FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Palm Oil and GM Mustard: A Marriage Made in Hell

by

The current drive to get genetically modified (GM) food crops into India is being spearheaded by GM mustard. However, the decision to sanction the commercialisation of this crop has been delayed due to accusations of  “unremitting fraud” and “regulatory delinquency.”

These accusations are being strengthened with each passing day, as further evidence comes to light about the underhand, deceptive and corrupt tactics that have been used to fudge and manipulate data under a veil of secrecy. It is becoming increasingly clear that GM will not increase yields or have any benefits, especially when compared to current non-GM and traditional, high-yielding varieties. In fact, it would do more harm than good (see this also and this slide show too) and GM mustard would serve only one purpose: it would act as a Trojan horse to open the floodgate to GM food crops being grown in India.

One of the main (bogus) arguments put forward in favour of GM mustard is that India needs to reduce its imports of edible oils and that GM will give an underproductive indigenous edible oils sector a much-needed boost. While it is clear that India’s imports of edible oils have indeed increased, this is not as a result of an underperforming home-grown sector.

In terms of volumes, palm oil, soybean oil and mustard oil are the three largest consumed edible oils in India, with respective shares of 46%, 16% and 14% in total oil consumption (2010 figures). Over the past 20 years, India’s indigenous edible oil output has risen only about a third whereas imports have surged twelve fold, making it the world’s top buyer of cooking oils.

The argument to reduce imports certainly carries weight: overseas purchases of edible oils exceed $10 billion per year, India’s third-highest after oil and gold.

However, Davish Jain, chairman of the Soybean Processors Association of India, targets the heart of the issue when he says:

“India has become the dumping ground for palm oil. Our oil seed and edible oil production will not rise unless we restrict cheaper imports.”

Until the mid-1990s, India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils. Then import tariffs were reduced, leading to an influx of cheap (subsidised) edible oil imports that domestic farmers could not compete with. This was a deliberate policy that effectively devastated the home-grown edible oils sector.

Aside from one previous occasion (1987), 1996 saw imports of palm oil reach over 1,000 MT (metric ton) and have increased more than nine fold since then. Back in September, with Malaysian palm oil prices near six-year lows, the fear was imports could rise even more.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 10.47.40 AM

Palm oil imports (source: US Department of Agriculture)

Supporters of GM mustard now twist this situation to call for the introduction of GM mustard to increase productivity. This is of course erroneous on two counts: first, it was not poor productivity that led to the massive increase in imports; second, GM mustard is even lower yielding that varieties that already exist – no amount of manipulated data can hide this, as we can now see.

However, there has been a big winner in all of this: the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia. India is now the world’s leading importer of palm oil, accounting for around 15% of the global supply. It imports over two-­thirds of its palm oil from Indonesia.

Indonesia leads global production, but the cheap price is often offset by the destruction of large tracts of tropical forest. Oil palm plantations often replace tropical forests, leading to the killing of endangered species and the uprooting of local communities as well as contributing to the release of climate-changing gases (see this analysis). Indonesia emits more greenhouse gases than any country besides China and the US and that’s largely due to the production of palm oil.

From 2000 to 2009, Indonesia supplied more than half of the global palm oil market at an annual expense of some 340,000 hectares of Indonesian countryside. Planned expansion could wipe out the remaining natural habitat of several endangered species. This is a ludicrous situation considering that Brazil and Indonesia spent over 100 times more in subsidies to industries that cause deforestation than they received in international conservation aid from the UN to prevent it. The two countries gave over $40bn in subsidies to the palm oil, timber, soy, beef and biofuels sectors between 2009 and 2012, some 126 times more than the $346m they received to preserve their rainforests.

If there were ever a case study of how to rundown your own edible oils sector, then India is it. At the same time, in doing so, it has been a main contributor to the growth of Indonesia’s palm oil sector and in the process has fuelled massive environmental damage that is impacting the whole planet.

And now, under pressure from the feed and poultry sector, India could be on the verge of encouraging the flow of soy imports into the country, which would further undermine the indigenous sector. If you can’t fool the nation into growing GM, then at least you can get it to import it from the likes of South America or the US – which could be in the pipeline (see this, page 1).

Just as in Indonesia, this would also fuel massive environmental catastrophe as well as further widespread social devastation and damage to human health (outlined here).

More articles by:

Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.

November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
Cole A. Turner
Go Away, Kevin Spacey
Ramzy Baroud
70 Years of Broken Promises: The Untold Story of the Partition Plan
Binoy Kampmark
A New Movement of Rights and the Right in Australia
George Ochenski
Democratic Party: Discouraged, Disgusted, Dysfunctional
Nino Pagliccia
The Governorship Elections in Venezuela: an Interview With Arnold August
Christopher Ketcham
Spanksgiving Day Poem
November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail