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Import of GM soybean cake: Delhi HC issues notice on farmers’ association plea, refuses to stay

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The Delhi High Court on Friday sought the response from the Centre, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs upon a plea by an association of 2000 farmers, challenging the government’s decision to allow import of crushed and de-oiled genetically modified (GM) soybean cake.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice D.N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh refused to stay the notification issued by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade while issuing notice. 

The Bench expressed empathy towards the importer who has placed orders relying on the notification issued by the Government, and asked the petitioner association: “Are you ready to pay damages to the importer of the goods? You deposit the money and we will grant you a stay.” 

“People must have placed the orders. The goods might be in transit…It has very far reaching consequences upon commercial transactions,” added the Bench.

The petitioner association was represented by Senior Counsel Meenakshi Arora, who informed the Bench that anything that is genetically modified cannot be brought into the country as per the nation’s policy. She submitted that the petitioner association is seriously affected by the Government’s decision as GM produce is always cheaper than organic produce.   

The matter will be heard next on October 22.

In July this year, the All India Poultry Breeders Association had approached the Government seeking permission to import 12 lakh metric tonnes of GM soya cake on account of the rise in the price of soyabean meal, which is an essential raw material for the poultry industry.

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The Ministry of Consumer Affairs approved the import after taking prior permission from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, which stated that “since soya de-oiled and crushed cake does not contain any living modified organism, this ministry has no objection for import of soya cake or meal from environmental angle.”

The ministry also relied on the remark made by the FSSAI that anything which is non-food (not consumed by humans) is not within the ambit of FSSAI Act, 2006 and concluded that animal feed is not regulated by FSSAI.

Filed through Advocate Priya Rao by Dattaguru Farmer Producer Company Limited, which produces soybean in addition to other agricultural produce, the plea challenges the notification issued by the Centre on August 24, 2021, permitting import of 12 lakh metric tonnes of crushed and de-oiled GM soya cake till October 31, 2021. 

The plea highlights that GMOs, and the products thereof, are regulated under the Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export & Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989, notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. 

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While stating that the approval of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which is the apex body responsible for approval of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment, is mandatory as per Rule 4(4) of the 1989 Rules, insofar any activity related to GMOs is concerned, the plea points out that the notification has been issued without prior GEAC approval.

According to the petitioner association, Ministry of Consumer Affairs has unilaterally concluded that the import of soya de-oiled cake or meal will not be subjected to the Schedule 1 of GEAC import policy approval under MoEFCC as it is a ‘non-living organism’. “A non-living organism is a dead cell, something which cannot multiply. Only because a substance is a non-living organism does not take away from it the harmful effects of GM material,” claims the plea.

It is further added that “the argument that since soybean meal is a non-living organism, it cannot be harmful, or will not carry the harmful protein from GM soybean, is completely misplaced and factually wrong.”

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