officials say it will be difficult for 
India to accept further food imports unless there is clear indication of 
whether GM components are included.

"We have the right to look at each GM issue on a case-by-case basis," said 
M.M. Verma, a senior official at India's department of environment. Roughly 
a third of US corn output and three-quarters of its soyabean output is bio-
engineered.



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