NITI Aayog has made a forceful case for genetically-modified seeds to revive agriculture growth in the country. It calls them a ‘powerful new technology’ which makes higher productivity possible with lower use of resources like fertilizer, weedicides and pesticides. Fears about the health risk of GM foods and their impact on biodiversity are over-blown, according to the commission. ‘No compelling evidence supporting either of these fears has emerged more than two decades after the original introduction of GM foods in 1994,’ it asserts. On the other hand, the technology offers benefits in terms of lower chemical use to control bugs, fortifying foods with nutrients and making crops resilient to pests, diseases and aberrant weather.
Making a case for approval of GM mustard developed by geneticist and former Delhi University vice-chancellor, Deepak Pental, NITI Aayog says India will have to raise the productivity of oilseeds to reduce dependence on imports. Even if India doubles the productivity of oilseeds, imports will remain substantial at 40 percent. It says India has been importing GM rapesed (or canola) with no adverse health effects reported so far. The United States, it says, has benefitted from the technology for one and a half decades. GM technology also holds promise for relieving the shortage of pulses.
Arguing that the key to green revolution was high-yielding crops, the government's think tank said that it is time for us to return to allow massive research into improving seed varieties including genetically modified one. In an appraisal document of 12th Five Year Plan, the Aayog said that GMO seeds have been in use for over two decades elsewhere in the world, most notably the United States, with no adverse effect on either crops or those consuming the product of those seeds. It said that China has been far ahead on us with this regard and that our own experience with Bt cotton has been a success.
Cotton is the only GM crop currently allowed to be sold in the world's second most populous country where arable land is shrinking. US Company Monsanto dominates the cotton seed market in India, and often faces resistance from local companies over its dominant position. "There is some concern that GM seeds can be monopolized by multinationals, which may then exploit farmers," the commission said in its report to the government. "But this concern is readily addressed by limiting GM seeds to those varieties discovered by our own institution and companies."