Farmer outfits criticise decision to import genetically modified soyameal, poultry industry says move comes too late

Farmers' organisations have also criticised the move, saying it will result in lower realisation for their soyabean crop.

After months of indecision, the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has cleared the import of 12 lakh tonnes (lt) of genetically modified (GM) soyameal late on Tuesday night. While this was a long-standing demand of the poultry industry, some stakeholders said the decision has come too late as by the time the imports land in India, the new crop would have arrived in Indian markets.

Farmers’ organisations have also criticised the move, saying it will result in lower realisation for their soyabean crop.

Since May this year, the poultry industry has been seeking duty-free import of 12-15 lt GM soyameal, saying this was necessary given the exceptionally high price of soyameal in the country. For the industry, soyameal is the preferred protein source to be used for poultry feed. Soyameal refers to the protein rich solid left after the oil is expelled from the bean.

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A short crop and speculative activities in the commodity markets had seen soyabean prices touch all-time high prices in most wholesale markets.

Ex-mill prices of soyameal, which normally retails at Rs 40 per kg, had in the last few months touched an all-time high of Rs 110 per kg. Many small poultry farmers have reportedly even ceased operations given the exceptionally high cost of the raw material.

The imports, said industry sources, will help in rationalising raw material prices. Interestingly, since talk of imports started, the price of soyabean has corrected from Rs 10,000 per quintal to Rs 8,500 per quintal. Similarly, the price of soyameal has dropped from Rs 110 per kg to the present Rs 85 per kg.

The official order by DGFT had relied on the no-objection certificate issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change about the imports. The Ministry, in its letter dated August 6, had cleared the import of GM soyameal, stating that it was a non-living entity.

The DGFT has allowed import of 12 lt of soyameal, with the caveat that the imports have to come to India either through the Navi Mumbai Port or the Petropole port in West Bengal. The imports have to arrive in the country by October 31.

Prasanna Pedgaonkar, general manager of Pune-headquartered Venkateshwara Hatcheries Private Limited, or Venky’s, welcomed the move.

However, B Soundarajan, chairman of the Coimbatore-headquarted Suguna Foods Limited, said the import should have been allowed to come to India via least one south Indian port. “We are going to take up the issue with the government and hope that is allowed,” he said.

Soundarajan pointed out that it would take nearly 45 days for shipments of GM soyameal from Argentina, Brazil or the USA to land at Indian ports. “We had hoped that it would reach by September, which now seems difficult,” he said.

However, sources in the industry said there are chances of shipments from Vietnam coming to the rescue. “Also there are chances of ships in mid-sea being diverted towards India after re-negotiation,” said a senior source in the poultry industry.

GM soyameal is expected to cost between Rs 40 and 60 per kg, which they said would be much lower than the Rs 85 pr kg domestic price

Farm organisations have, however, criticised the decision, with founder of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, Raju Shetti, terming this as another “betrayal” by the government.

“The imports will arrive when the domestic produce is ready. The excess stock will pull down prices, which will result in losses for farmers,” he said.

Indian growers have sown soyabean over 121 lakh hecatres this year, as against 119 lakh hectares of last year. The price of the bean, Shetti said, has corrected by Rs 3,000 per quintal since news of imports surfaced, and there are chances of further correction in the days to come.

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