By admin       2017-10-26

India’s approval process for genetically-modified (GM) crops is so tight and politically rigged against trait developers and farmers that it is exposing the country’s agriculture and environment to the very risks it is meant to prevent. Denied technology through legitimate channels, farmers have turned to illegitimate ones. In September, Delhi-based South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), an advocacy for GM crops, made a representation to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex regulator for agri-biotechnology, about “rampant” cultivation of cotton resistant to glyphosate. This is an off-patent herbicide which Monsanto sells as Roundup and India’s Excel Industries as Glycel. That herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton is grown extensively is well-known in farming circles. Anti-GM activists have blamed Monsanto for it because its associate company, Mahyco, was seeking approval for Roundup Ready Flex, which is bollworm-resistant cotton with the HT trait. Monsanto has denied the charge. In a press release, it said it has been bringing this practice to the notice of GEAC since 2008 and its last such intimation was in August this year. EXTENSIVE SURGE What made headlines was the extent of the practice. SABC said 35 lakh packets of 450 grams each of HT cottonseed were sold this year in central and southern India between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500. This, when Bt cotton’s marked price was Rs 800 a packet. It said this was a dramatic increase from 13 lakh packets last year and eight lakh packets the year before. SABC’s Bhagirath Chowdhary explained that hybrid seed production takes time, hence the surge this year. Even if it is assumed that the volume is an over-estimate, and the price farmers paid was, say, an average of Rs 900 a pack, it is still a sizeable business. M Ramasami, chairman of Salem-based Rasi Seeds and also of the year-old Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), said if SABC’s figures are correct, then the “pirates” would have eight percent of the cottonseed market share by volume. There is rapid progression from that threshold and volumes could double next year, he said. He and other members of the association met the environment minister and officials, demanding action against cultivation of HT cotton. But there is little that the environment ministry can do. It cannot put the paste back into the tube. The chairperson of GEAC, Amita Prasad (now transferred to another ministry), said advisories would be sent to states to take action. The states lobbed the ball into the centre’s court. Maharashtra Principal Secretary Bijay Kumar said: “We expect GEAC to guide us instead of skirting responsibility.” The Director of Nagpur’s Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), VN Waghmare, said: “Whosoever is cultivating it, is indulging in an illegal activity. Bio-safety procedures have to be followed.” He added that he was new to his post and could not comment on the Institute’s report of February, which SABC had appended to its representation. CICR found six of nine hybrids testing positive for herbicide tolerance. Two of the brands were of a well-known company.

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