India needs to adopt GM crops soon to increase production and lower costs, while ensuring safety: Experts

With adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in India having hit a roadblock, Dr. Lalitha Gowda, who is the Chair of the Scientific Panel of GM-Foods, FSSAI and member of GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) said any regulation that needs to be implemented has to be first safe for human and animal consumption.

She was participating in a panel discussion on ‘Making livestock industry competitive: way forward’, organized jointly by the Karnataka Poultry Farmers and Breeders Association (KPFBA); the Compound Livestock Feed Manufacturers’ Association of India (CLFMA); the Biotech Consortium India Ltd; and Animal Nutrition Society of India.

Thorough protocols need to be followed. Dr. Gowda said that there are well laid out protocols in line with Codex Standards and they take time, not just in India, but in the developed parts of the world. While agreeing that GM crops had benefits, she said they had to go through proper appraisals before going commercial. Regarding processed GM derivatives for feed, she said that a simplified procedure is considered sufficient as they are not living modified organisms.

Presently in India, only Bt Cotton is allowed as GM crop, while brinjal and mustard are awaiting approvals for quite some time now.

Demand for protein will increase exponentially

Mr. Neeraj Kumar Srivastava, Chairman of Compound Livestock Feed Manufacturers Association of India (CLFMA) said India would be at the centre of increased meat demand and close to 50% meat is going to be produced in Asia,

thus opening up enormous opportunities for the livestock sector. India is number one in milk production and millets, number two in wheat and number four in broiler production, however, the protein demand and supply to the growing population is inadequate.

India, he said, needs 25 to 30 million metric tonnes of protein of which only about 47% is supplied through internal sources. As there are limitation in increasing yield of agricultural crops, he stressed for need for GM crops to increase productivity and meet demand. India’s per capita availability of livestock is low and it has one of the lowest protein consuming population. The demand for protein will continue to increase in view of the expanding middle class, with changing lifestyle patterns, urbanization and other consumer driven market trends. Though poultry numbers have grown more than 500 per cent in the last couple of years, there is need to increase output.

The input cost for livestock has significantly gone up and this, he said, is a matter of concern. While stating that there is urgent need to reduce input costs, he added that in 2020 feed production saw a degrowth of 6% and there was movement towards regaining volumes this year. Demand for feed is going to go up considerably. India added 4.5 mmt last year with feed production between 39 and 43 mmt, highest in the world. It is hoped to touch 55 mmt by 2026 and to meet this demand india needed new technologies. To meet the increased protein demand there was need to increase productivity per acre and that GM crops was the best bet. “There are so many myths about GM crops which needs to be dispelled. The bottlenecks should be removed as GM crops will be of help to both farmers and the sector. The Government of India, he said, has been very supportive.

GM crops can overcome shortage of feed

Dr. K.C.Veeranna, Vice Chancellor, Karnataka Veterinary, Animal and Fisheries Sciences University said cost of production of livestock is going up every day as the major contributor is feed. The biggest challenge is to reduce cost of production and make products which are rich in protein easily available. In this background, only GM crops and derivatives could help overcome shortage of feed. Stating that fodder resources were limited as land available for fodder is decreasing, there was need to utilize technologies to meet animal nutrition needs.

Dr. S.Rajendra Prasad, Vice Chancellor, University of Agricultural Science, Bangalore, said with India’s population growing at a fast pace, it was urgent to focus on nutritional security of both human beings and animals. India produces 308 million metric tons of foodgrains and 329 mmt of vegetables and fruits, but this is going to be highly insufficient to meet the demands of growing nation.

Dispelling myths about safety of GM crops

Dr. Vibha Ahuja, Chief General Manager, Biotech Consortium India Limited, said it was necessary to permit the use of GM crops and its derivatives as it would help in increasing the availability of feed and feed ingredients in India. It is imperative to make available sufficient low cost and good quality feed for sustainable growth of poultry, dairy, aqua and other livestock sectors.

On the many myths that surrounded GM crops, Ms. Ahuja reiterated that reviews by major scientific bodies and regulatory agencies have confirmed that GM crops and the food derived from them are safe. The only difference between the GM crops and their non-GM counterparts is the proteins expressed by inserted genes. The safety of the consumption of these proteins is established based on biological properties and tests of digestibility, acute toxicity and allergencity. Once this is done and safety established then the compositional equivalence confirms that the GM crop / food is similar to corresponding non-GM which has been used / consumed traditionally for generations and hence no long term effects are expected to be seen based on this history of safe human use.

Ms. Ahuja said that many countries were using GM crops and she wondered what the problem was to get it approved. The initial resistance came from Europe, both political and corporate. Scientists, regulators are constantly working on improving biosafety. India has a good regulatory system. Inspite of all the good technologies in the country, there is polarized debate, driven by some activists, leading to delay in approval of GM crops.

Ms. Ahuja said that farmers urgently need technologies and India needs to act with regard to streamlining the approval process. “We need to approach the government for tax exemption on GM products.

‘More from less’, not less from more’ is going to be the mantra

Dr. Mahesh. P.S. Commissioner, Government of India and Director (I/C) of Central Poultry Development Organisation & Training Institute said the due to climate changes, the planet is challenged by demand of protein, demand of energy, demand of population etc. and that the era of less from more is over now and that we need to work on ‘more from less’, referring to land availability.

Talking about GM, he wondered how people accepted milk from the cow which was eating BT cottonseed, a GM derivative, but were not ready to accept any other GM products, calling for severe extension work.

India can export to Gulf having logistical location advantage

Mr. Naveen Pasuparthy, Treasurer, CLFMA of India said presently corn and soya have major inputs controlling poultry costs. Yield per acre of both crops is too low and GM is the only solution to increase yield as well as income for farmers. Excessive usage of pesticides, herbicides etc have been affecting genetic capabilities of animals which feed on such crops.

He said that there was enormous potential for exports if we could get sufficient and cost effective inputs made available through GM technology. He talked about how India was just four hours away from Gulf and could supply easily, being logistically located hub, unlike Brazil and other South American countries which were supplying livestock to the Gulf and would be challenged by high fuel prices in the years to come.

Dr. M.S.Sheshshayee, Professor and Head, Department of Crop Physiology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru said the mantra has been to produce more from less, more crop per drop, more grain per rain and use of GM Technologies can help in achieving the same. Talking about proteins, he said Indians get nearly 70% proteins from cereals but that is not sufficient and contribution of livestock is immense.

Need to convince NGOs and educate farmers

Dr. Devegowda, President of Institution of Veterinarians of Poultry Industry (IVPI) said that there was urgent need to convince non-governmental organizations

which are opposing GM crops and also educate the farmers on the benefits of GM. India needs GM to feed the growing population, both human and livestock.

Trade has to happen for quicker adoption of GM

Amit Sachdev, Regional Consultant, South Asia, US Grains Council, said trade needs to happen and mentioned that US and India had signed an agreement in 2021, allowing import of Alfalfa for the dairy industry. Underscoring the importance of GM crops, he said there was no other go, but to adopt as they were safe, cheaper and was going to be easily available in the world market.

Calculating nutrient value leads to improved productivity

Susil Silva, Head, Animal Utilization, South Asia, US Soybean Export Council talked about “Nutrient Value Calculator” and explained key features of the tool and how it can be used for calculating nutritional value of feed and can contribute to improved productivity.

Dr. N.K.S.Gowda, Principal Scientist, ICAR-National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology also spoke about nutritional value of animal feed.

Dr. Sushanth Rai, President, Karnataka Poultry Farmers & Breeders Association said the demand for animal feed for poultry, dairy etc is growing and that soaring prices affected the sector. India needs to import soybean by September to tide over feed crisis, while there is urgency to produce more and GM was the only answer.

Prof. G. Devegowda Poultry Science Excellence Award to Inayath Ulla Khan On the occasion, Mr. Inayath Ulla Khan, Executive Secretary, KPFBA was conferred with the Prof. G. Devegowda Poultry Science Excellence Award 2022 instituted by Pashudhan Praharee. Mr. Khan was honored for the yeomen service he has rendered to the poultry sector in general and KPFBA in particular.

Mr. Khan proposed a vote of thanks.

For details contact:

Dr. Vibha Ahuja on 98912 44434 / Mr. Inayath Ulla Khan on 9886730997 / Mr. Naveen Pasuparthy on 98450 15045