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Exporters flash GM rice alert

New Delhi, Nov. 1: Rice exporters have called for a freeze on field trials of genetically modified (GM) rice in India, warning that any leakage into harvested rice could wreak economic havoc.

The exporters said GM rice field trials should be deferred until seed companies and regulatory agencies can guarantee that the rice will not contaminate harvested crop and until national health authorities can certify that GM rice is safe for long-term consumption by humans.

Citing the discovery earlier this year of trace levels of experimental GM rice in US commercial consignments and the subsequent backlash on US exports from the European Union and other countries, the exporters said India needed to draw lessons from the plight of US rice exporters.

The contamination prompted the European Union to order tests on all US rice destined for Europe. Russia, Switzerland, Japan and West Asia have also imposed restrictions that have hampered US rice exports.

“We’re shocked that a trace level of just 0.06 per cent of GM rice in a US commercial consignment has brought business to a virtual halt for US exporters,” said R. Srinivasan Seshadri, director of Tilda Riceland, a company exporting Indian rice.

“We have no ideological stand on GM crops. We’re neither against GM nor for GM. But the economic reality is that a contamination of six grains in ten thousand can devastate exports,” Seshadri said.

India exported Rs 7,000 crore worth of rice last year, including Rs 3,030 crore of basmati rice.

“Indian rice is GM-free today, but any doubt on Indian crops in future could have a disastrous effect on exports and on millions of farmers,” said Anil Adlakha, executive director of All India Rice Exporters Association.

Field trials of GM rice are under way this year in 10 farms in seven states, including a farm in Kajla in Bengal’s North 24-Parganas. The GM rice on trial has been engineered to protect it from pests.

A senior department of biotechnology official told The Telegraph that there was no risk of contamination if the field trials were conducted with proper containment and isolation as required under rules. “There is no reason at all for concern when proper procedures are followed,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

But environment groups campaigning against GM crops in India had earlier this year claimed to have exposed flaws in the way field trials of GM crops are conducted. One farmer had admitted that he sold GM cotton on trial that he was expected to burn, while another farmer in south India had cooked and eaten GM okra on field trial in his farm, according to the activists.

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