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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ball in DGFT’s court over import of genetically modified soyabean meal

An abnormal increase in soyabean prices had seen the poultry industry crying foul. Soya meal the protein-rich material left after the oil is expelled from the seed is sought after by the poultry industry.

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas | Pune |
Updated: August 22, 2021 9:54:47 am
Soyameal -- the solid protein rich mass residue left after oil is expelled from the seed -- forms the raw material of the poultry feed industry. (File Photo)

ON AUGUST 6, the All India Poultry Breeders Association (PBA) sought permission from the ministry of animal husbandry to import 15 lakh tonnes of genetically modified (GM) soyabean meal.

This, Bahadur Ali, president of the PBA, said was necessary in the view of the exorbitant price of this essential raw material of poultry freed. The very same ministry of environment and forest and climate change cleared the proposal without refereeing the same to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) as “soya de-oiled and crushed cake do not contain any living organism this ministry (MoEF&CC) has no objections for import of soya de-oiled cake or meal from environmental angle”.

Ten days after the department of consumer affairs (DCA) also cleared the import, which the poultry industry had pinned their hopes upon. Four days later, the proposal seems to have hit a dead wall as the department of commerce has opined that the import of non-food GM material (in this case de-oiled soya cake) should be cleared by the GEAC before it is processed further.

An abnormal increase in soyabean prices had seen the poultry industry crying foul. Soya meal the protein-rich material left after the oil is expelled from the seed is sought after by the poultry industry. Ex factory prices of soya meal, which till a couple of month back was around Rs 40 per kg, has since then skyrocketed to Rs 110, which has put severe stress on the poultry industry. The industry depends on soya meal as the protein component for poultry feed and the all the time high prices had thrown the industry out of balance. For the industry, this price rise was one of the many blows it had to face over the span of the last 15 months or so.

A short crop and speculative activities, the industry had said was responsible for this historic price rise in the market. The solution was import of 15 lakh tonnes of soya meal from the international markets and given the fact that non-GM is not available in that quantity in the world markets the only solution was to allow the import of GM meal.

Without duty-free imports, the industry had argued would be detrimental for the poultry farmers many of whom would not be able to continue their business. Landed price of imported soya meal the industry pointed out would be around Rs 40 per kg.

In response to the August 6 communication, the department of animal husbandry had consulted with multiple departments and ministries. The issue of GM soya meal had posed a challenge as the only GM crop or material allowed in India is cotton.

The matter was referred by S K Dutta, joint commissioner department of animal husbandry and dairying, in his letter dated August 11. With the MoEF&CC clearing the matter, the officer said the import would not be governed under Schedule 1 of GEAC as it is a non-living organism.

The fast manner in which the matter was resolved had raised the hopes of the poultry industry that felt the official notification by the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) which would allow them to start the formal process of import.

However, the matter it seems has again gone back to square one with the ministry of commerce putting the ball back at the DGFT’s court. An office memorandum Kevin Boban, undersecretary of the ministry, pointed out the import of non-food GM material like soya meal would require permission from the GEAC. Also, the final decision, the memorandum read said would be with the DGFT.

The imports, expected to arrive by the sea route, would take 45 days to arrive and many had pointed out would coincide with the arrival of the new crop in India. Already the decision had met with opposition from farmers organizations with NCP Rajya Sabha MP Fauzia Khan even writing to the prime minister opposing the imports.

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