Claiming that seed companies had no role in pink bollworm (PBW) infestation of cotton crop carrying BG II technology, the National Seed Association of India (NSAI) has asked Government of India to declare the two-gene trait of the genetically modified (GM) cotton seed as ineffective against PBW.
The seed industry body has also requested the Centre to direct the officials of states to register complaints made by farmers on pink boll worm menace according to the roles and responsibilities of seed companies and trait developers.
Seed companies say they can be held accountable only if their supplies do not conform to the quality and purity parameters prescribed by the authorities. However, they claim were also being held responsible for infestation of pink bollworm, something which the trait developer Monsanto was solely answerable for, according to NSAI.
The question of fixing the responsibility for crop losses in states like Maharashtra and Gujarat due to pink bollworm infestation further adds to the differences between the American biotechnology company and NSAI that often took opposite positions on a range of business matters, including the trait value.
"As per clause 5 of Cotton Seeds Price (Control) Order, the trait value towards the Bt cotton trait developed by the trait developer and the seed value towards the efforts of the seed company for hybrid development, seed production, marketing and distribution are clearly mentioned.
The responsibility towards the performance of the trait shall, therefore, be on the trait developer, whereas the responsibility for the seed quality remains with the seed company," NSAI executive director Kalyan B Goswami argued in a five-page letter to B Rajender, Joint Secretary(Seeds) of the Union Agriculture Ministry last week.
As early as in August, 2017, Union Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Rupala informed Lok Sabha that there was a sporadic incidence of pink bollworm damage in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat while Maharashtra government has already directed seed firms to pay a compensation of Rs 36.83 lakh to farmers. Last month Maharashtra government has requested the Centre to de-notify the BG ll strain on the grounds that it has lost its resistance to pink bollworm, according to the news reports.
A spokesperson of Monsanto, however, said that resistance was a natural and evolutionary adaptation of pests to stress factors and that the resistance management was a joint responsibility of all the stake-holders involved with cotton crop-farmers, seed companies, technology providers, trade, end user industry, regulatory bodies,state agriculture universities, and government departments.
"Bollgard ll technology continues to substantially fulfill its intended function of controlling a majority of lepidopteron pests including American bollworm, which is the primary pest, thereby providing farmers with great benefits. To ensure that the primary pests do not develop resistance there is an immediate need to help farmers adopt integrated pest management and refuge practices," Monsanto spokesperson stated in response to queries over the seed industry body's contentions with regard to the failure of trait performance of BG ll.
In his letter NSAI executive director Goswami argued that the solution to the whole issue lies in the declaration of zero trait value to BG ll strain as was done in case of BG l technology in similar circumstances and recommend to farmers to spray pesticides to control PBW. "If the DACFW (the Department of Agriculture) proposes to recommend a trait value for two-gene trait, in spite of the above facts, it may be mentioned in the price order clearly that it is not effective against PBW, so that we can accordingly represent to the state agricultural department officials, who regulate the seed quality and trade," Goswami said.
According to Monsanto spokesperson, a recent meeting undertaken by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, decided 'to continue the use of Bt cotton BG ll as per existing guidelines'.