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GM cotton crop farmed illegally

A genetically-modified (GM) crop that is yet to be approved — herbicide-tolerant or HT cotton – has already been commercially farmed in three states for two crop seasons. Zia Haq reports.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2010 01:20 IST
Zia Haq

A genetically-modified (GM) crop that is yet to be approved — herbicide-tolerant or HT cotton – has already been commercially farmed in three states for two crop seasons.

Andhra Pradesh’s agriculture commissioner has confirmed to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, India’s biotech regulator, that all eight samples seized from the state’s last cropping season “tested positive for HT cotton traits” at Hyderabad’s DNA Seeds Fingerprinting Laboratory.

The Committee has written to the chief secretaries of Andhra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh — where the crops were farmed — to take action. “States governments need to act swiftly,” Committee co-chairman Arjula Reddy told HT.

This lapse has prompted activists to ask the Committee to activate a “liability clause”, making the developer of a GM crop solely responsible for any leak of unapproved seeds. They fear the same could happen to Bt brinjal, whose commercial release was put on hold by the government on February 8 following safety concerns.

The Monsanto-developed MON 1445 variety of Ht cotton - now under trial — can withstand herbicides (weed killers) for better productivity.

The issue was taken up by the Committee at a meeting —of which HT has viewed the minutes — in December 2009.

According to the Committee, a complaint was received from Monsanto itself in 2008 that Ht cotton was being farmed. “Investigations could not be completed then as harvesting was over,” the Committee noted.

A second complaint was received from anti-GM activist Aruna Rodrigues, who said: “It is a serious failure of the GEAC. If it was strict enough, it could have prevented this.”

A Monsanto spokesperson said: “Monsanto Mahyco Biotech would not like to speculate on the issue of access of unapproved event (variety) found in Gujarat and this event has been discontinued and a newer event (version) applied for approval.”

This isn’t the first such lapse. India’s first GM crop, BT cotton, was commercially launched in 2002 but was already being grown in Gujarat by then.