On Saturday, the stocks of biotechnology companies rose, with Monsanto India hitting the upper circuit. This followed the Genetically Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) allowing field trials of 11 new varieties of genetically-modified (GM) crops. While the Monsanto stock jumped five per cent to close at Rs 1484.3 on BSE, Advanta and Bayer CropScience rose 3.93 per cent and 1.41 per cent to close at Rs 121.75 and Rs 1402.35, respectively. Rallis shares rose one per cent to Rs 162.65 per cent apiece. “The government’s decision will pave a new era in India’s biotechnology sector, as thousands of young scientists are working with private and government sectors. The positive step by the government will encourage them to pursue careers in biotechnology research,” said Gyanendra Shukla, managing director of Monsanto India. The 11 varieties of GM crops for which field trials were allowed included maize, rice, sorghum, wheat, groundnut and cotton. Earlier, Veerappa Moily, minister for environment and forests, had approved field trials for about 200 varieties of GM crops. The decision was, however, revoked following opposition by farmers in Kerala. Despite the GEAC clearing the field trials in March 2013, these were stopped after former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan raised objections in this regard. This resulted in the expiry of validation and a change in the location of trail areas.
The GEAC is scheduled to meet again on April 25 to consider new varieties of GM seeds for field trails. With Friday’s approval, companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer Overseas will be able to recommence field trails of transgenic maize. Government-owned Central Research Institute of Dryland Agriculture will pursue trials of a GM variety of sorghum. Different varieties of transgenic rice from the University of Calcutta and Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) will also be tested for field trails. While Monsanto is engaged in research in cotton and corn, public sector biotechnology firms are conducting research in vegetables, rice, wheat, potato and a number of oilseeds. “The ministry’s announcement is positive and will foster innovation and growth for the agri-biotech sector in India. The decision will certainly help in taking forward the ongoing research-and-development work on various transgenic crops,” said Raju Barwale, managing director of Mahyco. Santosh Nair, chief executive, Camson Biotechnologies, said, “Many countries in Europe, West Asia, along with other developed countries, have shown a dislike for GMO seeds, as they feel enough work hasn’t been done to establish the long-term ecological impact of these GMO seeds, especially on the environment and human health. This divide in the world has led many to believe in alternate solutions in the form of intragenic and cisgenic varieties, which are gaining wider acceptance and appreciation from the global farming community due to its safer technological process.” Ram Kaundinya, chairman of Association of Biotechnology-Led Enterprises and managing director of Advanta Seeds, said, “Research should be on for getting new information on higher crop productivity. The GEAC’s approval for field trials of GM varieties will foster new era of growth in the Indian biotechnology sector.”