By admin       2017-12-13

MUMBAI: The decreasing resistance of genetically modified cotton seeds to pest attacks has become a raging issue in the state, prompting Maharashtra government to launch acrackdown on companies selling the seeds. Godowns of nearly 10 seed companies have been raided and large quantities of seeds have been withdrawn to be sent for testing. Government is probing effectiveness of BT cotton seeds and 'herbicide-tolerant' cotton seeds, which are being illegally marketed across the state, through these tests. Further action will be initiated depending on test results, said sources. Maharashtra police on Friday sealed two godowns, one each in Jalna and Buldhana, belonging to a seed major. The quality control cell of the agriculture department seized 5,000 quintals of cotton seeds from these godowns, of which 500 samples will be sent for testing. Sources said action has been initiated at the Centre's behest. The state government has also written to the Union agriculture ministry seeking a CBI inquiry into illegal entry and sale of unapproved genetically modified cotton seeds with herbicide tolerant (HT) traits in the market. In the light of reports about damage to crops, the state agriculture department has also picked up over 200 samples from seed companies to assess their resistance to pest attacks. In September, the non-profit scientific body, South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), had reported that the illegal HT hybrid market had swelled to Rs 472 crore in the kharif season with around 35 lakh HT hybrid seeds sold and cultivation spread over 8.5 lakh hectares. Maharashtra being one of the largest producers of cotton with the area under the crop accounting for nearly 40% of total cultivable land, the warning set off alarm bells in the administration. "All the seeds will be tested for one gene, twin gene or HT traits. We are looking to understand which company has the maximum amount of failed seeds and also the presence of HT traits in these companies' seeds," said a source. This season, according to estimates, farmers are expected to face losses worth Rs 15,000 crore due to pest attacks. Over 40 farmers and labourers have died due to poisoning in the cotton belt of Yavatmal after spraying a lethal mix of chemicals to ward off pest attacks. Twin gene BT cotton seeds, used by nearly 96% of farmers in the state, have failed to counter pest resistance in many areas. Government's recent actions are aimed both at regulating the seed market and assuring cotton farmers of its support. "We are also looking at bringing a rule that companies that do not have a godown and packaging unit in the state will not be allowed to sell seeds. We will also make it compulsory for them to register the godown they store their seeds in and they will also have to give us free access for taking random samples at any point in time," said a source from the department. The government has also begun taking samples of standing crop to guage the quality of each company's seeds.

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