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Greenpeace Accuses India Of Exporting Genetically Engineered Foods to The United Arab Emirates
Prof. C. Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org, chaakaaraav@yahoo.com

On October 7, 2007, Emmanuelle Landais, wrote in Gulf News, citing the India-based Greenpeace campaigner Rajesh Krishnan, that ‘India currently exports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seven types of produce known to be genetically engineered (GE), including basmati and non-basmati rice, tomatoes, aubergines (brinjal), maize, groundnut, potatoes and cabbage’. At the top of this article, the following quantities (in tonnes) of field trialled GM crop exports from India to the UAE during 2005-06, were prominently displayed:  Basmati rice 62,100, non-Basmati rice 1,67,343, Maize 9,869, tomatoes 1,087, groundnut 669.5, potatoes 118, cabbage 10, and aubergines 5.  The exactness of these export figures is impressive and convincing on the face of it, but for the fact that India is in no position to export any GE crops, even now, let alone during 2005-06.   

The Gulf News reporter was apprehensive that ‘tonnes of Indian rice exported to the UAE might have been genetically engineered and could pose a threat to traders here who re-export the produce abroad without proper labels’.

In the context of two writ petitions seeking a ban on GE organisms/seeds in the country, the Supreme Court of India  (SCI) directed the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), on September 22, 2006, not to give approvals to genetically modified products until further orders.  On May 8, 2007, by a partially modified order  the SCI permitted field trials of those GE crops that were approved by the GEAC between May 2 and September 22, 2006, attaching certain conditions to the conduct of such field trials.  In accordance with this order, the GEAC permitted large scale multi-location field trials of the following GE crops: several varieties of Bt cotton, Bt rice, Bt tomato, Bt brinjal, Bt okra, Bt cauliflower, Bt castor, fungal resistant rice,  fungal resistant ground nut, drought resistant rice, drought resistant tomato, herbicide resistant cotton, and high protein potato.

Though some institutions are developing GE Basmati rice and maize, these are not yet permitted for even open field trials, but find place on the list of exported GE crops mentioned in the Gulf News report.

All these GE crops will have to undergo over three years of field trials before they are permitted for commercialization by the GEAC if their performance on biosecurity and agronomic parameters was satisfactory.  It would be about a decade by the time India produces enough of any of these crops for the domestic market and surpluses to export.  How then India could have exported to the UAE such large quantities of GE crops in 2005-06 as detailed in the Gulf News report?  Developing and field testing GE crops does not mean that they are being exported.

UAE is a party to Convention on Biological Diversity, but not to the Cartagena Protocol, the international agreement to monitor transboundary movement of GE products.  However, UAE has set up a Biosafety Clearing House, which can seek information from the exporting country on the GE component of the exported products. There is no federal level decision in the UAE to ban or label GE foods and India does not have any labeling rules in place.  However, UAE can seek information from India on the nature of the exported products or even test the imports for GE content.  If there already are imports of GE food products form the US, such as corn based products, similar foods from India should not be a serious concern. The Gulf News reporters should also check if any of Basmati rice exported from Pakistan has a GE component.

It should kept in mind that banning import of GE foods, merely on account of their being GE, will attract penal provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as has happened to the European Union countries last year. 

In reality, the assertion of Greenpeace that Indian exports to the UAE are GE products has no basis.   It is for the Government of India now to demand that Greenpeace substantiate the charge, or apologize for a fabrication that instills suspicion and fear on the minds of the people and the business community in the UAE and hurt India’s export business interests.   

October 18, 2007