BG-III cotton: super weeds threat looms large

Cotton crop in Vattipalle village of Medak district.   | Photo Credit: Mohd Arif;Mohd Arif

With one more season coming to an end for cotton cultivation as the pickings are in the advanced stage, the fear of spread of super weeds looms large. All this because of inaction by the Central agencies concerned on the illegal proliferation of an unapproved Bt cotton variety with herbicide-tolerant trait.

Highly-placed sources in the State Government told The Hindu that in the absence of any steps for regulation of the unauthorised variety of cotton seed, Governments of Telangana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana and others, where the fibre crop is cultivated on a large-scale, are in confusion and unable to act against it.

‘Monsanto’ looms large

In a letter addressed to National Biodiversity Board (NBD) last month, the State Government wrote, “Monsanto, a US-based multinational seed giant, has developed herbicide-tolerant trait (BG-III) and commercialised it as ‘Round-up Ready Flex (RRF)’ in USA. It also intended to commercialise it worldwide including India and applied for permission through its business partner Mahyco to Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for commercial release of the new variety”.

Field trials were conducted but subsequently the application was withdrawn following growing agitations in the country against genetically modified (GM) crops.

“It is learnt that Mahyco had conducted field trials of several Bt cotton hybrids/varieties containing RRF trait”, the letter said adding that the unapproved RRF trait, however, got released into the environment either intentionally or unintentionally.

Now, the unofficial estimates put the extent of the unauthorised cotton to be about 20% in the country.

The China angle

The sources stated that Monsanto had officially denied leaking it in India and indicated that smaller seed companies could have sneaked it in from China. “The herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton seed is being sold apparently as unbranded variety with the promise of higher yield than BG-II variety. It was found to be in the field in Telangana during testing of some samples after Rabi season last year and it was brought to the notice of government immediately by booking a case under Environmental Protection Act,” the sources explained.

Much earlier, the unauthorised variety was found to be in cultivation in Gujarat for 3 to 4 years and from last couple of years in Maharashtra.

The officials suggested that it was time the NBD and Ministry of Environment and Forest to act upon at the earliest to take over the ‘nobody’s baby’ (variety) and start regulating it before imposing ban.

Harmful effects

Asked about the ill-effects of such herbicide-tolerant GM crops, Director of Telangana State Seed and Organic Certification Agency K. Keshavulu explained that the herbicide-resistant gene could spread through pollen into the biodiversity system leading to transformation of weeds into super weeds on a large-scale. It would not only threaten the growth and yields of all crops in future, but also could increase cultivation costs and lead to health hazards.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 4:05:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/bg-iii-cotton-super-weeds-threat-looms-large/article21236136.ece

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