NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Large-scale cultivation of transgenic crops is a necessity if India is to feed a growing population and use more of its farmland for industry and homes, a senior government official said on Monday.
“Whether we like it or not, transgenic crops will soon be a reality,” Mangala Rai, secretary of the Department of Agriculture Research and Education, told an international conference on biotechnology.
Producing more food from less land would require widespread use of GM crops, which can provide higher yields, he said.
“Self-sufficiency in food is crucial and the only way to ensure that is to adopt the GM technology. There cannot be two views on the issue,” Rai added.
Opponents of the use of biotechnology in food crops argue the new varieties could not only threaten the environment but also the health of consumers.
Despite being the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, India has had to import massive amounts of the grain in the last two years as harvests failed to meet demand and fill buffer stocks to the required levels.
In a sign the government is increasingly looking to the laboratory for an answer to India’s food security worries, it last month approved the first large-scale field trials of a genetically modified food crop.
A new hybrid variety of the popular brinjal vegetable, which promises better yields with less intensive use of pesticides, will be planted at test sites.
India has allowed commercial cultivation of genetically modified bacillus thuringiensis or Bt cotton seeds cotton since 2002.
The decision led to wide-spread protests from social activists who feared ecological damage.
Rai said the genetically architectured seeds have helped India raise cotton output by 3-4 million bales a year.
India, the world’s second-largest cotton producer after China, overtook the United States with estimated output of 28 million bales (1 bale=170 kg) in the year to September 2007.
Argentinian Deputy Secretary of Agricultural Policy and Food Fernando Nebbia told the conference GM crops were essential to raise foodgrains output, but a stronger regulatory framework was necessary to address concerns.
He said Argentina, the world’s second-biggest producer of genetically modified grains, has planted bio-engineered crops across 60 percent of its cultivated farmland.