Is India ready to embrace genetically modified foods?
Few countries face the food supply crisis that India does. It has a huge and growing population, poor electricity makes refrigeration impossible in most parts of the country, and it is dangerously exposed to volatile weather cycles and global warming. Given this confluence of factors, it may seem strange that India has not embraced genetically modified foods (GMOs) yet.
GMOs, though controversial in the press, enjoy huge scientific consensus over their safety, and provide one of the most achievable means of protecting the food source against a growing population and rising temperatures. Now, it seems, India might be getting interested in them.
News broke this month that India’s top biotechnology regulator has recently approved a transgenic mustard plant “safe for consumption”. It is now down to India’s environment minister to decide when – and if – this crop makes it into farmers’ fields. If the go ahead is given, it will mark the first GM food crop farmed in India. But the decision is unlikely to come overnight – there are a number of GM related cases before the Supreme Court of India that could have an effect on the minister’s decision, meaning he is almost certain to wait for them to be resolved.
While genetically modified foods are new to the country, this plant will not be the first genetically modified crop to grow in Indian soil. In 2004, the government decided to allow the cultivation of GM cotton – today, it accounts for more than 90% of the nation’s harvest.
With tempers flaring over the potential introduction of GM foods (a New-Delhi based group is deeply opposed to the introduction of the mustard, and GM foods generally, accusing the government of being “anti-science, anti-farmers, anti-environment, and anti-consumers”) it is still an open question whether the mustard strain will be introduced.
But, if it happens, India could see its food cultivation transformed in the same way its cotton cultivation has been. That would be great news for GM companies, but it would also be great news for India’s multitude of starving poor.
Dominion holds a number of companies, such as Syngenta, which are active in the genetically modified organisms sector, in its Global Trends Managed Fund.
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