A Left-leaning farmers’ organisation has demanded tough action against US-based agricultural firm Monsanto and its Indian partner, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco), for alleged criminal negligence, resulting in large-scale cultivation of unapproved genetically modified (GM) hybrid cotton crop. Recent news reports, backed by laboratory tests and other empirical evidence, suggested that GM cotton seed with twin transgenic traits of herbicide tolerance and bollworm resistance — popularly known as Glycel Bt Cotton —was being cultivated across major cotton-growing states, including Andhra Pradesh, Maharahstra, and Telangana. However, it has no seal of approval from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), nor is there a licensed seller. So far, only Bollgard I and Bollgard II hybrid cotton seeds with bollworm resistance trait are approved for cultivation in India. The Communist Party of India-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) holds Monsanto and Mahyco responsible for the situation based on the assumption that the initial source of the leak was the field trials conducted by Mahyco on Glycel Bt or Round-up Ready Flex (RRF) cotton seed developed by the American company some time back.
It points out that Rule 9 of the Rules 1989 of the Environment Protection Act prohibits deliberate as well as unintentional release of genetically engineered organisms/hazardous microorganisms or cells (without approval). “We request the GEAC to immediately initiate criminal proceedings against Monsanto and Mahyco for deterrent punishment, as the damage to the environment is huge,” the farmers’ body said.In two separate letters addressed to GEAC Chairperson Amrita Prasad and National Biodiversity Authority Chairperson B Meenakumari, AIKS Vice-President Ravula Venkaiah sought action from the statutory bodies that monitor the GM plant and food-related activities in the country. Incidentally, these letters were written around the same time when the Andhra Pradesh government appointed a committee on October 5 to establish the efficacy of the new hybrid cotton seed. The state government had said it was constituting the panel to establish the efficacy of the Glycel Bt crop as farmers had requested for the supply of a better-quality seed (with same GM traits) developed through research stations by normal breeding methods. “We will get to the issue as to what needs to be done on illegal cultivation of Glycel Bt or its efficacy later since we are planning to hold discussions with other ryot organisations over the future course of action and will subsequently approach the central and state governments with appropriate suggestions. But, first the authorities must punish the companies responsible for the release of this unapproved and hazardous herbicide tolerant trait into the environment,” Venkaiah told Business Standard. Citing a news report, the AIKS letter said an estimated 35 lakh packets of illegal herbicide-tolerant hybrid seed worth Rs 450 crore were bought and planted by the farmers in kharif-2017.