food and environmental safety in the country has been stoked with the centre's decision to ease the quarantine norms for 5.5 million tonnes of imported wheat. The first tender for this was released on February 20 this year; the latest on September 5. Three union ministries have bent rules to facilitate the import -- ministry of health and family welfare, ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution (moca and pd) and Ministry of Agriculture (moa). The relaxation, however, has increased the import price by 35 per cent. This has upset consumer activists and scientists within moa.
The Directorate of Wheat Research, (dwr), Karnal, a research body of the moa has strongly opposed this. Officials at moa say that since the import is solely for consumption, there is nothing to fear. They say that the fungi are a threat only in temperate Europe. dwr scientists, however, say that most of Indian wheat is liable to fungal attack since it is grown under severe winter conditions. "These fungi, which are not present in India, can grow to epidemic proportions and destroy large tracts of wheat crop," says a senior scientist at dwr. To recall, the deadly 'stem rust' entered India during the Mexican wheat introduction during the 'green revolution'.
The fumigation requirements have also been changed allowing the carcinogenic aluminium phosphide in place of methyl bromide, which was being used earlier. The change has been promulgated at the behest of us wheat lobby's export-market development organisation -- us Wheat Associates. Methyl bromide is considered as ozone depleting, and thus banned in the us.
K B Chaudhury, executive chairman of the Congress party's farmer body, Bharat Krishak Samaj, says, "The above relaxations will benefit subsidised farmers of the us, Europe and Australia." While 100 kg imported wheat costs Rs 1,100, Indian farmers are paid Rs 700 as minimum support price, which decreases with lessening of quality standards.
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