Thursday, November 27, 2014

Is There a Way Around Roundup?

Rapeseed / Canola (pic-Wiki)

Earlier this year, India's edible oil imports hit a record high. It has cost us over Rs. 60,000 Crores to import over 11.8 million tonnes of cooking oil. For the past few years domestic production has remained stagnant at around 7 mT.

Interestingly a significant portion of the imported oil comes from Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Soyabean oil imported from South America is GM, and so is the Canola oil imported from Canada and Australia. Recently the import of Canola has stalled, not because of GM/Healthcare issues, but because the Indian regulatory agency (FSSAI) wants it to be re-labeled as "imported rapeseed low erucic-acid oil".

Technically, this is exactly what Canola is - modified Rapeseed. It was Canadian scientists who managed to reduce the acid content in rapeseed through classical breeding, and then Monsanto went on to make it tolerant to certain herbicides ("Roundup Ready") through genetic interventions. They then went on to become the largest producers of oil, and gave it a name that sounds a lot more palatable than "Rapeseed".

In 2012, Canada exported 16,000 tonnes of canola. More than 80% of this oil crop grown in Canada is the herbicide resistant GM variety. Paradoxically much of this goes to countries that have officially banned GM crops for human consumption.

If we can import and consume GM edible oil, why are we so muddled about conducting field trials that can enable our own farmers earn more, while at the same time, cutting down our import bills?

Perhaps much of the suspicion and angst comes from the fact that most genetically modified crops (including Roundup Ready) are developed to be pesticide and herbicide resistant, rather than directly increase the yield of a given crop.

So the question is -- how do we selectively promote public funded, non-MNC-inspired GM crops that focus on increasing yield and drought resistance - things that really matter to local farmers?


* Edible Oil Imports 2014 --



- India has been importing canola oil since 2007
It is one of the largest selling oils in several countries, including US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, China and Pakistan
- FSSAI wants Canola oil labelled "imported rapeseed-low erucic acid oil"


Canada, the largest exporter of canola oil exported about 16,000 tonnes in 2012 from about 400 tonnes in 2011.
In India, canola oil is sold under brands such as Hudson, Jivo and Sattvic and the price ranges from Rs.170 to Rs. 395 a litre. 


In the late 1960s, plant scientists used traditional plant breeding methods to get rid of rapeseed's undesirable qualities - erucic acid and glucosinolates - to create Canola
about 80% of the canola grown in Canada has now been modified using biotechnology to make it tolerant to some herbicides.
When rapeseed oil is fully hydrogenated, its erucic acid becomes behenic acid - a natural saturated fatty acid found in peanuts and peanut butter. 

* Erucic Acid -

* MIT - Roundup Ready Crops --

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