NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India could prevent foreign firms monopolising the market for genetically modified (GM) seeds by allowing the sale of only locally developed varieties, a government think-tank has said, in a boost for transgenic mustard produced by a Delhi group.
The Policy Commission said in recommendations this week to the government, and seen by Reuters, that adopting new technology is one of the most important drivers of farm productivity.
Cotton is the only GM crop currently allowed to be sold in the world's second most populous country where arable land is shrinking. U.S. company Monsanto Co dominates the cotton seed market in India, and often faces resistance from local companies over its dominant position.
"There is some concern that GM seeds can be monopolised by multinationals, which may then exploit farmers," the commission said in its report to the government. "But this concern is readily addressed by limiting GM seeds to those varieties discovered by our own institution and companies."
A panel of government and independent experts gave its technical clearance in August last year for GM mustard, which is in the same plant family as rapeseed, and developed by a group of Delhi scientists following multiple reviews of crop trial data generated over almost a decade.
The national government has been sitting on the fence since August largely because of stiff opposition from social and environmental activists who see GM food as harmful for humans and animals alike.
India's biggest rapeseed-producing state, Rajasthan, has decided not to allow the commercial use of GM mustard even if New Delhi approves the lab-altered variety, its farm minister Prabhulal Saini told Reuters.
The government has said it will take a call on GM mustard after taking all views on board, though experts say allowing its cultivation is critical to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's goal of attaining self-sufficiency in vegetable oils.
India spends around $10 billion annually on vegetable oil imports. GM mustard - with yields up to 30 percent higher than normal varieties - could give Modi a chance to slash this bill.
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma, Krishna N. Das and Rajendra Jadhav, editing by David Evans)