Monsanto stops release of new Bt cotton tech

Updated - September 20, 2016 04:52 pm IST

Published - August 26, 2016 01:48 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Seed technology major Monsanto says it is suspending plans to introduce an upgraded version of its genetically modified cotton in India because of uncertainty in the “business and regulatory environment”. Activists say this is a “hypocritical” position.

On July 6, Monsanto notified the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, the regulatory authority for approval of biotechnology traits in India, that it was withdrawing its application for the commercial release of the “Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex” technology.

“Our decision to suspend its introduction in India is an outcome of the uncertainty in the business and regulatory environment, which include the regulation of trait fees and introduction of the draft compulsory licensing guidelines. This decision has no impact on our current cotton portfolio being sold in India,” the company said in a statement.

The new technology used genes that not only killed cotton pests but also made plants resistant to an herbicide called Roundup that is widely used in farms all over the world, including in India. Activists say Roundup Ready GM, commercially available in a wide variety of seeds, is unsuitable to India.

“They are being hypocritical,” Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture and a GM critic, told The Hindu .

“While we welcome Monsanto’s decision to withdraw Roundup, we challenge them to withdraw all of their other GM events in the pipeline.”

Monsanto’s application in June to conduct advanced tests on genetically modified maize was not withdrawn, the GEAC website said. “Monsanto has been committed to Indian agriculture and farmers for decades, and we plan to continue bringing innovative research in our businesses in corn seeds, vegetable seeds and crop protection chemistries,” its statement said.

The “uncertainty” that Monsanto referred to was triggered by a notification from the Union agriculture ministry on May 18 — retracted within a week — that vastly undermined royalties and control over contracts Monsanto and its technology partners could enter into with seed companies.

Monsanto and its Indian partner Mahyco — also a seed company — are jointly the biggest licensor of genetically modified cotton technology to seed companies in India. The 49 seed companies who have licensed Bollgard technologies from the multinational now provide over 95% of the cotton in India’s fields.

Monsanto is fighting court battles with prominent seed company Nuziveedu Seeds, a former licensee, on royalty payments.

The agriculture ministry had said it was revising guidelines and was inviting comments for 90 days since it withdrew the notification, the deadline for which ended earlier this week. Sources told The Hindu that Monsanto and seed companies were in dispute due to a “misreading” of the act governing patents and another one that allowed breeders special rights over plant varieties that had been developed by their efforts. “However the notification encouraged a schizophrenic policy…encouraging intellectual property rights and Make in India while at the same time denying IPR holders their dues,” said a government source who’s involved with India’s GM seed policy matters.

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