The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Body blow to BT cotton

New Delhi, April 25: Global major Monsanto’s plans of engineering a genetically-modified seed explosion in the country suffered a setback today after authorities rejected their BT cotton hybrid variety for northern India.

At the same time, in another setback to the genetically-modified food lobby, multinational seed company Proagro Seeds Pvt. Limited will have to wait and watch for the approval of genetically-modified (GM) mustard as the Genetic Engineering Accreditation Committee (GEAC) has decided that trials conducted by the ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) are not conclusive. ICAR has been advised to conduct further trials.

The GEAC, which met here today, rejected the proposal of Mahyco-Monsanto for the commercial release of genetically-modified BT cotton — 915 variety — for northern states. Mahyco-Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited is Monsanto’s seed partner in India.

The meeting was held in the wake of performance reports from southern and central states for the three hybrids of BT cotton (MECH-12, 162 and 184), which have recently come in. In March last year, Mahyco-Monsanto’s seed partner in India received the GEAC’s approval to produce for southern and central states.

Although MECH-915 is said to be better suited for the northern regions of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, the committee — an inter-ministerial one — noted with concern the highly sensitive nature of the BT hybrid towards curl leaf virus. The virus affects the yield of cotton and is rampant in the area where it is to be grown.

Experts said pro-agro seeds would have to wait till 2004 after the rabi crop is harvested as conclusive reports will be possible only after that by the ICAR.

ICAR has also been asked to check out on several issues, including agronomic superiority of GM mustard, cross-ability, gene flow and resistance to herbicide. “Mustard is an edible crop and further studies to establish health safety aspects need to be conducted,” GEAC chairperson Sushma Choudhary said.

Today’s inter-ministerial meeting had representation from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, ICAR, the ministries of agriculture and health, and the department of industrial policy and promotion.

Several NGOs, including the forum for bio-technology and food security, were of the opinion that genetically-modified crops, especially mustard — which is widely consumed in India as edible oil — can pose health hazards. Opponents of genetically altered seeds cited several instances around the world where it has lead to health hazards.

Some agriculture experts point out that there are conflicting accounts pertaining to the success of BT cotton in states where it was grown. Also, since there was drought this year, the intrinsic effectiveness of BT cotton cannot be ascertained in a single season.

The Indian Farmers and Industry Alliance (IFIA) has been urging the GEAC to approve GM mustard. IFIA is an association of farmers’ organisations and the Confederation of Indian Industry. IFIA maintains that the approval of GEAC last year for the use of BT Cotton in six states has been a big success, especially in Andhra Pradesh.

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