Has India banned GM crops?

Andrew Whitelaw, Thomas Elder Markets September 9, 2020


The Snapshot

  • India allows the import of GM soybean and canola oil.
  • The only crops approved for cultivation are (bt) cotton.
  • India has had an effective ban on other GM seeds for a considerable time.
  • The new rulings ask importers to provide a certification of non-gm.
  • This rule change is likely to have little impact on the grain-oilseed trade, other than a little bit of extra paperwork.
  • We won’t see a swing towards or away from Australia due to this legislation.

The Detail

I got a message from a subscriber this afternoon. They were asking whether India had banned GM crops in recent weeks and if this provided any opportunities (or threats) for Australia.

India has always been a slow starter when it comes to GM crops, with only (bt) cotton approved for commercial cultivation, at 93 per cent of overall cotton production.

The only approved imports of GM products are canola and soybean oil (more on that later). The importation of any other commodity such as seeds has been banned for a considerable time.

The importation of GM seeds/grains into India has been banned for years.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) released an advisory order on 21 August 2020.

This order sets out requirements that a series of imported food products have to be accompanied by a declaration that the product imported is non-GM.

The list of products is extensive, including fruits, grains, vegetables and oilseeds. The main crops of concern are canola, maize, soybean and wheat. It does not confirm whether this includes the product of these commodities such as the oil or meal.

Let’s have a look at the potential impact:

Canola/Rapeseed: The appendix specifically mentions Polish and Argentinian canola, other origins it would be assumed are not required to provide a certificate.

At present, the cultivation of GM canola is prohibited in Poland, so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Polish exporters.

Apart from two strong years in 2012 and 2013, Argentina has played a very small part when it comes to global canola exports. During the past five years, exports have averaged 15400mt. Even if all of this was destined for India, it’s not a factor in the canola trade.

I was curious about why they specified Argentine and Polish canola, so delved into this a little more. I called up an agronomist contact. I now don’t believe that they are referring to them as origins, but types brassica napus and rapa. Polish being short season brown seed and the longer Argentine black seed.

Upon further data scouring, India has according to the USDA imported zero mt of rapeseed/canola during the past decade, whilst ABS saw 7000mt exported to India ex Australia, and the Canadian Canola council quote 2200mt in 2019. These still point towards very low levels of imports, in fact our exports to the UK have been higher.

India has imported 151kmt on average of oil per year. This oil could be either non-gm or gm, and does not preclude Australia as an origin. The oil exports are shown on our twitter account here.

Overall this change to the import regulations requiring a non-gm declaration provides little threat or opportunity to the Australian canola trade, whether they are referring to origin or type.

Wheat: Well, this is an easy one. There is no GM wheat production at a commercial scale anywhere on the planet.
Soybeans & Corn: As discussed in a previous posting ‘Interesting India’, it is important to always examine Indian from both an import and export point of view.In the chart below, showing trade flow the combined imports and exports are shown. Any year where the bar is below zero is a year where India has been a net exporter. Overall this new ruling will have little impact upon global trade, as the net position of India shows very little import demand of either corn or soybeans. 

There is some confusion in Indian law as to the legality of imports of GM products. In theory, FSSAI have to permit edible GM oils for import. As we all know, the legal system is oiled by loopholes.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change can permit the import of GM edible oils, and the list of approved events for import are displayed below.

To summarise the new rules are not a new ban on GM crops, it is a requirement that every consignment has a very short declaration of Non-GM status provided.  Overall this will have little impact on trade, at worst there will be a little extra paperwork for companies exporting to India.
The full document can be read hereThere is also a very good report summarising the biotech situation in India “Agricultural Biotechnology Annual -2020” which is produced by the USDA.

This article was originally published on the Thomas Elder Markets website

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