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Farmers sowing unapproved GM cotton seeds

Image Many Indian farmers are openly sowing an unapproved variety of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds developed by Monsanto, as the government sits on the sidelines for fear of antagonising a big voting bloc ahead of an election next year.


India approved the first GM cotton seed trait in 2002 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world's top producer and second-largest exporter of the fibre. But newer traits are not available after Monsanto in 2016 withdrew an application seeking approval for the latest variety due to a royalty dispute with the government.
The herbicide-tolerant variety, lab-altered to help farmers save costs on weed management, has, however, seeped into the country's farms since then. Authorities say they are still investigating how that happened. "I will only use these seeds or nothing at all," said Rambhau Shinde, a farmer who has been cultivating cotton for nearly four decades in the western state of Maharashtra.

The federal environment ministry said last year planting the seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. But many farmers are desperate to boost their incomes after poor yields over the past few years and are willing to ignore the warnings. A government official in New Delhi, who deals with matters related to GM crops, said it was difficult to keep farmers away from something that they saw benefit in.
"If you don't allow them to plant legally, illegal planting will happen," the official said, requesting anonymity, adding that Monsanto had yet to reapply for an approval to sell its latest variety of GM cotton in India.

A Monsanto India spokesman said the company was confident that the government would prosecute those involved in the illegal trade of the unapproved seeds.
Except for GM cotton, India has not approved any other transgenic crop on concerns over their safety, and large foreign companies have been increasingly unhappy at what they say is the infringement of their intellectual property by widespread planting of unapproved seeds.

Farmers say they prefer Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) strain of cotton seeds as they can cut input costs by as much as Rs 10,000 ($150) an acre compared with other varieties.
Cotton growers are also getting support from farmers' unions.




Source: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/india-farmers-sow-unapproved-monsanto-cotton-seeds-risking-arrest/articleshow/64558364.cms