Ministry to consult seed firms, farmers on GM crops

June 02, 2016 12:54 am | Updated September 16, 2016 09:44 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Emphasising that monopolies over seed technology were unacceptable, a top official in the Agriculture Ministry told The Hindu that it would have a wider consultation with seed companies, seed technology companies and farmers before introducing a new policy for technology agreements between seed technology companies and private seed companies.

On May 18, the Ministry issued — and retracted in less than a week — a new set of terms that would govern contracts between licensors and licensees of genetically modified cotton seeds.

The short-lived notification, called the Licensing and Formats for GM Technology Agreement Guidelines, 2016, specified that companies that licensed GM technology could charge seed companies royalty no more than 10% of the government-specified maximum sale price of a packet of cotton for 5 years. Moreover, they would have to reduce this value by 10% every year from the sixth year and were it proved that the potency of the technology was waning, the company could no longer claim this royalty.

Finally, technology firms also could not refuse any eligible seed company wanting genes and any request not followed upon within 30 days would be deemed to have been granted.

IPR policy

Multiple officials, who did not want to be identified, told The Hindu that the notification had to be “put back in draft mode” because it contradicted, in spirit, India’s National Intellectual Property Rights Policy, released on May 13.

Genetically modified seeds are only permitted in cotton and the dominant player in the business of licensing seed technology is Monsanto Mahyco Biotech Ltd (MMBL), which licenses technology to several seed companies and underlies at least 95% of commercially grown cotton in the country.

Earlier this year, the Central government capped the sale price of cotton seeds and the royalty that companies like MMBL could charge.

The government caps have been challenged in the courts and separately MMBL is also fighting a legal battle to recover royalty payments from the Andhra Pradesh-based Nuziveedu Seeds, until last year, MMBL’s biggest licensee and the largest supplier of cotton hybrids in the country.

Ending monopoly

“We will come out with a policy in 90 days, but it’s unethical for a single company to have a monopoly on GM technology,” said Ashok Dalawai, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Family Welfare.

Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said the government order was to ensure that cotton seeds were cheaply and readily available to farmers.

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