In a move that seeks to legitimise the cultivation of Roundup Ready Flex
or Glycel BT hybrid cotton (BG II RRF), Andhra Pradesh government has set up a panel to study the efficacy of the seed in the fields based on a representation from local farmers.
The twin traits of herbicide tolerance as well as bollworm resistance have made this genetically modified (GM) hybrid cotton so popular among farmers in major cotton growing states that it now accounts for 15-20 per cent of cotton sowing area in the country, according to recent reports.
"Farmers of Amaravati Mandal, Guntur District have stated that they are cultivating RRF or Glycel BT Hybrid Cotton Seeds during last year and this year, in view of its efficacy and resistance in weed management. This cotton seed is under cultivation in 50 per cent of cotton growing villages and 15 per cent of the total state," the state government stated in its orders while constituting a committee besides directing it to submit a report on the efficacy of the hybrid seed within two weeks.
The entire supply and sale of RRF seed is being done by grey market operators as the herbicide tolerance trait was not yet approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which is the regulatory body that monitors the activities related to genetically modified plant and food materials in the country.
Believed to have been slipped into the hands of plant breeders from one of the field trials permitted by GEAC years ago, the seed has no legitimate owner in India, even though both herbicide tolerance and bollgard technologies were developed by US company Monsanto.
Elaborating the purpose of its move, AP government stated that the farmers have requested to supply better quality seed (containing these two GM features) developed through research stations by normal breeding methods 'as there were no patent rights required on plants and seeds in view of the seed control price order as per clarification is given by the Government of India'.
It may be recalled that in July 2016, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited
(Mahyco), the Monsanto's partner in India, had withdrawn its application to commercially release BG II RRF
in response to these decisions while citing concerns about the protection of intellectual property rights associated with these technologies.
A group of Indian seed companies have also been engaged in a bitter legal battle with Monsanto over the trait value among other patent-related claims.
According to AP government, the farmers have also sought permission to develop new seed varieties themselves and for Government of India's intervention for the supply of RRF/Glycel BT seed.