NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Thursday it was important for it to adopt farming technologies like genetically modified (GM) crops to ensure food security and cut a reliance on imports, as it tries to boost the output of edible oils for its huge population.
The environment ministry in October granted environmental clearance for indigenously developed GM mustard seeds, potentially paving the way for a commercial release of the country's first food crop in about two years.
Cotton is the only GM crop now allowed for cultivation in India.
More than 60% of India's total edible oil demand is met through imports from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the Black Sea region.
"Strengthening of plant breeding programmes including the use of new genetic technologies such as GE technology is important for meeting emerging challenges in Indian agriculture and ensuring food security while reducing foreign dependency," minister of state in the environment ministry, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, told parliament, referring to genetically engineered, which is another term for GM.
India spent a record $19 billion importing vegetable oils last fiscal year that ended on March 31. Russia's invasion of Ukraine also disrupted imports and raised prices, before supplies improved.
Activists have said GM mustard would require widespread use of herbicides and pose a threat to honey bees. India's Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the decision to allow an environmental release of mustard hybrid "DMH-11" for seed production and other tests before commercial release.
Choubey said the environmental release would help scientists study any effect of GM mustard on bees and other pollinators.
India, set to overtake China next year as the world's most populous country, in 2010 blocked the release of a genetically modified version of eggplant following opposition from environmentalists and some farmers.
Scientists say India's growing population and shrinking cultivable land mean it needs to adopt more efficient ways of farming to feed its nearly 1.4 billion people.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel)